A Rein by Any Other Name Is Still a Rein
You talk to your horse through the rein. Gasp--I said it out loud! We're so focused on not touching the reins so much we forget they are actually a useful modifying riding tool. Yes, it’s true – it's best to always think on legs first when you’re fixing things. But the reins aren't just decoration! If you've not done some dishes in awhile you might want to plunge your hands into soapy water and squeeze and release that sponge, wash, and repeat. Why? It's rein practice. It takes some dedicated work to get quiet, following hands. You need to hold the reins correctly. With a snaffle rein it's thumb on top and between the ring and pinky finger, knuckles vertical. For the double – the curb slides between the pinky and ring finger and the snaffle between the ring and middle. There's some other ways to hold the reins but that's most common these days. And most importantly – your hand should be closed with the fingers wrapped and fingertips touching your palms. A closed hand can give – an open hand or fingers partly open prefers to take the rein.
So, try this the next time you ride. Think of your hand holding two sponges as you hold the rein. Practice first at a standstill on your horse or just on reins. Squeeze and release the hand like you squeeze and release a sponge. Then try relaxing the hand entirely so it feels 'weightless' while still holding the rein. Try this as your horse walk/trots/canters. Squeeze the outside rein and release in rhythm with the front leg going forward. You can also focus on the inside hind hitting the ground under your hip, if you feel it. Does this regulate the quick tempo your horse had? Try a gentler squeeze and release with alternating hands and see if your horse supples their head and neck down and out into a reaching position. It helps if there is some following motion from the shoulder so the release can happen. Your hands have to be 'still' while in motion, which is the challenge with riding! And then try neutral reins when your horse responds with a steady tempo and relaxed poll and neck. Does it last a few strides or a few steps? Letting the horse find a consistent gentle rhythm of the sponge squeezing and releasing gives them confidence in a consistent rein approach. This will also give you something to think about when using tack cleaning sponges or doing the dishes – you can practice your rein aids!
Read the second part here!