Rein Length
November 14th, 2018

Horse Bolting

There are two distinct schools of thought in determining the correct rein length. Some people will say you should ride with a short rein until your horse earns the right to have a long rein. Others will tell you to ride with a long rein until you have earned the right to ride with a short rein. The difference between these schools of thought is that one is thinking about preserving the horse and the other is thinking about preserving the rider.

I personally believe that every time we get on the back of a horse we should be grateful that the horse allows us to be there. Instead of getting on and taking charge as if a horse is a beast that needs to be tamed, I think that you should be kind and give your horse the benefit of the doubt.

The problem with this approach is that you are at a significant disadvantage if your horse decides to act a fool. With a long rein you have a longer response time and it will be more challenging to get a difficult situation under control.

This is one of the reasons I always advocate for groundwork before you ride. If you take the time to do your groundwork you know whether your horse is going to be okay for you to get on or not. If you know your horse is going to be difficult, then maybe you shouldn’t get on. Get your horse to a good place so that when you do get on you can be the kind and respectful rider you would like to be.

I don’t have much respect for the people that don’t bother with their groundwork and then feel the need to hang on their horses’ mouth as soon as they throw their leg over. That might sound harsh, but hanging on your horse’s mouth causes pain and discomfort to the horse. If you don’t care enough to try to prevent that situation, then maybe you don’t deserve a horse.

Of course if you get on and your horse starts to get worried about something, I understand why a rider might want to shorten their rein and have more control. The fact is, a shorter rein provides the rider comfort. The rider feels more secure and in control of the situation. This might help prevent the horse from panicking because the rider doesn’t panic.

However, shortening your reins puts more pressure on the horse. A horse that is already uncomfortable might be close to his threshold of pressure. Your shorter reins might in fact be what caused the horse to no longer be able to hold himself together.

Put this way, more riders understand the value of riding with a longer rein. Having a light contact with loose, free elbows encourages the horse to in turn loosen his back and neck. This release of tension aids in relaxation and suppleness.

Over time a horse that previously contracted all of his muscles in anticipation of a rider’s harsh hands can learn to stay light and responsive when ridden with a long rein.

As you can tell, I stand squarely in the long rein camp. I believe that you should always start a ride on a long rein no matter how green or well-schooled the horse and rider are.

Once the rider is advanced enough to have a soft following hand and the horse has been properly warmed up, then the rider may pick up a contact.

If the horse isn’t trustworthy and the rider is green then riding should be limited to controlled situations where the horse is comfortable and relaxed. This allows the rider to stay relatively safe with a long rein until the rider’s hands are better developed. The longer rein serves as a buffer to protect the horse’s sensitive mouth from the rider.

An advanced rider on an untrustworthy horse can begin the ride with a contact wherever the horse is. If the horse is stretching down, the rider will have a long rein. If the horse is short necked and tense as most untrustworthy horses are, then the reins would be shorter. With this contact the rider could flex and supple the horse as needed. As the ride progressed the rider’s reins would get longer as the horse relaxed and began to stretch down.

However, even this is an imperfect situation. Ideally the rider would have gotten the horse to a place where he was relaxed and able to stretch down before mounting. The start to the ride sets the tone for the rest of the ride. You always want to start in a place that is relaxed and comfortable for the horse, which includes a long and low warm up on a long rein.

Although I see why people say you should ride with a short rein until the horse has earned a long rein, I don’t think this is good advice. I understand that this comes from a concern for the rider’s safety, but I think there are plenty of precautions that can be taken to eliminate this concern. A longer rein provides comfort for the horse and allows for mistakes from the rider, which leads to a better ride. It allows the horse to warm up and begin a ride relaxed and ready for work. As an advocate for the horse, I will always fight for a longer rein.