Don't be intolerant of the short rein! Just as with any other movement and technique that is taught to horses, short reins can be very beneficial to the horse when applied correctly.
It's not that you should never ride in long reins - but many disciplines require shorter reins.
Simply put, the bit allows us to communicate effectively with our horses, keeping us safe on the back of the horse and permitting communication between two otherwise unlikely partners.
Reasons for A Short Rein Length
You might want a shorter rein length for several reasons:
Let's face it - not every horse is so well trained that you can get away with very little direction from the mouth. In fact, we might even say that maybe only 5% of all horses are trained to that level. So yes, for the average rider and horse, we need the reins to indicate direction to the horse. We also need reins to slow or stop the energy, and we can even use the reins to redirect the energy to the hind end.
Horse's balance and well-being
The reins play a significant part in how the horse travels over ground, under the weight of the rider. Although the other aids also help the horse with balance, speed control and use of the body, the reins act as the final reinforcement.
If the horse travels long-term in a stretched out, disengaged body outline that is unhealthy for his muscles, joints and tendons, then his overall health will be affected. The reins do play an integral part in encouraging a strong body, controlled balance (that doesn't fall forward or "upside down") and regulation of the energy.
Different rein lengths affect the body of the horse differently. Sometimes, when you think you are being kind by letting the reins out, the horse has to change his balance in order to compensate for the longer body and the heavier weight on the forehand.
Riding a horse is all about asking and answering questions. There is constant communication going back and forth between the horse and rider primarily through the rider's aids (which include the seat, legs, hands, torso, etc.).
Rein length might affect the clarity of this communication and determines how clearly and quickly you can communicate with your horse.
5 Steps to Developing Comfort With A Short Rein Length
1. Shorten the Reins in Increments
Instead of just tightening and pulling on the reins (and effectively squishing the neck into a shorter length), shorten the whole body of the horse first. Use a series of half-halts to bring the hind end underneath, round the horse's overall body outline, and take up the rein as the horse's body gets rounder. This may take several half-halts.
2. Recognize How Short is Short Enough
The length of the reins really depends on the horse's training level, strength and conformation. It isn't easy for the younger horse to maintain a body outline that allows for a very short rein; one horse's "short" may be longer than another's.
3. Achieve A Light Contact
In all disciplines, one of the goals of riding is to achieve lightness. A soft rein contact can only happen when the horse is truly straight and balanced. At this point, the reliance on the rein diminishes and you might discover that the pressure on the reins reduces not because you have lengthened the reins but because the horse is better able to control his balance and level of collection.
Creating space without letting the reins out is one method of developing lightness in contact.
4. Less is More
When it really comes down to it and once you have your others aids in place, you can use the reins only for intermittent, subtle use. But be forewarned: it will take time, infinite patience and practice, and determination for you to get to this level and for your horse to respond at this level. Don't be discouraged if you find yourself grappling with the physical coordination it takes to get to this point.
Your communication will occur more through your body than through your hands, and your horse will become more "in tune" with your subtle weight shifts and seat aids.
5. Better Understanding
At this point, both you and the horse have progressed through to a higher level of training and know better what to expect in your work. Thanks to this better understanding, the horse requires less guidance, especially from the front end.
So there you have it! Of course, I know this is purely my take on a sometimes controversial and complicated subject.
What are your thoughts? Have you been able to achieve a light but short rein contact? Is there anything you'd like to add in the comment section?
Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!
Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions.
This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.
Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published! Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email
Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding
Available as an eBook or paperback.
How to Halt Without Pulling on the Reins: There is a way to get your horse to stop without pulling on the reins.
Do A “Forward” Back-Up! Tricks to developing an easy and rhythmical back-up.
The #1 Problem of the Year: The Outside Rein! The outside rein is the most underused and poorly understood of all the aids, and here’s why.
6 Ways to Unleash the Power of Your Riding Seat: As you become more subtle in the aiding process, you will begin to discover just how powerful the seat can be in guiding the horse without disturbing and interfering in his movement.
Stop Kicking the Horse! Kicking your horse only stuns, disturbs, imbalances, and hurts. Once you have better balance in your seat and a more consistent contact with the bit, aim toward using your legs with more purpose.