Do horses prefer men to women or vice versa?

  • ‘He’s more of a man’s ride.” “He’s sensitive so he goes better for a lady.” How many times have we heard these words bandied around?

    But do horses really respond differently to male and female riders?

    Austrian scientists wanted to find out, so they undertook a study that measured the various parameters of stress in horses and riders when they jumped around a course of fences.

    “It is often assumed that women are more sensitive [when riding] than men. If this is so, male and female riders should elicit different types of response from their horses,” reasoned the study’s author, Natascha Ille.

    Eight horses were ridden twice, once by a man and once by a woman, both with similar levels of experience.

    The amounts of cortisol in the horses’ saliva — an indicator of stress — and their heart rates were measured before and after.

    While the level of cortisol in the horses’ saliva increased during the test, as did their heart rates, the increases were not affected by the sex of the rider.

    “Assuming that there is no difference in riding ability, from the horse’s point of view it does not seem to matter whether its human partner is male or female,” concluded the study’s co-author Christine Aurich.

    Eventer Laura Collett, who recently took on Nick Gauntlett’s former ride Grand Manoeuvre (pictured), cautioned that it is very difficult to generalise.

    “Every rider has their own individual style — I’m not sure that gender comes into it,” she said. “Some hard-pulling horses are better suited to men who ride with more natural strength. Equally, there are a lot of men who ride with more sensitivity than some women.”

    This news story was originally published in H&H magazine on Thursday 23 October, 2014

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