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Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

September 22, 2009

While on the topic of lessons, loose rein, or light contact

The lady who is working with me wants me to eventually be able to ride her bridle free using seat, legs, body position to drive. (Have to admit to some mild paranoia about this *LOL*). In my own training with Phebes I tried to keep a straight line in my rein, and use tension for rating speed. So my entire way of going is changing and it is really challenging trying to keep all my body parts where they should be.

So when riding your horses do you let the rein have slack, or do you keep light contact? I ride with an S-Hack BTW and have no intention of altering that status. LOVE LOVE LOVE my S-Hack, and Phebes does too. Personally I'm a little more in my comfort zone with light contact as I can react more quickly if the situation goes south (as now and again it does with Phebes).

**We worked this afternoon on nothing but getting that subtle bend. Flows so nicely on the righthand turns, but having to overuse the aids, and struggle to get it going at all on the left. She is bending better on the tight turns today, but on a larger circle I can't seem to get that little tip /bend where you can see the eye. We will have our work cut out for us on Saturday. I'll only have one more opportunity to work with her if the footing is alright out there on Friday. If I have to I guess I can do the bending from the ground. This slow work is making her want to be lazy...she is like molasses flowing out there. ~E.G.


  1. Technically, in the efforts of good equitation, you should be able to rate your horse by using your seat. What I have learned through my dressage lessons is that really, you're not using your reins to rate, but rather to guide and aid in collection. It's also the basis of the centered riding ideology. In dressage, you want to work back to front - engaging the hind quarters first before you do anything with the horse's head. That's why an intro or training level horse is just taught to accept the bit at that level and no actual collection is asked for until first or second level.

    If you watch a horse work bridle less, he will not maintain the same level of engagement as a horse worked in a bridle - think of the upper level dressage horse.

    That said, in working my horse back to front (which is HARD! because in an emergency my first tendency is to shorten my reins, not deepen my seat and stay upright) I aim for a light feel on the reins, like Sally Swift says in her centered riding book, pretend you're holding baby birds in your hands. If you use too much pressure you'll squeeze the baby birds. Huck is claustrophobic about his head, which helps me remember to do this. If I'm riding him properly and he's rounding through his back, then I can have more feel on his mouth. But if I'm riding improperly, and just shorten my reins, he will fight until he has his head. I've had to learn (the hard way) to give and take with him. Ask for more roundess, reward with a lighter rein pressure, and move on. If we get into a really good rhythm, I'll use an even looser rein and trust my seat to save me in case of an emergency (and sometimes that fails me too, but it's all part of the learning process! ;).

    I think the same can be applied to using a S-hack. I've personally never used them, but we've had similar successes using Dr. Cook's bitless bridle and working on elementary dressage.


  2. I believe that it is better to ride with slack in your reins the majority of the ride. (your horse can lower his/her head to stretch out their neck and back and carry themselves in a more rounded frame) Obviously, at the start, you can't always do that. And at other times possibly. But wether you have tight rein or loose, your horse may still spook. It's not the rein length that will save you but your seat and your balance. While my horse is spooking I tighten up my reins-because I have the balance in my seat to keep me on. So I tighten up my reins just to make sure she doesn't run off. Which she never tries, and few do. But they need just a quick reminder that you're still in control and then I go back to riding with slack. Not a ton like a western pleasure rider but some. I like to ride one handed most of the time and hold on to the very end of my reins. I feel comfortable riding this way on the majority of the horses I ride probably 75-85% of a ride. And I've rode some pretty fast contenders.

    I like to hold my horses on the ground with slack. Only when they try to move do I put any tension on the rope and their halter. This is what I was taught in lesssons. And makes sense. If you are putting pressure on them, even the slightest, when they are doing good, just standing there, etc. then you only have using more and more pressure to teach them to stop, until finally it's more pressure than I can give! That probably doesn't make sense, but that's the best I can do. I'm not a writter!

    Michelle Detmer

  3. I agree with what Danielle has said.

    On the trail I ride with slack in the reins, however if she's getting stressed, I have a very light contact. On my Standardbred it really reassured her - probably her background as a driving horse? Anyway - I can react quicker.

    In the arena I do most of my stuff with her on the bit (contact) and I WANT her to seek that contact.

    She doesn't seem to get confused between the two (riding slack on the trail and contact in the ring).

    With my earlier advice I forgot you ride in a hackamore! LOL - my bad. Whne I ride a hackamore I keep total slack in my reins, so I'm not going to be much help for you there.

  4. This is an interesting topic. Generally, I keep slack in the reins on the trail and use light contact for 'arena work'. When it comes to the bit/hack you are using, I wonder if that has something to do with your lack of bending. A hackamore, by its design, is not useful really when it comes to lateral aids or collection. A hackamore is best used by a horse who neck reins well and can rate themselves without coming 'above the bit' for lack of a better term. A bitless bridle or 'english' hackamore might be a little more effective when it comes to encouraging bend due to the strapping encircling the whole nose and providing a distinct cue on a number of points on the face. The S-hack, when pulled on for a direct rein cue rotates the side piece away from the horses face and pus slight sideways pressure along the top of the nose. Not at all what 'direct reining' is supposed to do. Your trainer is probably correct in moving you towards riding with slack reins in this bit, however if you are interested in establishing correct contact, another bitting solution might help with clarity in your cues. This will become especially apparent in how easily she understand your cues for lateral moves, like the leg yield.

  5. I would just like to take some time too thank the active members for doing what you do and make this community great im a long time reader and first time poster so i just wanted to say thanks.

  6. I have met some of my favorite people through this blog. Glad to have you visiting. My hope is that through documenting our adventure other newbies can learn by my mistakes and my accomplishments. My Phebes is a work in progress but she is getting better all the time :)


  7. I just want too take some time out Thank all the people for doing what you do and making the community what it is im a long time reader and first time poster so i just wanted to say thanks.

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