Horsemanship How-to: Use an Opening Rein

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The opening rein is a specific rein aid that comes in handy
under certain circumstances. English riders often use an opening rein to
straighten a horse through a line of jumps or to cue their jumper for an
upcoming tight turn. Western riders rely on an opening rein when introducing
fundamentals like side-passing. But perhaps the most common application of the
opening rein is to steer a green horse that’s freshly started under saddle.

Most green horses have trouble maintaining a straight track
(path) and weave aimlessly. It’s particularly evident in an arena, where they
cut the corners and seem unable to stay alongside the rail. Though a simple
direct rein will pull the greenie back onto the straight track, it also creates
a bend in the horse’s neck and body. Soon you’re zigzagging and weaving even
worse.

In contrast, the opening rein helps hold the greenie’s head,
neck and shoulders straight. Then your inside leg presses against his ribs to
push him back on track. In essence, you’re opening a door with your rein and
pushing him through with your leg. Now doesn’t the term “opening rein” make
sense?

Here’s a look at how to use an opening rein correctly. The
green horse should be outfitted in some sort of snaffle bit, not a leverage
(curb) bit. In this scenario, the horse is tracking left.

  1. Make sure you have steady, even contact with a rein in
    each hand. You should be able to feel your horse’s mouth through the reins
    without restraining his forward movement.
  2. As your horse begins to drift off the rail and toward the
    center of the arena, move your right hand away from your horse’s neck. Don’t
    raise or lower your right hand, nor pull it back toward your hip like a direct
    rein. Instead, think of the movement you use when opening a door: Your forearm
    almost pivots at the elbow.
  3. While you hold your right rein in this position, press
    against your horse’s side with your inside (left) leg. If he ignores your leg
    pressure or seems unsure of your request, bump his side several times with your
    heel.
  4. Remember that your horse should still be walking freely
    forward. Keep your aids and cues clear and simple. Your right opening rein is
    holding his front half straight and your left leg aid is pressing his body
    right, toward the rail.
  5. You should feel your horse’s body shift over a few steps.
    Release your opening rein, continue walking, and then use it again if
    necessary. Once he gets the idea, you can expect more steering control even at
    faster gaits.

The opening rein may seem like a simplistic tactic, but it’s
the foundation for even more advanced flatwork. Eventually you’ll create
straightness in your young horse by using inside leg pressure to push him onto
the outside rein. Mastering the opening rein will make it easier to graduate to
that next level.

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