Draw reins have been banned by the Swiss Federation in warm-up and competition in an attempt to improve the profile of horse sport.
Welfare issues in training have come under the spotlight in recent months, with images of horses and various training aids receiving criticism online.
“Equestrianism is often the focus of public attention, but unfortunately not always in a positive way,” read a statement from the federation.
It adds that images of horses in draw reins arouse suspicion of “stress and submission”.
Currently under Swiss rules they are allowed in the warm up until the first jump and during prize-givings.
The statement continues: “The Swiss Federation wants to engage continuously and proactively in the welfare of the horses and the reputation of equestrian sports.”
It is therefore banning the reins outright at competitions from 1 January 2016. Under the new rules the reins are “prohibited in all events and the warm-up”.
The federation states that some images might be misconstrued by non-equestrian viewers or “irritate” them as the reins are seen as a “constraint”.
“An image suggesting coercion and violence sends the wrong message and undermines the reputation of equestrian sports,” the federation continues. “If we do not fight this by all means, a complete ban on equestrian sports could result sooner or later.”
The country has long been a staunch supporter of welfare. Last year Switzerland’s government introduced a tough new welfare law against abusive training methods, including rollkur and rapping.
Rollkur, the hyperflexion of a horse’s neck by force, was banned in warm-up at international competitions by the FEI in May 2010. And last year the practice was banned during training at home.
Will more nations follow suit?
Draw reins are already banned under British Eventing and British Dressage rules, but are allowed in the warm-up for seniors in British Showjumping.
The British Equestrian Federation declined to comment on the new discipline-wide rule, while the FEI also told H&H they “were aware of it”, but would not comment further.
A beneficial training aid?
So do draw reins ever have a place in training? They are used at home by some top riders, but trainers asked by H&H did not advocate them as an effective or long-term solution.
“I’m not absolutely against them but I would try everything else first before resorting to them,” eventing trainer Christopher Bartle told H&H.
“I have recommended them in the past and they have helped in a safety sense with young or difficult horses, but I’d try and avoid them as much as possible. They help if the horse is particularly spooky. But it doesn’t teach them about contact as it controls it.”
Christopher added that he doesn’t believe they are used as much as in the past.
Olympic dressage rider Richard Davison agreed that their prevalence is less than it used to be.
“I think the ban is a good idea, it will probably make the few riders who rely on them look at more effective training techniques at home that they can replicate in the warm-up,” he added.
“If you can’t use certain techniques in the public arena then you have to look at more sustainable training. You need to question why they need to ride in that opposite shape to warm up than the horse is naturally in for competition.”
Showjumper Caroline Breen also believes the Swiss have the right idea in banning them.
“The majority of the general public will see top riders using them and think ‘that’s how they all do it and I’m going to try that tomorrow at home’,” she told H&H.
“There is a lack of understanding of why and how the draw rein should be used. I think people forget they are an aid, not a quick fix.”
H&H columnist Graham Fletcher agreed.
“They are of benefit if used correctly by a rider with plenty of experience. You have to be sensible and safe, and seek advice from a professional trainer,” he said.
However, he added: “I’m never one for banning anything, it becomes a nanny state. As long as people use them correctly they can help a lot of horses.”
H&H 29 Oct, 2015