Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

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 by pulling on the horse from the inside, 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.

Then, please come back here and post a comment about: what you did, how it went, any problems and any successes.

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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.

22 Comments

  1. I would encourage you to go to Jean Luc Cornille;s site, Science in Motion to see and hear and study biomechanics of the horse and rider. It is very advanced and beneficial to both human and equine involved. Moving with the horse with your body is very detrimental to their self carriage. It hollows their backs and causes inbalance.

  2. On the right track but needing some further biomechanics work.., may I suggest Mary Wanless, riding is such a journey. Best of luck on it and kindest wishes.

  3. I find it is impossible to release the inside rein (even a tiny bit) until the horse totally accepts and steps up into the outside rein. So instead of focusing on creating a light inside, I focus on creating an inside leg (or better yet, just inside seat bone) to outside rein connection. I keep my inside rein close to the horse’s midline (over the mane), and use inside weight and leg to push the horse into the outside rein. When the horse accepts and steps into the outside rein, the inside rein becomes slack all on its own! 🙂

  4. Opps- I meant keep my OUTSIDE rein close to the horse’s midline. The inside rein should stay open- it stays more in front of the inside hip. If you bring the inside rein towards the horse’s midline that REALLY blocks the inside hind! Just learning to steer and bend with an OPEN inside rein is a great first step.

  5. Thank you for this short and instructive article on what is probably my biggest challenge!! I have ridden on and off since I was very young, primarily fox hunting, then came back to riding as one of those still-passionate middle aged women 😉 I’ve started jumping again, but I’ve been primarily concentrating on really solid flat work for the last couple years. For some reason this remains an issue for me, probably because I wasn’t really taught as a young rider how to ride with true connection. Hunting was kind of all about survival 😉 I really get how this impedes the movement of the inside hind, and this is important, as I’m working with my trainer and still somewhat green Tbred (who also wasn’t taught much about connection) to help him become more supple, balanced, and not resort to falling onto his forehand. We do a lot of lateral work, among other things with him, and I’m afraid I do get in his way when I forget about that inside rein. I’ve been doing a combo of #1 and 2, but my trainer just talked #3 exactly a couple days ago. My sensitivity is much greater than it used to be, but I certainly have a ways to go, and I’ve accepted the fact that improving my riding is not a linear process 😉

  6. One of the great things about teaching beginner riders is that I can teach them the correct way to turn from the beginning. I don’t have to break them of the habit of pulling on the inside rein – they never develop it! And yes, riders can do this from day one, no advanced training is required. My favorite lesson horses are the ones (always mares!) that help me teach this concept by turning away from the pulled rein. 🙂 They keys, at the beginner level, are correct use of the outside leg and to look where you are going! As the rider’s skills develop, other aids are added to support, add bend, etc.

  7. I really don’t see here any explanation as to why using your inside rein in any way ‘blocks’ the hind leg engagement. When you turn using your inside rein and your horse falls out/ goes the opposite direction, this is simply a lack of training and practice. What you should be aiming for is even contact in both reins and the horse ‘following the bridle’. By relying on the outside rein continuously you are restricting all of your horse’s movement and it is unable to learn how to balance and carry itself.
    People end up fixed in a battle of leg to hand, which is basically telling the horse to go and stop all at the same time. Stop over complicating it all people, good riding is really not that unachievable or mythical.
    See tutorials by Silver Olympic medalist Albert Voorn (loads on you tube)

  8. I think a lot of “listeners” did not grow up with the Classics. All the great teacher go into detail of the inside rein blocking the inside hind if pulled straight back, or the outside hind if pulled across the center line. And by pulled I mean tightened.

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