When we ride horses, we often assume that the inside rein is used like the steering wheel of a car or a bicycle. We think that when we pull the inside rein, the horse must obviously turn his nose and then follow it. Right?
Pulling to Turn
In some cases, the turn does happen. The horse's body moves along the direction of the head and he accommodates us the best he can. This is the reason why many of us think we are on the right track by pulling to turn.
However, at some point in time, we begin to better understand the biomechanics of pulling and how it affects the horse's body.
Sometimes, although the horse turns his nose in the direction of the pull, his body continues in the original trajectory. He doesn't easily make the turn. Other times, his body even goes in the opposite direction (in effect, drifting out) from where we pointed his nose! Has this ever happened to you?
Then we learn about the usefulness of the outside rein in turns. We practice using the outside rein while turning until it eventually becomes a habit.
But there is one other consequence to pulling on that inside rein that has little to do with turning. It isn't as straightforward to identify or visualize. And it affects the horse under almost every circumstance - on a turn, over a straight line, in a gait change, through a half-halt and more.
Blocking the Inside Hind Leg
If you want to prevent the inside hind leg from coming through underneath the body, this is how you do it:
pull back on the inside rein.
The only problem is that the haunches then cannot support the horse's balance.
Without the hind end as the engine, the horse is left to having to initiate movement from his front legs. He must then drag his body (and yours) along from the front, thus losing balance and falling to the forehand. You know the rest: tripping, stumbling, tension, rock-hard hollow back, discomfort and so on.
What NOT To Do
Most people's reaction is to do the exact opposite and fully drop the inside rein. Sometimes, you can even see the droop as if the rider wants to say, "See? I don't even have any contact at all!"
Having absolutely no contact can be counterproductive too, because then there is no way for you to support the horse when necessary. You will end up with an on-again, off-again pull that becomes difficult for the horse to negotiate. In the end, no contact can be as bad as too much contact.
There is always a happy medium.
What To Do
You have three strategies.
#1 is the easiest to do while #3 takes the most coordination. You can probably progress through the steps as you become better able to find that release. Your horse might also have a preference between the three at different times - so you can use the skill that suits him best in the moment.
Please note: these techniques can be used in the same manner on a snaffle bit (short rein length) or any curb/shank bit (long rein length) or anything in-between! Please feel free to try this in your riding style and discipline.
1. You could let out an inch of rein.
Lengthening the rein an inch out might be all the horse needs to get the freedom in the hind quarters. The rein is therefore short enough for us to communicate with him at a moment's notice, but long enough that there is that space for him to reach - from his hind legs, over his topline and through the poll to the bit.
There is no better feeling than when the horse reaches for the bit into the rein space you just gave him!
2. You could maintain the same rein length and let out your elbow.
This strategy gives the horse the same feeling as #1 but you don't need to let out the rein length.
When is it useful to maintain the same rein length?
When you know you need to be able to give clear and timely half-halts in order to help the horse maintain balance through a variety of movements. For example, if your instructor is asking you to negotiate several movements in sequence, you won't have the time to let the rein out and take it back, and doing so will unnecessarily disrupt your horse's balance.
Instead, you just let your elbows out and take them back in the following strides. The effect is the same - the horse gets a release and then a take-up for further communication.
3. You could move better with the horse with the same rein and contact pressure.
This one is the icing on the cake.
If you can move through your entire body, staying in sync with the horse's movements but releasing where and when needed, you will have one happy, confident, bold moving horse. You might need to release through your seat. You might "loosen" through the inside shoulder, allowing the inside hind to reach within a moment's notice. Maybe your legs need to "breathe" with your horse's sides.
In any case, riding in tandem with the horse is something we always aspire to and there is good reason for that. When you both move "as one", the earth stops rotating and you float on that ninth cloud!
Letting the inside hind leg do its job is one of the first keys to riding with the horse in mind!
Try this: ride with the inside hind leg in mind. Even if you regularly let the leg come through, make it a point to pay closer attention for your next few rides. Try one of the above suggestions, or let us know if you have another method that works for you and your horse.
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Below are more articles on relevant subjects:
What Being On The Forehand Means to the Horse: The idea here isn’t to cause guilt and doom and gloom; instead, we should learn all we can and take steps to avoid known problems.
How Do You Know Your Horse Is Using His Back? In the long run, our primary motivation for self-improvement in riding is for the sake of the horse’s health. We want horses that live well, staying strong and vigorous long into their old age.
Frame, Round or Collection? Do you know the difference, and in a pinch, would you be able to identify it in a moving horse?
5 Steps to Effective Short Reins: 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.
Why A Release Is Not A Let Go in Horseback Riding: Many people interpret the term ‘Release’ literally – but that’s not what really means.