Riding Right With Julie Goodnight – Know Your Rein Aids

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Dear Julie, I’m a bit confused about rein aids—how they differ in English and Western riding. I’ve been hearing terms like direct and direct opposition, indirect and indirect opposition. What do these terms mean and when do you use them while riding? Signed, Reining in the Answers.

Dear Reining in the Answers, Excellent questions—rein cues are seldom fully understood. First of all, there aren’t differences when it comes to English versus Western rein cues. The rein aids work the same and your horse will respond the same way no matter what style of saddle you ride in. Some might argue that the neck rein is strictly Western. However, I like my English horses to know the neck rein, too. It’s imperative for sports like polo (which is considered an English discipline because it’s done in an English saddle) where the competitor can only have one hand on the reins in order to play the game. Neck reining is also helpful when trail riding—if you need to have a hand free to open a gate or move a branch.

Let’s clarify some other rein-aid terms. Neck, direct leading/opening and indirect rein aids are all used when riding English or Western. The term “rein aid” simply refers to how you move your hand and the direction of pull you create on your horse’s mouth (up, back, sideways). The term “rein of opposite on” refers to your horse’s forward motion when you’re pulling back on the rein. You’re pulling in a direction that is opposite to your horse’s forward movement. A “rein of opposition” tends to slow down your horse.

For a direct rein, your hand moves from its neutral position (in front of the pommel, creating a straight line from your elbow to the corner of your horse’s mouth) directly toward your hip. There’s a backward (and slightly upward) pull on the rein and therefore it’s a rein of opposition. An opening rein or leading rein occurs when you move your forearm to the side instead of back toward your hip. There’s no opposition and your aid doesn’t inhibit forward motion. The leading/opening rein is often used as a training rein aid—when you’re first teaching colts to turn, teaching a horse to spin or when asking for lateral movement. It’s a lead in rein when it’s the inside rein (you’re moving the rein on the same side as you want your horse to turn). Use the term “opening rein” when you’re cuing with the outside rein—when your horse is tracking or bending away from the opening rein. You’ll use an opening rein when you want to move your horse’s shoulder or barrel out to make a circle larger.

Tip: The basic neck rein is a gentle touch of the rein against the side of your horse’s neck, well in front of the withers and without opposition. In neck reining, your horse is trained to move away from the touch of the rein on his neck and he moves his nose and neck away from the neck rein. If you pull too hard or cross your hand too far past the middle of your horse’s neck, you’ll in hibit your horse’s movement and he’ll actually turn his head the wrong way. The neck rein is typically used for one-handed riding, but maybe used two-handed in combination with another rein aid. For example, when you’re teaching a young horse to neck rein, you may use the neck rein as the outside rein aid and the leading rein on the inside to help control your horse’s nose. Eventually, your horse associates the neck rein with turning his neck and nose away from the rein and you no longer need the leading rein. The neck rein with opposition (a slight backward pull with the application of the neck rein) is called the “bearing rein” and may be used to turn your horse back on his haunches, such as in a roll back or a pivot on the haunches.

There are two indirect rein aids: the “indirect rein in front of the withers” (not a rein of opposition) and the “indirect rein behind the withers” (a rein of opposition). The indirect rein in front of the withers is a lift up and in on the rein toward your horse’s neck, an upward diagonal pull on the rein; from the normal hand position, just lift your pinkie finger up toward your horse’s withers without pulling back, like you’re turning a key in a door. The indirect rein in front of the withers moves your horse’s shoulder in the opposite direction, while the nose stays bent in the direction of the turn.

The indirect rein behind the withers has some opposition or backward pull, and causes your horse to move his hip away from the rein hand while your horse stays bent toward the rein hand, such as in a turn on the forehand or disengagement of the hindquarters. The direction of pull on the rein is up and back toward the rider’s opposite shoulder, in a motion like crossing your heart (the inside rein comes across your horse’s neck behind the withers). Some important caveats for all rein aids: it’s not the amount of pull or contact that causes a reaction in your horse, but the direction of the pressure on your horse’s mouth and the movement of the rider’s hand (when using the indirect rein aids especially—it’s only effective when there’s little or no pressure on your horse’s mouth). Also, when riding two-handed your hands should never cross your horse’s withers. If they do, the rein aid you’re using is ineffective and may be interfering with your horse’s motion (pulling his nose in the wrong direction). The rein aids are always supported by leg aids—we’ll cover that soon.

