Among all of our riding challenges, this problem is the one that should be on the top of the list.

The outside rein is the most underused and poorly understood of all the aids, and here's why. Human beings, as bi-peds, are hand-fixated.

That is, we do EVERYTHING with our hands. Being vertically inclined, we lean forward and almost in all interactions, reach toward something with our hands. It stands to reason that we should use this same mechanism when it comes to riding. For example, steering a horse is as simple as steering a bike - just grab the rein on the turn side and pull! The horse's head turns in that direction, and the legs must follow.


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One of the most incomprehensible things that we humans have to deal with when we decide to ride horses, is to reprogram our natural tendency to lean forward and pull on the rein. It is a most unfortunate undertaking, as this natural inclination is so hardwired in us that it feels wrong to stay balanced on top of a moving horse and use our leg and seat aids before our hands. And so we start on a long journey of "re-wiring"...

... and one of the most difficult concepts in riding happens to be the use of the outside rein. We become experts at riding with a tight inside rein and a loopy outside rein. We teach the horse to stiffen on the inside jaw and "pop" the outside shoulder. We ride up the rail with the shoulder "out" and the haunches "in" - almost moving diagonally without knowing it. If we only knew how simple it would be to allow the horse to move straight - using a straightening outside rein!

What to do?

The solution to the outside rein lies in the inside leg and seat bone. You've heard it time and again: "inside leg to outside rein". Well, it's not really about your leg - it's about the horse's balance. The horse needs to "step away" from your leg in order to take his weight more to the outside. This will help him stretch the outside of his body, bend toward the inside and "fill" your outside rein.

Your inside seat bone encourages the weight shift. It accepts the thrust of the inside hind leg and then shifts the weight even more to the outside. In this way, you help your horse balance as you go around the ring. And somehow miraculously, you discover you have an outside rein!

Now, it is your responsibility to maintain this new connection. That is, use the "contact" - don't abuse it by throwing it away! Give when needed, take when needed, resist when necessary (or preferably, do all three in a split second!). But by all means, keep it connected! If you can keep the rein straight, you will also keep your horse straight - through the shoulders and neck (your legs are responsible for the horse's hips).

So on your next ride, remember the outside rein. But remember even more, that it's not just about grabbing the rein - it's about setting the horse up through its body so that he "fills" the outside rein. Then, when you have one, do something with it!

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is just the "irritating" thought - the one that sparks you on to delving deeper into the subject. We all know that finding that outside rein (correctly) is no easy feat. The best path to this solution is to find a competent instructor who can give you consistent, accurate feedback.

Good luck and happy riding.

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 More on similar topics:

6 Ways to Unleash the Power of Your Riding Seat: Why get into the push and pull method when you can easily influence the horse from the middle?

A Cautionary Horse Tale: Why you must be willing to dedicate the time and effort needed to learn to be a good rider.

Muscle Memory Matters in Horse Riding: Practice, practice and then practice some more! How muscle memory affects you as the rider, and also the horse as athlete.

In the Beginning (riding): Part one of two about the riding "path".

Riding (with a capital R): Part two - There is so much more to riding than walk/trot/canter. What is it that "spurs" us on to more?


  1. Hey Kathy, thank you for this very timely post. I was just struggling today with my outside rein and getting Danby to bend correctly. Can you elaborate about inside seat bones? I think I have an idea of what you are talking about, but would love more information! Either something you can link me to, or words yourself 🙂 Thanks!

    1. The seat is probably the trickiest part of the movement. Much easier to just pull the rein back and kick, eh (speaking from experience here!!)? 🙂

      OK here’s a try, written by Dr. Thomas Ritter (he has an excellent website that you can probably spend weeks reading through). ** In my idea of using the seat to create the inside bend, shifting the weight to the outside, I would use the seat forward-upward-OUTSIDE while the energy of the inside hind leg is swinging my seat already (i.e. “in” the movement of the horse). Hope this helps!

      Quoted from

      Read the whole article – it has a very good conceptual description of the role of the seat.

      “One of the goals of dressage is to recreate the natural beauty of the horse’s gaits under the rider, so that the horse moves as beautifully under the weight of the rider as he does at liberty. In order to achieve this, the swinging of the horse’s back has to pass through the seat of the rider undiminished. The back has to be able to rise and fall with the same ease, regardless of the rider’s presence. If the rider merely sits passively, his weight alone can sometimes be enough to diminish the freedom of movement of the horse’s back. In these moments, the rider has to enhance the upswing of the horse’s back with an active contraction of his abdominal muscles, which helps the rider’s pelvis to swing more forward-upward, without tilting forward, however. Shifting one’s weight into the inner thighs and knees can sometimes be helpful.”

