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Horsemanship How-to: Use a Direct Rein Aid

Here are the steps to correctly using the direct rein aid.

By Cindy Hale | Oct-11

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Dressage walk Knowing how to use a direct rein is an important skill whether you ride English or western. Unlike neck reining, where the horse turns in response to pressure from the outside rein lying against its neck, a direct rein aid leads a horse into the desired direction. Reduced to its most basic application, a direct rein is quite rudimentary, which is probably why it’s sometimes dismissed as “plow reining.” Yet when combined with leg pressure, a direct rein aid guides a horse in a clear, concise and productive manner. Here’s how.

We’ll use the example of turning a horse to the left. Hold a rein in each hand, and have enough contact so you can feel the weight of your horse’s mouth at the end of each rein. Now bring your left hand back toward your hip. Don’t raise your left hand nor drop it down toward your thigh. Both movements corrupt the straight line from the bit to your elbow. By maintaining a straight line you’ll be better able to communicate with your horse.

As your horse tips his nose to the left and begins to bend through his neck to the left, press with your outside (right) leg behind the girth or cinch. That leg pressure will push your horse’s body around the turn, encouraging his body to follow his nose.

One common mistake riders make is bringing their hand across the withers. For instance, their left hand is pulled across the mane toward their right hip. That action is more like an indirect rein aid, which alters the horse’s balance and creates a different sort of response. If you feel the need to pull so much that your left hand is coming across your horse’s neck, then you need to either shorten your left rein or add more outside leg to emphasize the importance of the turn.

In general, you’ll be most successful by using some type of snaffle bit; the curb chain and shank of a leverage bit can interfere with the simplicity of the direct rein aid. In fact, most horses are first schooled in a snaffle and taught direct rein aids before graduating to a leverage bit. Yet many English horses of all disciplines—from hunters to dressage—are ridden in various types of leverage bits (pelhams, kimberwicks, etc.) and respond well to direct rein aids. Essentially it all comes down to using the direct rein properly, and combining it with leg pressure to help turn and steer the horse.

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