Talk About Tack: When Or Should You Start Using Draw Reins? Logo

Question Category: Talk about Tack

Question: Wow,

Julie, what an awesome website you have! At what time in a horse’s training do you start using draw reins? I started my three year old three months ago and we aren’t even cantering too well (I want a solid trot with nice smooth circles before pushing) so I’m not looking to use them soon. I typically have older horses 6yrs+, so asking this question has never come up before. He is not relaxed enough either, to begin using them…My guess would be when we have a walk – trot- and canter down and he is ready for some balance work, perhaps when he is well into his fourth year?


Answer: Emmy,

Just for the record, I NEVER use draw reins and have not encountered a situation that I thought I needed them. The Q&A on collection addresses what I would and would not do in this regard. I have seen horses abused and ruined by draw reins on numerous occasions. Draw reins can be used humanely and with good results; but I have never found this artificial aid to be necessary.

I have had the opportunity in my career to work with many horses that have had “bitting issues” like high-headed, hollowed out, tossing the head, etc. These ‘issues’ are almost always caused by the rider, poor training and relentless and meaningless contact; although on occasion it might be physical (or both). With these so-called ‘problem’ horses, I will always take them back to the basics to teach them how to respond properly to the lightest possible signal with the reins, teaching lateral and vertical flexion from the ground. Then I will spend weeks, reconditioning and re-habituating the horse to the proper response. After 2-4 weeks of doing this from the ground, I will proceed to riding. Once a horse knows what he is supposed to do, he will do it willingly, with the lightest pressure. If he knows that dropping his head and giving to the bit will get him a release, he will do it every time. I will never ask a horse for a frame that he is not physically capable of and conditioned for.

You are correct to not push your green horse too fast into these more advanced maneuvers. He should be well-balanced at W-T-C and able to make a 60’ circle in all gaits, with a correct bend. If the horse is trained properly, you should never need draw reins. Go with your intuition on when your horse is ready for collection and leave the draw reins out of the equation; you are on the right track.


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