This is a lot of information! It takes a lot of time and experience before a rider is able to use the rein aids articulately and effectively. For further information, refer to Volume 5 in my Principles of Riding DVD series, Refinement and Collection. This DVD explains and demonstrates the rein aids in detail. It never ceases to amaze me how responsive a horse can be to the lightest amount of pressure and the slightest movement of your hand. One really Important thing I have learned through the years about rein aids is that the slower you move your hands, the better your horse will respond.

Know Your Rein Aids

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Riding Right with Julie Goodnight
Know Your Rein Aids

Dear Julie,
I’m a bit confused about rein aids—how they differ in English and Western riding. I’ve been hearing terms like direct and direct opposition, indirect and indirect opposition. What do these terms mean and when do you use them while riding?
Signed, Reining in the Answers

Dear Reining in the Answers,
Excellent questions—rein cues are seldom fully understood. First of all, there aren’t differences when it comes to English versus Western rein cues. The rein aids work the same and your horse will respond the same way no matter what style of saddle you ride in. Some might argue that the neck rein is strictly Western. However, I like my English horses to know the neck rein, too. It’s imperative for sports like polo (which is considered an English discipline because it’s done in an English saddle) where the competitor can only have one hand on the reins in order to play the game. Neck reining is also helpful when trail riding—if you need to have a hand free to open a gate or move a branch.

Let’s clarify some other rein-aid terms. Neck, direct, leading/opening and indirect rein aids are all used when riding English or Western. The term “rein aid” simply refers to how you move your hand and the direction of pull you create on your horse’s mouth (up, back, sideways). The term “rein of opposition” refers to your horse’s forward motion when you’re pulling back on the rein. You’re pulling in a direction that is opposite to your horse’s forward movement. A “rein of opposition” tends to slow down your horse.

For a direct rein, your hand moves from its neutral position (in front of the pommel, creating a straight line from your elbow to the corner of your horse’s mouth) directly toward your hip. There’s a backward (and slightly upward) pull on the rein and therefore it’s a rein of opposition.

An opening rein or leading rein occurs when you move your forearm to the side instead of back toward your hip. There’s no opposition and your aid doesn’t inhibit forward motion. The leading/opening rein is often used as a training rein aid—when you’re first teaching colts to turn, teaching a horse to spin or when asking for lateral movement. It’s a leading rein when it’s the inside rein (you’re moving the rein on the same side as you want your horse to turn). Use the term “opening rein” when you’re cuing with the outside rein— when your horse is tracking or bending away from the opening rein. You’ll use an opening rein when you want to move your horse’s shoulder or barrel out to make a circle larger. Tip: Remember the opening rein is on the outside—both start with “o.”

The basic neck rein is a gentle touch of the rein against the side of your horse’s neck, well in front of the withers and without opposition. In neck reining, your horse is trained to move away from the touch of the rein on his neck and he moves his nose and neck away from the neck rein. If you pull too hard or cross your hand too far past the middle of your horse’s neck, you’ll inhibit your horse’s movement and he’ll actually turn his head the wrong way. The neck rein is typically used for one-handed riding, but may be used two-handed in combination with another rein aid. For example, when you’re teaching a young horse to neck rein, you may use the neck rein as the outside rein aid and the leading rein on the inside to help control your horse’s nose. Eventually, your horse associates the neck rein with turning his neck and nose away from the rein and you no longer need the leading rein.

The neck rein with opposition (a slight backward pull with the application of the neck rein) is called the “bearing rein” and may be used to turn your horse back on his haunches, such as in a roll back or a pivot on the haunches.

There are two indirect rein aids: the “indirect rein in front of the withers” (not a rein of opposition) and the “indirect rein behind the withers” (a rein of opposition). The indirect rein in front of the withers is a lift up and in on the rein toward your horse’s neck, an upward diagonal pull on the rein; from the normal hand position, just lift your pinkie finger up toward your horse’s withers without pulling back, like you’re turning a key in a door. The indirect rein in front of the withers moves your horse’s shoulder in the opposite direction, while the nose stays bent in the direction of the turn.

