Talk About Tack: Western Snaffle Bit Rein Hold Logo

Question Category: Talk about Tack

Question: I have been trying to determine the proper rein hold for showing a western horse two-handed in a snaffle bit. I have been riding with the reins running between my ring finger and my pinky and then the reins come out the top of my hands. Several people have told me they ride with all their fingers wrapped around the reins. I would like to know if, typically, judges pay attention to this detail or not and what is the “proper” way. I am just riding in small town open shows but I still like to pay attention to the details.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Answer: First of all, you always ride with one rein in each hand when using a snaffle and never ride one-handed, unless you are opening a gate, roping or using one hand for something else. The rein comes through the bottom of your hand and up through the top of your hand so that your thumbs are on top and your pinkie is pointed down the rein toward your horse’s mouth.

Traditionally speaking, in Western all your fingers would be inside the reins, with your fingers slightly open to allow you to “feather” the reins or give small vibrations with your partly open fingers.

This is in contrast to English, where you are riding with a lot more direct contact with the reins and a slight feathering of the reins would be indiscernible to the horse. In English, your fingers should be totally closed on the reins and you may have the rein between your ring finger and pinkie so that you have better traction on the reins and so that if the horse stumbles or pokes out his nose, he doesn’t pull the reins out of your hand.

In general, we tend to ride Western horses on a much looser rein than an English horse, and that is the main difference in the rein hold. When riding Western in a snaffle with split reins, you usually cross your reins so that you have both reins in both hands, so that between your hands the reins are crossed. This makes it easier to loosen and shorten your reins, which you must do constantly as you ride. It also makes it easier to switch to one hand if you need your other hand for some other job. If you do not want to cross or “bridge” your reins, you can just hold one rein in each hand but make sure the tail of the rein (or bight) is hanging on the opposite side of the horse’s neck in case you drop it, so it doesn’t fall to the ground.


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