Your reins and legs (and your seat and entire body) should all operate in unison when you ride. Too many of us are overusing the reins and underusing everything else. There’s actually scientific data confirming that an entire third of the sensory motor cortex in our brain is dedicated to our hands. So it’s no wonder that we’re handsy. Plus, the front of the horse is in our field of vision, so we tend to concentrate on that part and neglect the hind end, which is actually the one we should be concentrating on more.
Your body should always compliment what your legs and reins are doing. Your horse can feel every shift in your seat. But if it doesn’t yet mean anything to him, he won’t respond to that light cue. So we use the legs and reins for clarity until just a slight shift of our body position gets the response we’re after.
Active Reins and Legs
You never, ever want your legs or reins to be dull and lifeless. When you engage your horse using your reins or legs, keep some life in them. Think more of a vibrating or bumping motion than a fixed push or pull.
Loose Rein And On The Edge Of Contact
Every horse should be able to travel on a loose rein without speeding up. If you need more work on speed control, visit this article: How To Calm Down A Hot Horse
Riding on a loose rein should be balanced with riding on the edge of contact where you’re close with your aids, but not actually applying them. Your horse gets the support he needs without impeding his movements.
Get rein management tips here: Rein Management
Your legs should also be a source of support for your horse. For example, in a trot, you would keep some life in your legs in rhythm with the horse’s movement to encourage him to take another step. When going straight, your legs should hang in line and directly under your shoulders and hips.
Reins and Legs For A Turn
Always use the outside rein to support the neck in a turn. If a horse over bends and collapses his neck, it forces him to dump all his weight on his outside front shoulder. That prevents his inside hind leg from coming up under the load. Without that, a balanced turn is impossible. The inside rein simply maintains a slight bend. The bend should be no more than what allows you to see the horse’s inside eye.
Your legs in a turn should also become active to encourage the horse to turn in a correct and balanced way. Your inside leg will move back a little and your outside leg will remain at center.
Remember to keep some life in both your reins and legs.
Left Turn Example
For example, suppose you’re turning your horse left. Your left leg will move behind the center just a few inches. This will encourage the hips to unbrace and swing out a little allowing the inside hind leg to reach and land underneath the horse’s belly. Your right leg remains at center. Always maintain forward motion.
The right rein will support his neck to prevent overbending. The left rein will ask for a slight bend to the left.
When a horse only gives you his face and doesn’t actually turn his front end, you may think it’s because his front end is braced. But it’s actually because the hind end is braced to the inside of the turn.
Try to wean your horse off of needing too much leg or rein pressure to make a turn. Think less of the front end and more of what’s going on in the hind end. You simply assume a position. This position with his nose tipped, your inside leg slightly back, and your outside leg at center causes your horse to feel that shift. He executes the turn.
Instructional videos demonstrating all this and much more on BuckarooCrew.com.
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