The indirect rein behind the withers has some opposition or backward pull, and causes your horse to move his hip away from the rein hand while your horse stays bent toward the rein hand, such as in a turn on the forehand or disengagement of the hindquarters. The direction of pull on the rein is up and back toward the rider’s opposite shoulder, in a motion like crossing your heart (the inside rein comes across your horse’s neck behind the withers).

Some important caveats for all rein aids: it’s not the amount of pull or contact that causes a reaction in your horse, but the direction of the pressure on your horse’s mouth and the movement of the rider’s hand (when using the indirect rein aids especially—it’s only effective when there’s little or no pressure on your horse’s mouth). Also, when riding two-handed your hands should never cross your horse’s withers. If they do, the rein aid you’re using is ineffective and may be interfering with your horse’s motion (pulling his nose in the wrong direction). The rein aids are always supported by leg aids—we’ll cover that soon.

This is a lot of information! It takes a lot of time and experience before a rider is able to use the rein aids articulately and effectively. For further information, refer to Volume 5 in my Principles of Riding DVD series, Refinement and Collection. This DVD explains and demonstrates the rein aids in detail. It never ceases to amaze me how responsive a horse can be to the lightest amount of pressure and the slightest movement of your hand. One really important thing I have learned through the years about rein aids is that the slower you move your hands, the better your horse will respond.

Julie Goodnight, Trainer and Clinician
www.juliegoodnight.com
In this series, master trainer and clinician Julie Goodnight discusses the riding terms and techniques you probably know (or should know). She’ll define rein, seat and leg cues you’ll need for the best communication with your horse. Then she’ll help riders solve problems with their own horses. Learn the proper terms and apply your aids for a better grasp of horsemanship and a better riding relationship with your horse.

Talk About Tack: Which Bit For Neck Reining On A Finished Horse?

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Question Category: Talk about Tack

Question: Julie,

How do I know what bits to try on a horse that is new to me? And can I ride western (neck rein) in a bit without leverage? My 7 year old gelding was ridden western in a bit that looks like a broken snaffle with a copper roller in the middle and a slow twist, with long shanks and a tie down. I’ve tried a D-ring broken snaffle and he doesn’t seem to like the action (backs away from the bit), tried a solid kimberwicke but he is tossing his head a lot, tried a curved eggbutt with a French link and a cavesson (English rig) which seems better but out in the open he is blowing through that. He seems to neck rein well (was light in the western rig I tried him out in) and not so good at direct reining (English). Should I stick with the harsher western bit and gradually try to move to the English bit? Can he get used to 2 different bits? I’d like to ride him both western for trail riding and English (hunt and dressage).

Thanks so much!
Sallianne (and Pride)

Answer: Sallianne,

Snaffles are direct pressure bits, which are designed to be ridden two-handed. Curb bits have leverage and are designed to be ridden one-handed. Just because it is a snaffle, it is not necessarily harsher than a curb bit, and visa-versa. While you can ride two-handed in a curb for training or correction purposes, you shouldn’t ride one handed in a snaffle.

From what you describe, it sounds as though your horse is ‘finished in the bridle,’ meaning he is trained to ride one-handed, neck reins well and is comfortable with the curb bit. If he works best in a curb bit, ride him that way. You may not need as harsh a curb bit as you describe, with the long shanks and slow twist; if he is compliant and responsive, consider going to a milder curb bit with shorter shanks and a smooth mouth piece with a low port and/or with a curb strap instead of chain.

Any time you want to, you should be able to revert back to the snaffle and ride him on contact, as with riding English, or to work on training exercises like flexing and collecting, but always ride two-handed in the snaffle. Remember, if he is a finished Western horse, he is not used to being ridden on direct contact, so don’t try and ride him with heavy contact. Just the lightest contact will work and in the beginning, just ask him to accept direct contact for short periods of time and gradually increase. If you have trouble controlling him out in the open with a snaffle, you need to work on the one-rein stop and the pulley rein.

There are several Q&As on my website that relate to bits, bitting problems and solutions and the one-rein stop and pulley rein. I am a firm believer that a harsher bit will never fix a training problem, although going to a milder bit often does. One more really important concept is that the harsher bit in the right hands can be mild and the mildest bit in the wrong hands can be unbelievably harsh.

JG

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