  2. Hello, I enjoyed your post. I just have one comment about the inside leg to outside rein. The laterality of the horse is a big factor and while it can be that simple in one direction, it is a bit more complicated in the other direction. For example, on the “empty” side, pushing “toward” the outside rein will not fill it or straighten the horse. The horse will push through and slide sideways, avoiding contact with the outside rein. There is more involved with getting the horse on that rein, and most helpful is the shoulder-in, when performed properly. And of course, all of this takes time. It is not done in one ride, which I am sure you know but should mention I think. Anyway, this is not to be critical at all. In fact, I am happy to see someone remind riders of the outside rein. It is that I am married to a equine biomechanics expert (vet and rider) and he has really made me aware of things no one else had ever taught me. So I hope you take this in the positive way I meant it.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment and for taking the time to write it all out! Not taken in any negative way at all. You are absolutely right – about all the variations in between actually being on the outside rein or other possible responses. You are very lucky to have the feedback of a vet AND rider. Of all the vets I know, I actually don’t know ANY that ride (particularly at a level where they’ve learned enough “feel” to give them information about the biomechanics of a horse). I found it very interesting that you mentioned the S-I for the “hollow” side – if you look at my post How to Have Fun In the Middle of Winter, I wrote, “Now try the right – shoulder-in (keep the outside shoulder straight darling!)” – that was EXACTLY what was happening! Her right side is the hollow side, and I felt that even to get the S-I (and the resultant outside rein) I needed to straighten the left (outside) shoulder.

      And of course, my call for riders to find a competent coach/instructor is always there because I know there is no way anyone can learn something new from a blog post! It’s just a “teaser” to get people thinking! Thanks again for your time.

    2. Love the biomech part of any explanation…I learned from many old European trainers that came to our area for clinics and took my daughter whenever possible. The Web dite: HORSES IN MOTION I have found interesting also.

  3. Thank you for some very informative replies. When I can keep my eyes open longer and focus properly I will read that link you shared, but for now I’ll just bookmark it 🙂

  4. I truly love your blog.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you build this website yourself?
    Please reply back as I’m wanting to create my own personal blog and want to find out where you got this from or what the theme is called. Kudos!

    1. Inside rein = the rein on the “inside” of the bend- often, the bend is toward the middle of the ring

      Outside rein = the rein to the outside of the bend, often nearest to the rail.

      Easier to talk about inside/outside versus left and right reins because left and right are dependent on the direction you’re moving.

      Hope that helps!

  5. OMG my horse demands solid contact on the outside rein. He keeps me straight on keeping him straight. Things fall apart so fast when I “misuse’ the outside rein. Then I come back and read this blog just to get it straight (again) Thanks.

  6. Love this article! Have been riding for 30 years and must work on the concept every day! I am just now beginning to focus in on how to use the outside rein EFFECTIVELY so that when my horse responds to the inside seat bone and moves toward the outside rein, that I don’t just “pull” on it to create contact. It has to be used in a sensitive way that doesn’t inadvertently block the energy but invites the energy and aligns the outside of the horse’s body. All while continuing to ask the horse to stay supple on the inside rein and yielding in his body to maintain bend… oh yes, and maintaining energy that is not rushing! Just a few things to think about simultaneously! It has only taken 30 years to figure this out! Your posts have helped me a great deal in my riding journey! Thank you!

  7. I agree with you about the importance of the outside rein but I cannot understand how it works. I believe that your reasoning can be put also in the following sequence.
    1- To straighten the horse we need to use the outside rein.
    2- But to do this effectively we need to start from our inside leg which thrusts our inside seat bone
    3- Our inside seat bone accepts the thrust of the leg and makes the horse shift his weight more to the outside.
    4- This shifting will help the horse to bend toward the inside and “fill” the outside rein.
    If this is right I ask you:
    a- What is the purpose of the outside rein? It looks an end and not a means to obtain something.
    b- How can the inside seat bone make the horse shift his weight toward the outside?
    c- What does it means that the seat bone “accepts the thrust of the leg”?
    d- What actually does the leg?

  8. This is a no brainer. Sally Sexton said that the outside rein supports the outside body, like holding a river together so that the water doesn’t fall to the outside and away. Or better yet, think about a train. You are following the tracks but must keep on the tracks or you’ll derail and fall.
    You also turn to the inside with your outside rein. Outside leg behind girth to let the hips follow through the turn. Inside leg to keep the horse from leaning in and losing blalance. I can actually feel the horse lean in and as soon as i apply inside leg and a bit of outside hand, I can fell the horse center itsself. It take a lot of time and training on your part to get this done correctly.
    It takes many years of just riding by and letting yourself figure it out without a trainer teling you what to do every step of the way. Trail riding helps too as bare back.

  9. Good stuf! Have tried measuring riders outside rein? I find that riders often think they have contact when they really don’t. It helps if you can show them the difference between left and right in a graph.

  10. I know you were answering a question to a beginner and wanted to keep it simple, but can I point out that the inside and outside reins are in relation to the horse’s bend/flexion, not the arena, so if you were riding on the track on the left rein but in renvers then your inside leg would be the one (right) nearest the rail and your outside hand would be the one (left) furthest from the rail. Also think “I can ride down the centre line and bend the horse either way” as you are equidistant from both rails.