Many instructors consider Arabians too "hot," or on the fast and frisky side,
for use as school horses. Watergate is unusual, however. He's especially
well behaved and calm, and he knows the class routine better than most
instructors. He's a star among school horses.
Although on the smallish side, in the field he's definitely a herd leader.
(He's one of the horses that terrorizes Tiki). Another horse had better not
try to eat his pile of hay.
Under saddle, Watergate moves forward easily, but he demands that riders
give him very clear instructions.
For this lesson, you should assume that Watergate's bit is a jointed snaffle.
(In fact, some of the rein aids I discuss won't even work with a leverage bit).
Here's an important point: The severity of most rein aids is determined by
the pressure in the off hand. Remember, a jointed snaffle acts like a
nutcracker. It takes both reins to initiate the nutcracker action. If you pull
on the left rein but have no tension in the right rein, minimal or no
nutcracker action results. If, however, you pull on the left rein and maintain
tension in the right rein, the nutcracker effect comes into play, making the
aid more severe.
Now you should be ready to mount Watergate and try out the following rein
aids. By this time, you're probably a pro at leading the horse out of the
barn, checking the girth, and mounting. Take a minute to realize all you've
learned and congratulate yourself.
I'll discuss the rein aids in ascending order of severity.
While trotting on right rein around the ring -- with your right hand on the
inside of the circle -- move your inside right hand out to the side to tell the
horse to turn. It's not a sharp turn, but Watergate turns.
You've just applied a leading rein. Intended for general training and riding
when fine control of the horse isn't a major consideration, it's the only
single-action rein aid you can use. A single-action rein aid is one that does
not require tension in the other hand. You simply utilize the sides of the bit
on the horse's cheeks without closing the nutcracker. In essence, you lead
him in the direction that you want to go.
Now you want to ask Watergate to make a sharper turn than before. Get
him trotting again. Close your inside hand (that is, pull gently on the rein)
and give a corresponding amount with the outside hand, which should still
You've just used a mild direct rein. Was Watergate's turn sharper than the
preceding one? If so, you used the aid correctly. What determines the
severity is not how much you pull on one rein, but the tension in the outside
The direct rein tends to make the horse bend his body into the turn. By
increasing the bend, you'll get a sharper, crisper turn than you would by
using a leading rein.
Now try a harsher version of the direct rein. Instead of merely closing your
inside hand, pull it toward your inside hip, and totally resist that action with
the other hand. The nutcracker is closing and Watergate should turn even
more sharply. However, don't forget that you should never use your hand
with a leg. Generally, if the rein aid is harsher, the leg aid will have to be
proportionally more aggressive. Otherwise, the horse will slow down or stop.
The harsher the direct rein aid, the crisper the turn. If Watergate moves in
a very small circle, you've issued a harsh direct rein aid. Again, when I say
"harsh," I do not mean to imply that you are hurting Watergate. You are
simply applying a more dramatic aid.
Indirect Rein Behind the Withers
Next, you're going to try something called an indirect rein behind the
withers. Note that I said behind, not across, the withers. You never want to
bring your hand across the withers or cross the center line of the horse.
Doing so bends the horse's neck too much. Anyway, it's the backward, not
the sideways, movement of the rein that works.
To apply an indirect rein behind the withers, begin by moving your inside
hand behind the withers, toward the opposite hip. What you do with your
other hand determines the severity of the aid and therefore the result. To
make a circle, for instance, use a simple direct rein aid on the outside
hand. Your turn should be even sharper and crisper than before because
this rein aid closes the nutcracker tighter and exaggerates the bend of the
The indirect rein behind the withers can also be combined with other outside
rein aids. Say Watergate starts to cut corners as you trot him around the
ring. If you use an indirect rein behind the withers on the inside and a
leading rein on the outside, he will drift to the outside instead of turning in.
In other words, you bend him around the corner with the inside hand while
your outside hand supports him enough to keep him on the rail.
Indirect Rein in Front of the Withers
An indirect rein in front of the withers will create the sharpest turn yet. No
matter what your outside hand does, this closes the nutcracker more than
the other rein aids. It's handy for negotiating a tight course of jumps or
sharp turns on the trail when you're riding at a faster pace.
Begin by moving your inside hand in front of the withers, up toward the
horse's opposite shoulder. It's a lifting action. For a simple turn, combine
this with a direct rein on the outside.
Practicing with Rein Aids
The rein aids will begin to make more sense as you practice them,
and if you practice enough they'll become second nature.
Try to practice with the same horse, in the same place,
at the same speed. Consistency will help you distinguish
the differences in how the various rein aids affect the horse.
Do not, however, try to practice the different rein aids without
breaks between them. The horse might get confused.
He'll anticipate what you did the last time or two, and think
that's what he's supposed to do again. That's because horses are
creatures of habit. They relish repetition.
Instead, try practicing one rein aid on a circle a few times,
and then walk in a straight line. This will help clear your mind
as well as your horse's. Then reenter your circle, in the same place
and at the same speed, and try another rein aid.
If you ever find yourself on a runaway horse, dialing 911 on you cellular
phone won't help you. But knowing how to properly apply a pulley rein will.
The pulley rein can stop a horse faster than anti-lock brakes when used
correctly. But it's a very harsh rein aid for emergency situations only. The
pulley rein has no place in normal school riding.
With a runaway, the sooner you regain control, the better. A horse that's
allowed to stretch out like a race horse and take off at a gallop is very hard
to stop. Remember, if you stop the boulder before it starts rolling down that
hill, it can't go anywhere.
But let's say you didn't stop the boulder quite soon enough, that you're
riding in a large ring, and wind whips up, Watergate is feeling frisky anyway,
and he suddenly decides to bolt down the long side of the ring.
First, if you're carrying a crop, drop it fast! Actually, you should have
sensed that Watergate was getting frisky and dropped the crop long ago.
But if you still have it, let it slide out of your hand. Don't lift your hand or let
go of a rein to get rid of the crop.
Now you must use your body weight in such a way that Watergate's mouth
becomes a pulley. Assuming you're right handed, the goal is to get your
right hand on the rein as near to the bit as you can before you pull. To do
that takes some finesse, however.
Aids to the Pulley Rein
1. Transfer the reins into your right hand, and then slide your left hand
over both reins, two-thirds of the way up Watergate's mane.
2. Get into a modified half seat: you lift yourself forward and out of the
seat a bit. (See lesson 7 for more about the half seat.)
3. With your right hand, grasp the right rein as close to the bit as you
can without unbalancing yourself. Continue to hold both reins in
your left hand.
4. Now you're going to do something similar to what you do to start a
lawn mower. It's critical. Support your weight into the left rein and
on Watergate's neck, and with that right hand, jerk by twisting your
shoulders until they are parallel with the horse. If your lawn mower
is like mine, you'll have to pull very hard. Your body weight will be
driven backwards, preparing you for a sudden stop.
Obviously, you can't really practice this on a horse that isn't running away,
because it wouldn't be very nice to the horse. But you can go through the
motions of gathering up the reins and doing everything but the harsh jerk so
that if you ever need to use a pulley rein, you'll be prepared.
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