Horsemanship How-to: Use a Direct Rein Aid

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Dressage walk
Knowing how to use a direct rein is an important skill
whether you ride English or western. Unlike neck reining, where the horse turns
in response to pressure from the outside rein lying against its neck, a direct
rein aid leads a horse into the desired direction. Reduced to its most basic
application, a direct rein is quite rudimentary, which is probably why it’s
sometimes dismissed as “plow reining.” Yet when combined with leg pressure, a
direct rein aid guides a horse in a clear, concise and productive manner.
Here’s how.

We’ll use the example of turning a horse to the left. Hold a
rein in each hand, and have enough contact so you can feel the weight of your
horse’s mouth at the end of each rein. Now bring your left hand back toward
your hip. Don’t raise your left hand nor drop it down toward your thigh. Both movements
corrupt the straight line from the bit to your elbow. By maintaining a straight
line you’ll be better able to communicate with your horse.

As your horse tips his nose to the left and begins to bend
through his neck to the left, press with your outside (right) leg behind the
girth or cinch. That leg pressure will push your horse’s body around the turn, encouraging
his body to follow his nose.

One common mistake riders make is bringing their hand across
the withers. For instance, their left hand is pulled across the mane toward
their right hip. That action is more like an indirect rein aid, which alters
the horse’s balance and creates a different sort of response. If you feel the
need to pull so much that your left hand is coming across your horse’s neck,
then you need to either shorten your left rein or add more outside leg to
emphasize the importance of the turn.

In general, you’ll be most successful by using some type of
snaffle bit; the curb chain and shank of a leverage bit can interfere with the
simplicity of the direct rein aid. In fact, most horses are first schooled in a
snaffle and taught direct rein aids before graduating to a leverage bit. Yet
many English horses of all disciplines—from hunters to dressage—are ridden in
various types of leverage bits (pelhams, kimberwicks, etc.) and respond well to
direct rein aids. Essentially it all comes down to using the direct rein
properly, and combining it with leg pressure to help turn and steer the horse.

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Cindy Hale
Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.

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