Q: I bought a cute project horse that I hope to show someday in both English and western classes. He’s a little high-headed and my friends keep telling me to use draw reins to get his head down. They all use draw reins, but I don’t know that much about them. What are the pros and cons of draw reins?
Draw reins are artificial training aids, meaning they go beyond natural aids such as a pressure from a rider’s leg. They exert pressure on the horse’s mouth, via the bit, essentially “drawing” the horse’s head into position. Theoretically, when the horse achieves the desired headset, pressure from the draw reins is released. Eventually the horse learns where to put its head in order to escape that pressure.
Riders who support the use of draw reins cite several pros. They believe that draw reins “help to get the message across” when confronted with certain training and behavioral problems. To be certain, draw reins are popular on some show circuits, where it’s commonplace to see nearly every horse in the warm-up ring being schooled in them. That’s because they’re seen as a quick way to tune-up a horse’s head carriage before a performance.
On the con side, purists feel that draw reins provide a false sense of accomplishment. If used as the primary means to lower a horse’s head, the horse will revert back to its original head carriage once they’re removed. Detractors also believe that a horse schooled repeatedly in draw reins eventually develops an unnatural headset. Though the horse may appear to be flexed at the poll and lightly on the bit, the trained eye can see that the horse is merely holding its head in a false, fixed position. The riders in this camp would rather spend the extra time necessary to develop their horse’s head carriage naturally.
Ultimately, it can be argued that draw reins are nothing more than another tool for the tackroom. Used sparingly by an experienced rider with educated hands, draw reins might work wonders for some horses under specific circumstances. But like any item of tack, they can also be easily abused and end up causing more problems than they cured. Like every rider, you will have to decide what’s best for your horse. If you decide to follow your friends and experiment with draw reins, seek professional guidance regarding their application. Suddenly restricting your green horse’s head with an artificial device could lead to dangerous consequences.
— Cindy Hale
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