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Rein and Leg And How They Effect Horse Movement

In the world of horse training, the subtleties of communication between rider and horse are both an art and a science. This dialogue on horse movement is conducted through the language of reins and legs, where each gesture and movement carries a specific meaning, shaping the horse’s behavior and movement. Today, I’d like to share with you the insights and techniques from my horse training. I’ll focus on the ways a rider can use reins and legs to influence a horse’s movement, frame, and bend.

The Art of Using Inside Rein To Effect Horse Movement

I’ll begin by walking us through the process of using reins. Regardless of the type of bit—be it a leverage bit or a snaffle bit—the principles of rein use remain consistent. The focus is on three distinct ways of pulling the reins. Each affects the horse’s body differently, yet all aim to achieve a bend to the right.

The Three Directional Pulls: A Closer Look

There are 3 directions that a rider can pull on the reins. Each serves a unique purpose in guiding and shaping the horse’s movement. These pulls are not just about changing direction; they’re about communicating with the horse in a way that encourages specific physical responses, enhancing both the horse’s flexibility and the rider’s control.

1. Pulling Out and Down

The first method involves pulling the rein outwards and downwards. Pulling this direction encourages the horse to bend inward toward the direction of the pull. A fundamental aspect of achieving a proper bend in turns or circles. However, this technique does more than just direct the horse; it subtly influences the horse’s weight distribution. By pulling out and down, the rider can cause the horse’s shoulder to drop slightly to the inside, affecting its balance and encouraging a deeper bend. This method is particularly useful in the initial stages of training. It is the simplest for the horse to understand for getting the horse to bend. The downside is that it puts more with on the horse’s front end which decreases maneuverability.

  • Impact on Movement: Encourages inward bending and affects weight distribution, and decreased maneuverability.
  • Application: Useful for simple communication in very green horses.

2. Pulling Up Near The Rider’s Body

The second directional pull keeps the reins in front of but near the rider’s body. This cue is more about finesse and collection than the broader movements encouraged by the outward and downward pull. By drawing the rein up but near the front of the rider’s body, the rider asks the horse to engage more fully, bringing its body into a more collected frame. This action has the effect of lifting the horse’s shoulder while still encouraging a bend. This posture is essential for all riding activities. Use this is the pull most often when riding.

  • Impact on Movement: Promotes collection and shoulder elevation, contributing to a more refined and controlled movement.
  • Application: Essential for disciplines requiring precision, and for maintaining posture through complex maneuvers.


3. Pulling Up

The third technique involves pulling the rein upwards with a straight arm. This motion intuitively might seem to counteract the horse’s forward momentum but, in practice, serves a strategic purpose. While pulling down puts more weight on the horse’s front end, pulling up puts more weight on the horse’s diagonal hind leg. This is especially helpful for horses that are carrying their body in an inverted frame. Also because of how this pull changes the horse’s weight distribution, it is helpful in softening the outside shoulder. This is helpful when a horse pushes into the outside rein of in teaching a western horse to neck rein.

  • Impact on Movement: Shifts weight to the diagonal hind leg, aids in outside shoulder control
  • Application: Useful for smaller balanced turns, and teaching neck reining.

The Artistry in Application to Effect Horse Movement

The true artistry in using reins lies not just in the execution of these pulls but in understanding when and how to apply them to communicate effectively with the horse. Each pull serves as a word in the language of riding, with its nuances and inflections. A skilled rider can blend these cues seamlessly into their riding, using them to guide, balance, and encourage the horse, all while maintaining a dialogue that respects the horse’s comfort and willingness.

The Outside Rein: A Pillar of Support and Direction

While the inside rein controls bend and weight on the inside shoulder, the outside rein controls speed, direction of travel, and engagement of the inside hind leg. It acts as a stabilizing force. Counterbalancing the pull of the inside rein and ensuring that the horse remains upright and centered. This rein is not just about preventing the horse from leaning too far into the turn; it’s about creating a supportive framework within which the horse can move freely and confidently.

