Rider Personalities in Different Horse Sports Compared in Study

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Jane Williams. Photo courtesy Hartpury College
Jane Williams. Photo courtesy Hartpury College

Sept. 30, 2015

Dressage riders tend to be more open to new experiences, ideas and thoughts while eventers are more open to taking risks, according to a study by three European researchers.

Competition riders are more conscientious and extroverted than leisure riders, while those over age 35 tend to be less anxious and more emotionally stable that, the study said, could make them better riders.

The study on the role of personality in equestrian sports found what are not likely to be a surprise to many. It was conducted by Dr. Jane Williams, the new head of Animal and Land Sciences at England’s Hartpury College; Dr. Inga Wolfman, a sport psychologist and a development officer for the Dutch Equestrian Federation, and Dr. David Marlin, a British psychologist and biochemist with extensive experience in many aspects of horse health, training and performance who is also professor in physiology at Oklahoma State University

It was published in the Comparative Exercise Physiology journal and looked at whether certain personality types are associated with different equestrian disciplines, ranging from general pleasure riding, to dressage, eventing, show jumping, Western, showing and more.

“We undertook the study because there was very limited research in this area in equestrian sports,” Jane Williams said. “In other sports, personality has been linked to levels of athlete and also with the types of sport people participate in but we felt that there was an opportunity to explore the link between riders’ personalities and their choice of equestrian disciplines.”

David Marlin said: “Most competitive riders will, at some stage in their career, encounter situations that will tax their resolve. Riders who are conscientious by nature will work very hard at overcoming these obstacles. And riders who are extrovert might even enjoy the challenge of it all.

“Horse riding is one of the few sports where performance isn’t hindered by someone’s advancing years. Current findings help to explain why riders who are calm, committed and empathetic can be much more effective at training horses.

“Knowing that these character traits develop with age, we need to encourage any kind of coaching system whereby older, experienced riders take younger ones under their wings.”

Inga Wolfman said: “Understanding more about personality can have important implications for how equestrian sports are marketed, on talent selection and on how riders are coached.”

Hartpury recently opened a new rider performance center for all disciplines and levels to access facilities and professional therapists to enhance performance as well as recover from injury.

“Now that we know what makes riders tick, based on their innate personality traits,” Jane said, “we can help them make the most out of the partnership with their horse.”

An online survey was used to collect rider demographics–nationality, sex, age, competitive level and discipline. Risk scores were assigned to each discipline and an average risk rating was calculated. Personality traits of extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and intellect were also measured as well as discipline, age groups, unaffiliated to affiliated and amateur to professional riders.

Results showed that riders in their late teens and early twenties considered themselves less agreeable and less conscientious but more neurotic compared to older generations.

Competitive riders considered themselves more conscientious and extroverted than non-competitors.

Riders participating in higher risk disciplines considered themselves less agreeable and conscientious.

Increases in agreeableness, conscientious and decreases in neuroticism in older riders might predispose them towards a role in coaching and providing support for younger riders, the study suggested.

Personality differences between riders of different disciplines and at different competitive levels, it said, might be used to help individuals in their choice of equestrian sport and level of involvement.