How To Rein Your Horse
In our series on how to learn to ride a horse, it’s time to learn how to do some “reining”, so you can direct your horse where you want him to go. In the previous lesson, (How To Learn To Ride A Horse – Part 3) I told you how to get your horse to move out, and how to stop. And at that point, we weren’t really worried about where he went, just as long as he moved out on command, and stopped on command. But now we definitely want to “steer” the horse where we want him to go.
Learn The Two Types Of Reining
Learning how to rein is really a very easy task. I’ve already covered the proper way for you to hold the reins, in lesson #2, titled “How To Learn To Ride A Horse – Part 2”. So now you’re all set to USE those reins to steer your horse. I want to cover both “direct reining” and “neck reining” here in this lesson. To begin with, let’s talk about “direct reining”.
“Direct Reining” is, just like the term implies, a direct pull with the reins, on the bit. This pull, is not to the side, but it’s directly back towards you, with either one hand or the other. Depending on how well trained your horse is, will tell us just how much of a pull will be required. You’ll remember that I suggested having a very well trained, and well behaved horse for your beginning lessons. The responsiveness of a well trained horse, will make you’re learning go so much faster and easier, and safer too.
If you want to practice starting and stopping a little bit here, go right ahead. (see How To Learn To Ride A Horse – Part 3) If you’re already comfortable with that part, let’s start reining.
Be sure that you’re holding your reins properly, with the reins coming up from the bottom, by your little fingers, up through your hands and out the top, by your thumbs. Now flex your wrists just a little, and get the feel of how you’re going to rein your horse. Flex one wrist, and then the other. For a well trained, responsive horse, this is all the pressure that should be required to steer your horse. Remember too, that as soon as your horse does respond to the pull of the rein, that you release the pull. The release of the slight pull, is your horse’s “reward” for doing as you’ve asked him. When you train a horse, this is how he learns. You “ask” with the slight pull of the reins, he “gives” to the pull and turns in the direction of the pull. Then you “release” the pull, and your horse “learns” that he has done the right thing. It’s a very simple principle, that we simply repeat over and over again.
So now, ask your horse to move out. Let him walk for a while, how long you let him walk will depend on how big the enclosure is that you’re riding in. Then when you get to a spot where you want him to turn, flex your wrist Back towards you, on the side you want him to turn to. With this slight pull of the reins, your horse should promptly turn to that side, and walk in that new direction.
Now, I said that as soon as your horse responds to the pull of the rein, that you should release the pull, to show him that he’s done the right thing. (“Pressure and Release Horse Training” would be a very good article to read) But you can envision here, that the sooner you release the pull, the less your horse will turn. So naturally, if you just want him to turn a little bit, you will release the rein sooner, than if you want him to turn farther around. If you wanted your horse to turn in a full circle, you would of course keep holding the slight pressure on the rein, until he had turned all the way around.
To begin with though, just ride your horse a little this way, and a little that way. It’s YOU that wants to get the practice here, not particularly your horse. And so you will learn in exactly the same way your horse would learn, by repetition. So you will want to move your horse out, as after he has walked straight ahead for a bit, you “rein” him by flexing your wrist, and then you let him walk in that direction for a little while, and then you “rein” him again, in a different direction. You just continue this until you’re feeling very comfortable, just walking around and “reining ” your horse here and there.
“Neck Reining” is a little bit different, but the basics are all the same. By that I mean, we apply a little bit of pressure, enough to turn our horse to the degree that we want him to turn, and then we release the pressure, and allow him to walk in the new direction.
One of the most obvious differences between “direct reining” and “neck reining” is of course, that you hold your reins in only one hand when you “neck rein”. Which hand you hold them in doesn’t matter, whatever is comfortable for you is what is “right”. On long rides, such as trail rides, I switch off sometimes, just to be more comfortable. But you still want to hold the reins in the same manner, with the reins coming up from the bottom, and out the top. That “flex of the wrist” however, won’t be used to rein your horse, but rather to signal him to slow down or to stop.
