Well, I have to confess that it isn't really magic at all. In fact, it's purely physiological and once learned, the results can be duplicated over and over again.
But when you "find" that feel the first few times, it really does feel like magic.
The horse's reaction might be so overwhelmingly positive that you can't believe you didn't know about it before.
So what is it?
It is all about timing.
We talked about timing of the aids in the past, and we also discussed how we should not pull on the inside rein. If you put the two concepts together, it should come as no surprise that the timing of your inside rein aid might mean everything to your horse.
When we ride a turn, our tendency is to pull the horse, however slightly, in the direction of the turn. But if you stop to break down the effect of the rein aid during the horse's movement, you might notice that about half of the time, while you pull on the rein, you are affecting the inside hind leg in a negative manner.
As it lifts off the ground, the inside hind needs to reach forward underneath the horse's center of gravity. The properly positioned leg can help balance the horse especially around a turn, but also on straight lines.
The inside rein plays into the picture when it pulls during the lifting of the hind leg stride. The rein pressure puts a stop into the energy of the hind leg as it reaches underneath the body.
Then, the horse goes off balance, even if just a little. He counters the action by tensing through the top line, shortening the stride of the inside hind leg, falling to the forehand, bracing with his neck and jaw, and/or becoming stiff through the turn. Essentially, he can't help the rider through the turn.
Some people can easily feel the horse's hind end while riding. If you can feel the inside hind as it lifts, you can lightly release the inside rein as it comes through. If you have trouble feeling the hind legs, use the front inside shoulder as a reference point.
As the shoulder starts to move back, release the rein.
As the shoulder moves forward, take up pressure.
During the rein release, squeeze your legs for a short energy burst from the hind end. This will enable the horse to reach further underneath the body as you lighten pressure in his mouth.
But don't let go completely.
There should always be a light "touch" on the rein. Whether you ride on a long or short rein, letting go completely or "throwing the reins" at the horse's mouth can cause the horse to fall to the forehand. So be sure to find the amount of release your horse enjoys the most.
Then when the time comes to pick up the rein again, you can pick up the rein elegantly and in a way that disrupts your horse as little as possible.
When should you take up the pressure?
If you let the inside rein go for a long period of time, the head might start turning to the outside, thereby throwing the horse off balance. You do need inside rein contact to help maintain the horse's flexion to the inside. This keeps the horse looking in the direction that he is going.
Sometimes, you also might need inside rein pressure to help with a turn, especially when the horse still isn't confidently working off the outside rein. In this case, do use the inside rein. Just remember to lighten the pressure each time the inside hind reaches forward.
What about the outside rein?
Most of the time, both reins should be working together. However, the outside rein might need to take pressure for several situations: for a turn, for a half-halt, or to support the outside leg and hip. In these cases, your outside rein might maintain steady pressure.
However, if you can stay aware of the effects of your inside rein, and give mini-releases forward in rhythm with the stride, you will likely help the horse through any movement.
The results are hard to miss. Even the less experienced onlooker will notice the differences in the horse. The strides might lengthen, the back may round, the horse may travel more uphill. The horse might just flow better, with more energy and engagement, more bounce and balance.
Surely, the horse's expression will soften, he may snort and become more responsive. The stops will come easier and he will travel more boldly when asked to go.
Try this on any length of rein and with any bit. It isn't about the length or the action of the hardware, but more about the pressure. Find your horse's ideal release point and see if you can improve his way of going just through a planned, timed inside rein release.
What do you think about the inside rein release? Give this a try next time you ride and let us know how it went!
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