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Scientific and Equine Consultant

Who you are is how you ride – Equestrian study reveals the link between personality traits and different types of riders

Who you are is how you ride
Equestrian study reveals the link between personality traits and different types of riders

Consider yourself open to new ideas? Dressage might be just your thing. Thrive on being in the limelight? Get into competing! Get easily upset at your horse? Don’t worry, you’ll mellow with age.

A team of equestrian researchers comprising Dr. Inga Wolframm (a sport psychology expert), Dr. Jane Williams (an epidemiologist and equine physiologist) and Dr. David Marlin (a physiologist and biochemist) conducted research on the personality traits of English-speaking equestrians. The survey-based study aimed to determine whether certain personality types are associated with different equestrian disciplines is published this week in the journal of Comparative Exercise Physiology.

More than 4000 individuals completed a short questionnaire based on the ‘Mini-International Personality Item Pool’. The Mini-IPIP allows for personality profiles to be developed based on the traits of emotional stability, extroversion, agreeableness, openness and conscientiousness. Participants were mainly female (96%), originated from the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Europe, and participated in equestrian disciplines ranging from general pleasure riding, to dressage, eventing, show jumping, Western, showing and more.

Findings confirmed what the researchers suspected all along: Personality is linked to the choices riders take.

A key finding is that competitive riders are more extroverted and conscientious than their non-competitive counterparts. Previous research into other sports demonstrates that athletes who score higher on extroversion and conscientious also adapt better to the stresses of competition. Dr. Wolframm, a sport psychologist, agrees: “Most competing riders will, at some stage in their career, encounter situations that will tax their resolve. Injuries to their horses immediately prior to an important competition, the struggle of combining a competition schedule with family commitments, financial strains – it all adds up. 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.”

What is more, competitive riders score highly on the personality trait of openness (e.g. to new experiences, ideas, and thoughts), with dressage riders scoring highest of all. Dr. Williams says: “We think that the aesthetic nature of ‘pure’ dressage and the intellectual challenge generally of getting a horse to perform every movement to perfection, might attract riders who thrive on this kind of mental stimulation.”

Contrary to popular belief that personality is set in stone by the time you reach your twenties, current findings suggest that, at least where riders are concerned, they become more genial with age. Riders older than 35 years were found to be less anxious and more emotionally stable, more agreeable, more conscientious and more open to other ideas. Dr. Marlin suggests: “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 empathic 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.”

The authors agree that personality differences might be effectively used to help individuals in their choice of equestrian sport and level of engagement.

Dr. Wolframm said, “The current study confirms what we’ve suspected for some time: that different types of people are drawn towards different areas of equestrian sports. We now need to build on these results and find out as much as we can about rider preferences and motivations.”

Dr. Williams is excited by the potential for improving horse-rider performance. “Now that we know what makes riders tick, based on their innate personality traits, we can help them make the most out of the partnership with their horse.”

Dr. Marlin added, “Understanding more about personality can have important implications for how equestrian sports are marketed, talent selection and how riders are coached.”

CLICK HERE TO GO TO JOURNAL ARTICLE: Wolframm, I.A., Williams, J. and Marlin, D. (2015) The role of personality in equestrian sports: an investigation. Comparative Exercise Physiology, 11(3), 133-144.

‘Comparative Exercise Physiology’ is issued four times a year (March/June/September/December). Each issue contains approximately 80 pages. The journal is published by Wageningen Academic Publishers. Editors-in-chief: David Marlin and Kenneth H. McKeever. ISSN 1755-2540 (paper edition). ISSN 1755-2559 (online edition)

For further information please contact:

Dr. Inga Wolframm
Mobile: 0031 625 15 15 43
Email: i.wolframm@knhs.nl

Dr. Jane Williams
Mobile: 0044 7791 625148
Email : jane.williams@hartpury.co.uk

Dr. David Marlin
Mobile: 0044 7799 165417
Email: dm@davidmarlin.co.uk