Question Category: Riding Skills
Question: Which hand should you hold the reins in when riding Western? And what should you do with your free hand?
Answer: Traditionally, the left hand is used for the reins, in order to leave the right hand free to throw a rope, lead a pack horse, shoot at train robbers or whatever task the rider needs to accomplish. In competition, most riders still use the left hand for the reins, since this is more traditionally correct and many judges fall into the “traditional” category. However, in recreational riding, it is less important which hand is used. I would suggest that if your students might be getting into competition at some point, they should probably get used to holding the reins in the left hand. It is also important that they do not switch hands from right to left, but hold the reins consistently in one hand.
As for what to do with the free hand, this is an excellent question. In the competition arena, you will see two different styles: in pleasure or rail classes, most riders will allow their free hand to hang down or rest on their thigh; in Horsemanship (Western equitation) or higher performance classes such as reining, the riders will usually hold the free arm in front of their waist, like the way a man escorts a lady that is holding onto his arm. The reasons for these different positions are that the pleasure horse rider is trying to look very casual and relaxed on the horse, as if she has not a care in the world. On the other hand, the performance rider needs the better balance that the arm-at-waist position allows and is riding in a position poised for action.
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