inside leg to outside rein
Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

How often have you heard that term? Sure, it sounds like a pretty simple concept until you try it - from coordinating your aids, to helping your horse develop an understanding... it can be more complicated that it looks.

I find it helps a lot to think of this as one whole movement, rather than breaking it down into little bits. However, to gain a true understanding, and to begin to train your body, you may need more information in order to develop the ability to make it all happen in one movement. So let's break it down.

Final Picture

As it can get complicated, I'm going to start with the final picture to give you an overview of what it is and looks like.

The action of "inside leg to outside rein" is meant to create and then maintain bend, without running forward or drifting out.  In theory, the horse should respond to your active inside leg by moving away from your leg (in the rib cage area), thereby stepping out toward your outside rein.

Your outside rein can then become an active actor in the movement by either limiting how far the horse can step outwards (as in stopping a leg yield from happening) or half-halting (to keep the horse from speeding up or falling to the forehand).

The horse should have a banana-like curve in the direction of the turn. (It is important though to realize that the horse's spine doesn't actually "bend" that much - the bend we feel is the result of the hind end and front end stepping into the turn). The degree of the curve is dependent on the circumference of the circle - the larger the circle, the smaller the bend. A deeper bend will happen on a 10-meter circle or smaller, but this is usually reserved for fairly educated horses (2nd level and up in dressage).

The Details

Here is a more detailed breakdown.

  1. Rider's Torso: Turn your core toward the turn. Look in the direction of the turn (not past the turn though). The smaller the turn or circle, the more you turn in yourself.
  2. Inside Seat Bone: Weight is on the inside seat bone. This is because you are going into your turn and want the horse to step up and under your weight.
  3. Inside Leg: The inside leg applies pressure (from below the knee down) to the horse's side. The horse should step away from the pressure.
  4. Outside Rein: The outside rein "fills up" when the horse steps away from the inside leg. Now, you can use the outside rein to turn the horse (apply pressure as a neck rein), or half-halt (to slow the leg speed or maintain balance) or just accept the bend with no further activity.
  5. Outside Leg: The outside leg has a job too. It asks the hind end to also step away from pressure, to the inside. This means that the hind end should be the final component to the horse "wrapping around" the inside leg. The hind end can almost do a very small haunches-in to achieve that.
  6. Inside Rein: While this rein should be fairly inactive, it will open slightly into the direction of the turn (not so much that your arm comes away from your body). It can act as a guiding rein for less experienced horses, or ideally, it will just "flutter" and not have a whole lot of pressure on it at all. It may need to come into play to maintain flexion if you have too much pressure on the outside rein, or the horse just turns his head to the outside naturally.

The Cheat Sheet

There is a way to make all the above happen fairly organically. Do this on the ground. Stand straight with your weight evenly distributed on both feet. Hold your hands like you're holding reins. This is what straight feels like.

Now, turn right as if you are going into a turn.



Start the turn from your middle, but let the rest of your body just do what it must do in order to allow the turn to happen. You'll notice that as you turn right, your inside rein will "open", your outside rein will  come closer to the neck ("neck rein"), your inside leg and knee will soften and come a little forward, and your outside leg will automatically slide a little further back and tighten (to the horse's body if it were there).

Straighten again, and do it all in one motion. "Swoop" to the right. Then swoop to the left. Everything should just move along in tandem. This is what you want to achieve on the horse's back.

Common Problems

Most horse and rider combinations go through several stages of mistakes as they develop a really good "inside leg to outside rein" feel.

The first thing that will likely happen when you turn your body in to the direction of the turn is that the horse will just lean in and "fall" to the inside of the arena. This is where your inside leg comes into play. It may take some time to teach your horse to step away, not into, your leg pressure. Don't despair if it takes several weeks or more. Your horse will get better over time.

You might shift your weight to the outside. This happens all the time! While we focus on using our inside leg, we tend to try to move the horse to the outside by throwing our body in that direction. Just catch yourself doing it, move back to the inside seat bone, and continue.

The horse will likely speed up when you first apply your inside leg. This is when an outside half-halt will be useful. Be sure to be crystal clear in explaining that pressure from your inside leg doesn't mean "go faster," but rather, "step away."

Another common problem might be that you have to learn how much pressure you need from your leg, and how much from your outside rein. In the meantime, you might end up with a horse that weaves left and right, looking like a squiggly worm! Don't despair! It's so much about coordinating body parts, and it will take time for you to adjust each part as needed. Just keep trying, feel for the worm, and steady your aids.

I hope this helps you a little on your riding journey. Let me know in the comments below what your experiences with "inside leg to outside rein" have been.

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If you liked this article, you might also like:

Secrets to a Great Turn (a.k.a. Shift Out to Turn In)Can you tell if your horse uses his hind end before taking the first step in the new direction, or does he feel stiff and awkward, almost like he’s leaving his legs behind the movement?

Use the “Canter-Trot” to Truly Engage the Hind EndMany riders think that kicking the horse along and making the legs move faster is the ticket to engagement – but there is nothing further than the truth!

Riding Straight Through the TurnAlthough it sounds like an oxymoron, travelling straight through a turn is essential in maintaining the balance of the horse.

Drawing A Circle (In Sand)Regardless of where you position the circle in the arena, it should be evenly spaced and round.

4 Steps To Help Your Horse Through A TurnI’m sure you’ve seen it before – there are many situations where a horse turns too abruptly, unbalancing himself and also the rider. Most often, the rider hangs on but other times, she might be unseated, losing balance, stirrups and/or seat.

 

11 Comments

  1. HI Kathy, This is something I’ve been working on in my riding and your explanation breaks it down nicely in clear and simple terms. However, it doesn’t mention whether there is any appropriate timing of the aid in the canter sequence/beat or can it be arbitrarily applied at any moment. Also, how frequently should this be repeated, on every stride or only when cornering and such like. I’d be interested to hear you views on this. Thanks, John.

  2. Here’s another take on this topic. You say, “. . . the horse will just lean in and ‘fall’ to the inside of the arena.” Often the opposite is true. When you turn your torso, the inside hip comes back, all weight is taken off the outside hip, and the horse can easily run through the outside shoulder, no matter what your outside leg is doing. The inside hip should stay forward and connected while the outside hip remains weighted, to prevent the horse from falling on the outside shoulder and to the outside of the circle. If you twist your body too much in the direction of travel, you become unlevel and lose your horse.

  3. I think this is such a great tip! I have been actually practicing that with my horse as my trainer has been teaching me. I realized that once I accomplish and keep practicing this technique it makes for a much better ride for my horse and I. It helps the horse to bend easily and bend into the circle or even if I am just riding on the rail. Thanks for sharing this!

    Keeley

  4. Great description! But how do you distinguish between the pressure to bend and he pressure to go forward from the inside leg?

  5. i understand what you are saying but phillpe karl and others always say to keep the weight on the outside of the horse, why is this different?

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