Rein contact

Nov 15, 2020

How much 'pressure' in your hands is comfortable and needed? What does a nice position feel like? What is the correct length of your reins and how do you get the right position? 

As a rider you often mainly feel what your horse is doing in his body through your hands. This usually entails that during the lesson or training a lot of emphasis is given to the position / decontraction of your horse. 

The solution to a fine and soft contact often lies in letting go of the emphasis on the position of the horse. When your horse moves well through his body, he will automatically find your hand. Sometimes it is difficult to trust on that. When decide to switch from 'riding your horse in position’ to letting your horse find your hand by himself, he will probably do exactly what you feared in the beginning. He puts his head in the air and may even concave his back. These behaviors where the reason that you started riding with more pressure. By letting go of your old pattern and letting it be for a moment, you give yourself and your horse the opportunity to work on the root cause and, literally, let go of old patterns. 

A number of ingredients that are needed for a fine and soft position and a horse that finds your hand by himself: 

1. Energy that flows from the back to front. Not to be confused with speed. In the beginning, you may have to increase the speed for the energy to flow. In a later moment the energy can flow without making more speed. Your horse and you both need a forward 'flow'. 

2. The length of the reins determines the 'frame' in which the neck can move. Without constant pressure. The weight in your hand doesn't have to be more than the weight of your reins.  

3. When taking the reins, there should be no change in the contact with your horse’s mouth. If your horse presses back when taking up the reins, repeat it more slowly. At the spot where your horse presses back on your rein pressure, exhale, relax and try again, this time so calmly that your horse no longer offers resistance when taking up the reins. 

4. You respect the length of the neck when adjusting your reins. Shortening in the 'frame' comes from the hind legs stepping underneath. Not from shortening the neck. You achieve by using the side gates load the inner or outer hind leg or by going backwards and tilting of the pelvic area. 

5. When you notice that your horse tenses his topline or is 'grasping' one rein, exhale and stroke the neck with your inner hand. This gesture gets rid of the resistance from the contact and makes it easier for your horse to relax and find your hand.  

6. Reaching the balance point in the bending and the side gaits will then ensure that your horse becomes more stable in the position, shorter in his frame by stepping his hind legs underneath, and that the contact with your hands is light. 

A good exercise to learn riding with a giving rein, and removing resistance from the contact, is 'combing the reins': 

Walk around slowly with a loose rein. You hold the end of your reins with one hand and place your other hand with your index finger between both reins. You slide your index finger, maintaining a loose contact, towards the withers of your horse, until you made contact with the mouth and the reins are at the right length. The slack is just out of the reins. Does your horse press back on your hand? Slowly slide your hand back over the reins and back to your other hand. Now place your other hand with the index finger between the reins. You 'comb' your reins, as it were, very calmly, until your horse finds your hand when you have the contact moment. 

You can do this exercise in walk, trot and canter. 

Your final steady contact is at the point where the slack is out of your reins and your horse finds your hand at the moment of contact. The result is a light connection for rider and horse.  

This in turn provides fun for rider and horse in training!