by Terry Myers
Anyone who has ever ridden with me knows that I preach the importance of the outside rein to the point where my wife says when I die she is going to put on my tombstone ‘More Outside Rein.’ You hear and read about the importance of getting a horse soft in the bridle and giving to the bit laterally. Most people focus on this so much, that they actually get the horse forehand heavy because they never take their training to the next step. Don’t get me wrong, getting a horse that will give to the bit is a very important step in training a horse. Once a horse is soft in their neck and their body (gives the ribcage and you can push the hip to the inside), it’s time to go to the next step…the outside rein.
First let me explain the function of the outside rein. The outside rein squares the horse’s shoulders (they actually elevate their shoulders), puts the horse in the middle of the bridle and, since horses are bilateral, they will move the hip slightly to the inside. A horse in this position will push themselves with their back end rather than pull themselves with their front end. If you watch a horse canter in the pasture, their shoulders are elevated and they actually track their outside hind leg between their front legs, taking a deeper stride that has more drive. This natural stride allows their hock joints to move back and forth, as they are designed to do. When we force a horse to move in a manner that is forehand heavy, they take short, choppy steps with their back legs creating an up/down pounding on their hocks. This is one reason hock injections have become so common place.
I know a horse is ready for the outside rein when I have them very soft to my inside rein and yielding to inside leg pressure. When I pick up my inside rein, the horse will yield to light pressure. When I add my inside leg, the horse will give their ribcage and give me a bend, without pulling. The name for the inside rein in dressage is direct, leading or softening. If you look up these three words in the dictionary, you will not see the word pull. The inside rein is a directional rein and is not a pulling rein. You can take more hold on the outside rein to support the horse, but never the inside rein.
How do we use the outside rein to create a balanced natural stride? Here’s how to start…Pick up on the inside rein without pulling. Then take a hold of the outside rein and apply pressure. If you feel a change in your horse’s stride, the speed or cadence of their feet, reward your horse by releasing all rein pressure. The timing of the reward is important and must be immediate to allow the horse to recognize and learn what you want. You can add pressure with your outside leg when you take a hold of the outside rein. To do this, you must move your outside leg back and add light pressure. If no response, try lightly bumping your outside leg with the rhythm of the horse. Once your horse will give you a change, when adding outside rein and leg pressure, ask for two or three strides before you release. Eventually your horse will learn to hold the position. The important part, you cannot pull with your inside rein. If you pull on the inside rein, your horse will start leaning into the bit and pull back.
This is not a quick process but is necessary to the goal of creating a ‘finished’ horse, one which can travel in a collected manner. In our quick, hurried society, there is no gimmick or quick fix to producing a properly moving, well framed horse. The rider body position is critical to this process. I could write a book on this subject. Western pleasure people, this applies to you too! A good moving horse, one who drives from behind and is in frame, is not discipline specific. It applies to all horses and all riders. Until you correctly use the outside rein, you will never get close to having a ‘finished’ horse. Like the old saying goes; “you break them on the inside rein and finish them on the outside rein.”
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Terry Myers is a national clinician and champion horse trainer with a depth of knowledge developed from over 45 years in the horse industry. Myers has been a popular clinician at multiple expos in the U.S. and Canada. To learn more about Myers’ Ride-In-Sync methods as well as clinic and training services available, visit Myers at www.tmtrainingcenter.com or on Facebook.