November 2019 - Draw Reins
Written by by Scott Lico • photos: Adrienne Gendot
Wednesday, 30 October 2019 23:56
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“allthingstack”

Used correctly, a great tool for encouraging the horse into the correct position.

by Scott Lico • photos: Adrienne Gendot

There is much debate as to whether draw reins are a useful piece of training equipment for horse and rider or a gadget that should be outlawed. Like most training devices, when used incorrectly, much damage can be made to the horse’s training and overall soundness.

Draw reins are no exception. Draw reins can teach your horse to lean on the rider’s hands for balance, to get behind the bit, and to avoid engaging its hind quarters. But when correctly used, draw reins can be of great value to the horseman. They help to encourage the horse to work in the correct shape as well as assist the rider’s hands when the horse may try to lean on them for support and balance.

It is very important that draw reins are always adjusted in a manner to encourage and not force a horse into the correct position as they work from behind. Draw reins should only be used with a mild snaffle bridle and, as usual, emphasis must be placed on riding your horse from back to front. Draw reins should be used by advanced riders only, but they can also be used by less experienced riders when supervised by a knowledgeable professional.

Let’s discuss the three correct ways to ride a horse with draw reins.

The first way to correctly ride a horse with draw reins starts by attaching them to the billets of the saddle, higher than the point of shoulder. Run them under the first billet and attach them to the back billet. This way is superior than attaching them to the first billet to prevent the draw reins from slipping down during your ride (photo 1).

Photo 1

The draw reins should be parallel to the ground and run from the billets to the bit and then back to the rider’s hands. Hold your snaffle rein in your third finger and the draw rein in your second finger. Adjust the draw reins so that when the horse is on the bit and their nose is slightly in front of the vertical, they are slack (photo 2). Should the horse get above the bit, root, or lean on the rider’s hands, the draw rein will act and help to encourage the horse to accept the rider’s hands and carry itself in a soft and balanced way.

Photo 2

This is my preferred way to ride a horse with draw reins, especially with a horse that tends to be downhill and on their forehand. I can still apply my half halts in a lifting manner to encourage the horse to be more uphill and carry itself on its hocks, without any downward pull of the draw reins which would only confuse the horse. Never jump a horse with draw reins adjusted in this way as they do not provide enough release and will stiff your horse over the jump.

Method #2

The second way to correctly ride a horse with draw reins is by attaching them to the horse’s breastplate. This requires a shorter draw rein to be used than when attaching them to the billets and will require snaps on the end. Adjust the draw reins once again so that when the horse is on the bit and their nose is slightly in front of the vertical, the draw reins go slack (photo 3). This is absolutely crucial to the proper use of draw reins. We are trying to encourage, not force, the horse into the proper frame.

Photo 3

The horse should only come into contact with the draw rein when it is very much above the bit. If you’d like to jump your horse with draw reins, attaching them to the breastplate is the correct and safe way to do it. When they are adjusted as I’ve stated here, they will not stiff your horse over the fence. You also do not run the risk of a horse catching their leg or foot in the draw reins while in the air.

A Third Way

The third and most easily abused way to ride a horse with draw reins is by attaching them to the girth between the front legs. Most people who use draw reins in this way ride with them much too short causing their horses to become over flexed, behind the bit, and on their forehand (photo 4). Once a horse has learned to get behind the bit, it enables them to avoid control of the rider’s hand. Adjustment of the draw reins should once again be to have them long enough that when the horse’s nose is slightly in front of the vertical, the draw reins go slack (photo 5). No shorter! Riding with draw reins to the girth helps to encourage the horse to work in a long and low position and stretch out their back. Though you may see some top riders jumping their horses with draw reins attached in this way, I discourage you from doing so as there is a good possibility that the horse will catch a foot or leg in them over the fence resulting in a fall.

Photos 4 and 5

Spend some time at the horse shows, and you will see draw reins being very much abused. Riders forcing horses behind the bit, causing them to become rubber necked and out of balance. These riders do not have an understanding of the correct use of the draw reins. They are hand riding and just focusing on the horse’s head and neck simply because that’s what they see. But proper classical riding must first come from riding the horse from your legs. Everything we do with our horses must be back to front! Once a rider has a thorough understanding of this, correctly adjusted draw reins can be of great use.

Author Scott Lico is a hunter/jumper trainer based at Hacienda Del Valle in Lake View Terrace. For more information, visit www.scottlicostables.com.