Horse Training Tools - Reins

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What are reins?

The reins are the straps that run from the bit (or bitless bridle) to the rider's or driver's hands. This may seem to be a simple thing, but there are actually quite a few different kinds of reins, including different materials and styles.

Here are just a few of them.

Plain Leather Reins - English

The most common kind of reins seen are plain leather reins. When used by an English rider, these hook around the bit rings and form a loop, with the rider holding the other end of the loop.

There are some variations. Billeted reins have a hook on the inside, which a hole in the leather is pulled over, whilst buckled reins secure with a buckle on the outside. Billeted reins are more traditional and many riders feel they look neater.

English leather reins may be a single strap, two straps sewn together, or two straps secured with a buckle. Some people prefer to be able to separate the reins for cleaning.

Plain Leather Reins - Western

Western reins are again most commonly plain leather. However, they are longer than English reins.

Some western reins are sewn or buckled together. Others are 'split' reins, where each rein is completely separate (Some people consider this safer, as the horse cannot get its foot through the reins in an accident, which can cause it to trip or even flip).

Romel Reins

Used by some western riders, romel reins join together to form a braided lash, which is sometimes used as a whip. These reins are most commonly seen in working cow horse and similar classes at western shows.

(I have also seen split reins which extend further than normal and have leather on the end, which are also sometimes used as a whip. However, I have only seen this once - on a mule).

Mecate Reins

Mecate reins are made out of horse hair or marine grade rope. They are heavier than normal reins and are normally used either with a bosal, or with a snaffle bit and slobber straps.

Many trainers prefer horse hair reins as they believe the horse responds better to them when neck reining.

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Chain Reins

Chain reins have about six to eight inches of chain between the bit and the leather part of the rein.

Chain reins have two uses. In advanced western riding, they are used to add a slight bit of weight to the bit, allowing a much lighter touch on the reins.

They are also used on equines that are prone to trying to bite through the reins. For this reason, they are commonly seen on mules, who tend to chew things more than horses do.

Rubber Reins

Many English riders swear by 'rubber' reins. These are simply leather reins with a rubber grip wrapped around them, usually starting about halfway up.

Rubber reins provide additional grip and some riders prefer the feel of them. Plastic grips are also sometimes found. They are very popular in the jumper ring.

Corded or Webbed Reins

Webbed or corded reins are cheap and offer good grip, especially when one's hands are sweaty. Some webbed reins, however, are harsh enough that the rider will need gloves to keep them from damaging their hands.

Webbed reins normally have leather or rubber 'stops' to prevent the rein from sliding through the rider's hands. They are often seen on eventers.

Most webbing reins have a leather segment near the horse's mouth. This is designed as a breakaway to prevent an accident if the horse gets its hoof through the reins.

Rein Sizes

Reins should be sized to both the horse and the rider.

English reins come in three sizes: 48" for ponies, 54" for smaller horses or horses with short necks and 60" for large horses.

Western reins are much longer, with split reins generally being 7'6" or even 8'. (There should be a lot of extra rein and a western horse is ridden in a longer frame).

The second element of rein sizing is width. Reins range from 1/2" to 3/4" width, in general. (Double bridle reins are thinner). To determine the width of rein you want, hold them as if riding and simply choose the one most comfortable in your hands. Rein width depends on hand size and also personal preference.

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Narsuki profile image

Narsuki 4 years ago

Personally, I feel you should use whatever you feel comfortable with.

At home I ride in English reins with an over and under attached to the horn of my western and whip when I ride English.

At my trainer's we use romel reins, the romel being what we use for groundwork (Such as hooking up) and we also use it as an over and under.

I have never liked split reins very much because I tie mine(I hate having the extra get in the way) and I can't ever get it even. And as far as neck reining? As long as your horse can feel the rein, it doesn't really matter what it's made of. And if your horse doesn't respond, use your seat. THEN use direct contact.


jenniferrpovey profile image

jenniferrpovey 4 years ago Author

For those who don't know, an 'over and under' is a particularly long quirt.

As an English rider, I use seat first, then direct contact. Most Americans who ride English don't (to my annoyance) teach their horses to neck rein. The same is not true in England, where ponies are normally taught neck reining for gymkhana and it's also *really* handy for opening gates.


Narsuki profile image

Narsuki 4 years ago

As an English rider who regularly challenges myself and my horse to go outside our comfort zone, and who also does a bit of western riding, I know how you feel Jennifer. However, many americans just don't want to take the time to teach their horse how to neck rein, which is a shame because if your horse knows this, you often don't need to use direct contact and your aids are less visible. Your horse will also have a softer mouth because you aren't always pulling


jenniferrpovey profile image

jenniferrpovey 4 years ago Author

Which is stupid. I taught a horse to neck rein when I was fifteen. I don't remember exactly how long it took, but I do remember it was insanely easy (Of course, it was a smart horse). I also taught him to ground tie (didn't know it had an official name at that point, nobody else was doing it, but I worked out how useful it would be to have a horse that would 'stay' when I got off to do stuff). And I knew all but nothing about horse training at that point.


Narsuki profile image

Narsuki 4 years ago

My gelding I have right now ground ties up to a certain point. No one taught him how, he just likes to stand there and do nothing. All of my trainer's horses ground tie because in the indoor arena, we don't have a safe place to tie, they have THINK they're tied.

And we will be teaching my gelding to neck rein. He doesn't go well off of seat because he wasn't trained that way but we'll start neck reining as soon as he starts getting the seat thing down. He's smart (Have to unlock our gate cuz he figured out how to chew through whatever rope or string we used to tie the chain AND how to undo the chain.) so it shouldn't be too much longer before we start neck reining. And we always neck rein when riding with another horse on the trail. We do Seat-neck rein and leg-direct contact and leg whenever on a trail with another horse and rider.


jenniferrpovey profile image

jenniferrpovey 4 years ago Author

That's exactly why I taught him to ground tie. Because otherwise if I wanted to set up ground poles or cones for bending work, I would have to go put him back in his stall, then set it up, then go get it.

I did it purely for my time and convenience. It was so nice that I could put him in the corner of the arena, say 'stay', and go do stuff, then go back and pop back on and go back to working.

Interestingly, he (smart pony) got it into his head that if I left the saddle, he was to stop and stand no matter what. So, if I fell off, he would stop and stand! I want to teach this to my next horse...not having to worry about him taking off home if I came off on the trail was a major weight off of my shoulders.


Narsuki profile image

Narsuki 4 years ago

That's what my horse does until I reach for him. Have had him two and a half months and have only fallen off once so far. He has never had emotions be part of riding, so he is super sensitive to how you feel. When I fell off, he just stood there until I yelled at him and reached for the reins- he though he was in trouble and went to gate of the field. Luckily, I wasn't hurt except for a huge bruise that ran the length of my calf, and my brother and sister heard me yell, ran outside, and saw my gelding without me. I couldn't ride properly for a week T_T


jenniferrpovey profile image

jenniferrpovey 4 years ago Author

Heh. That's why you don't yell at the horse if you fall off. Even if it is their fault. You do need to be able to catch them again ;).


Narsuki profile image

Narsuki 4 years ago

Heh.... I know that now, but then I was in pain and I NO pain tolerance whatsoever, and it wasn't really his fault, but l more or less yelling because it hurt. REALLY Bad.


jenniferrpovey profile image

jenniferrpovey 4 years ago Author

Been there...as has everyone who rides.

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