Supporting the Shoulder

One of the primary functions of the outside rein is to support the horse’s outside shoulder. When a horse bends correctly, there’s a natural tendency for its outside shoulder to drift outward. This potentially disrupts the horse’s balance and the precision of its movements. By applying outside rein contact, the rider can encourage the horse to keep its shoulder aligned, facilitating a smoother, more coordinated frame.

Facilitating Speed Control By Changing Stride

Moreover, the outside rein plays a crucial role in regulating the horse’s speed. Since the outside rein influences the inside hind leg, that rein can be used to regulate the reach and stride in that hind leg. A softer outside rein encourages the inside hind to stride further while a shorter stride can be achieved by adding outside rein contact. All of this adjusting stride can be done without compromising the bend or the horse’s forward momentum. This subtle dialogue allows the rider to adjust the horse’s stride with precision, ensuring that movements are executed with grace and control.

Encouraging Engagement of the Hindquarters

Another vital aspect of using the outside rein is its ability to encourage the horse to engage its hindquarters. By applying slight pressure and combining it with appropriate leg cues, the rider can signal the horse to shift its weight back onto its hind legs. This is the half halt. This engagement is crucial for all advanced movements, including collected gaits, lead changes, and intricate maneuvers that require a high degree of balance and power.

The Influence of Legs: Shaping Horse Movement and Posture

All of this that the reins do, they should be a supporting aid to the legs. The rider’s legs sculpt the horse’s movement, frame, and bend in additional ways.

Directing the Front End

Use leg cues just behind the front girth to influence the horse’s front end. This directs the horse’s shoulders and forelegs while lifting and rounding at the same time. The rider’s left leg directs the horse’s left front leg and the same with the right. A good rider can use their legs to place the horse’s front legs with exact precision. This cue is essential for navigating obstacles, performing precise turns, and enhancing the horse’s overall agility.

Encouraging Collection and Engagement

The middle leg cue applied straight down from the rider’s hip, is pivotal in encouraging the horse to round its back and engage its core. This engagement is the foundation of collection which I also refer to as frame. This is when the horse moves with its back lifted and hindquarters actively powering its movements. This frame, improves its efficiency, reducing the risk of injury and enabling more explosive power in jumps, sprints, and turns.

Controlling the Hindquarters

Lastly, cues given behind the rider’s hip focus on the horse’s hindquarters. For a western rider, these cues would be near the rear girth. These cues are used to shift the hip in or out, independently of the front. These cues can be used to initiate lead changes, perform spins, and execute precise maneuvers where power from the back end is needed. Mastery of these cues is essential for advanced disciplines such as dressage, reining, and cutting, where the horse’s ability to move its hindquarters with agility and precision is paramount.

The Symphony of Rein and Leg Cues

In horse training, the rein and leg cues used together form the cornerstone of effective communication. It’s a delicate balance of framework, boundaries, and power. Together, they enable the rider to guide the horse with precision, ensuring that each movement is executed with grace, balance, and power.

Understanding and mastering the interplay between them is a journey that requires patience, practice, and a deep connection with the horse. It’s a dialogue used to mold a horse, where each subtle cue contributes to the ongoing conversation between horse and rider. Through this dialogue, the horse and rider can achieve a level of communication that transforms their movements into a seamless, fluid dance.

The journey in equine partnership is a path of continual learning and growth. Adopting this proactive approach will pave the way for a rewarding and fulfilling experience with your equine companion. If you need professional help with your horse, you might consider an Equestrian Virtual Lesson. This is a great way to get a private lesson from Tim Anderson. My horse training journey has brought me from winning world titles to now trying to make every horse the best they can be and to help you improve your equestrian knowledge.

1 thought on “Rein and Leg And How They Effect Horse Movement”

  1. Some very nice information here and clearly said which makes it easy to understand. Now I just need to practice, practice, and more practice. Thanks Tim

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