But we want to talk about reining, so the flex of the wrist is not used in “neck reining”. You will simply move your hand over from one side to the other, to signal your horse to turn. But again, this should only be a “slight” movement, when riding a well trained horse. The pressure applied to ask your horse to turn, is not any pressure on the bit, but rather just a slight amount of pressure on his neck, hence “neck reining”. Just the weight of the reins, and a slight pull to the side, is all the pressure that will be applied to your horse’s neck. By moving your hand to one side or the other, you will be laying the reins against your horse’s neck, and he will feel that slight pressure.
Be sure that you don’t move your hand so far to one side, that you pull the rein on the other side so tight, that it tugs on the bit. For example, if you move your hand to the left, laying the right rein across the right side of your horse’s neck, he will feel that “pressure”, and that’s good, that’s what we want. He will move away from that pressure. But if you move your hand any farther to the left, you will pull the right side rein so tight, that it will pull against the bit in your horse’s mouth. What will a pull on the right side of the bit tell your horse to do? Do you see the point. You would be wanting your horse to move to the left, away from the pressure of the rein on his neck, but if at the same time, you cause a pull directly on the bit from the right side, you will only confuse your horse. So you can see, this is surely not what you want to do.
So again, move your horse out, into a walk. After he has walked a short distance, you will move the hand the holds the reins, across your horse’s neck, in the direction that you want him to turn to. Your hand should of course initially be centered above his neck. If you’re riding a western saddle, your hand would be just above and in front of the saddle horn. Don’t think though, that you can’t “neck rein” if you’re riding an English saddle. If you’re in some sort of “show” situation, naturally you’d be “direct reining”, but what if you just want to go riding, and want to ride an English saddle? You can rein any way you want to. I’ve done lots of pleasure riding in an English saddle, and in an Icelandic saddle, and in no saddle. And I can tell you this; If you ride for any length of time, it will be much more “pleasurable” to be “neck reining”, so that you can just relax one arm at a time, as you ride.
So, no matter what kind of saddle you’re riding, the “neutral” position for your reining hand should be, centered above your horse’s neck, and just above and in front of your saddle. Your reins should of course, have some “slack” in them, and as you “rein” you will simply move your hand across your horse’s neck, in the direction you want him to turn to. So, just walk your horse ahead, then turn one way, then the other, and just become comfortable with riding and reining your horse. Then stop as you wish, and start again, and do some more reining. You’re already enjoying the fun and relaxation of riding your horse, even if you’re just in a corral or small enclosure.
Look In The Direction Of The Turn
As you’re riding and reining, whether you’re “direct reining” or “neck reining”, you will always want to look slightly, in the direction that you want to turn to. So as you begin to ask your horse to turn, you will move your head just slightly in that direction, as you use your reins. Just this slight bit of body movement will help tell your horse what you want him to do. It’s amazing just how sensitive a horse can be, when ridden “softly”, and in “partnership” with him. After all, we want to build a “relationship” with our horse, don’t we?
You’re Riding !
You’re moving out, you’re starting and stopping, and you’re reining. You’re Riding ! How does it feel? It’s fun isn’t it? I’m glad that you’ve followed along with this series on “How To Learn To Ride A Horse”. Just remember to stay in position, Body upright, legs hanging comfortably, not too much weight in the stirrups. You should be able to draw a straight line, down from your shoulders, through your hips, and down to your heel. Your heels should be down, your toes up slightly, and pointed straight ahead. Your arms should be relaxed, and the reins should be held properly, coming up from the bottom, and out the top of your hands. Gentle, soft, “cues” are all that’s needed to ride a well trained horse.
Be considerate of your horse, and he will be considerate of you. And an important point is, “Be Calm”. Be confident and be calm. All this will transfer right over to your horse, and you’ll build the “relationship’, and the “partnership” that you want.
If you haven’t had the confidence at the beginning, and have used the help of another person to lead your horse around on a lead rope, while you’ve been practicing all this, that’s perfectly OK. Your confidence will grow, and you’ll be riding “solo” in no time.
Thanks For Being Here
Thanks again for riding with me here, and keep visiting “How To” Horse Training, as we train ourselves and our horses. “Happy Horse Training”, and “Happy Riding”, Jim.
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