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I attended a clinic recently with Karen Loshbaugh of Art2Ride. Over and over, I watched her take away the rider’s inside rein by putting a lunge line on the inside ring of the bit and having the rider completely let go of her inside rein. Many riders insisted, “No, I’m not hanging on my inside rein!” And then when they no longer had one, they struggled to ride using only their inside leg and one hand on the outside rein. Once they figured it out, however, each horse began to lift its back and engage itself more, truly impulsing from behind. It was a lovely thing to watch, and it changed not only the way I train but the way I ride, work in hand, and lunge as well.

“Overuse of the inside rein keeps a horse from coming through,” Karen emphasized throughout the clinic.

When riding a straight line, we hold both reins evenly with a light-but-consistent contact that stays with the horse. Each rein has what we call the weight of rein—that is, only enough contact to keep a straight line without slack. Once the lateral work begins, there is a temptation to rely on that inside rein, because it is helpful to soften the jaw. This can easily be overdone, however, by holding on without giving.

I see this in work in hand when the inside rein is overused while the outside rein hangs slack. This puts the horse out of balance. Want proof? Grab a friend and ask her to pull you around in a circle by holding your inside wrist (rein). You will feel yourself being pulled off balance. The only thing you can do is lean your head, neck, and shoulders outward to keep from falling inward. Now have this friend put her arm around you instead. Have her walk you in the same circle only this time by keeping her arm around your outside shoulder (rein). You will immediately feel the difference in your balance. I learned this from Karen as well, and it is a powerful way to illustrate how helpful correct use of the outside rein can be to our horse. Really, go ahead and try this with a friend!

The outside rein is a welcoming, comfortable way to direct your horse. You want a consistent contact that immediately lengthens with his neck as he stretches but maintains the same light contact if the horse comes up. The outside rein remains steady, while the inside rein can be used when needed to soften the jaw, but only in a give-and-take manner. (When schooling, you may need to dynamically move your hands to maintain the contact if the horse is not consistent yet.) When lunging, you can thread the line up over the poll and clip it to the outside ring to help the horse feel the outside rein. You won’t need to do this if you are using side reins or a chambon, however.

The inside rein can be very important for a horse that braces the neck and jaw, but it must be released regularly. Hanging on to the inside rein will block the inside hind leg. Your horse would be more than happy to lean on your inside rein forever, but he will never be fully supple and learn to carry himself if you don’t give that inside rein as much as you take it. Soften, release, soften, release while the outside rein stays steady.

We’re talking about reins here, but it must be mentioned that even a consistent outside rein will not help your horse without use of the inside leg. For work on the lunge line and in hand this is your whip. When under saddle, it is your actual leg. Without impulsion from the hind end of the horse, there is little value in mastering the reins, even though I’m focusing on reins in this article. The horse yields to the inside leg and fills the outside rein. Think of the outside rein as the sail on a boat. You want your horse to fill the sail with the energy that is coming from the inside leg (without overbending the neck). You will find the inside rein is needed less and less as your horse is able to stay “in the aids” and move off your inside leg to fill that outside “sail.”

Try giving up a little inside rein and ride back-to-front as you send your horse into the light-but-consistent outside rein. You’ll know you are no longer relying on your inside rein when you are able to perform the classical uberstreichen, a test designed to see if the horse can carry himself all on his own as you completely slacken your inside rein for a moment. If your horse can stand up to the outside rein from the energy of his inside hind while you release that inside rein, you know your horse is carrying himself over his back!

I love Karen’s words: “You will see the best expression of movement and development when the horse and rider do not rely on the inside rein.”

The Most Important Rein

By Carol Kurtz Darlington, Art2Ride Associate Trainer

Karen Loshbaugh, Art2Ride