Horse Training Tools - Side Reins

What Are Side Reins?

Side reins run from the bit to the girth or to a lunging surcingle. They are adjusted to the horse's level of training and are always designed with some give in them.

There are three kinds of side reins available. Elastic side reins are the mildest. Nylon or leather side reins with rubber stretch donuts are often seen. Plain side reins do not offer any give and should always be made of leather - I personally do not believe that side reins without stretch should be used.

What Are Side Reins For?

Side reins are primarily used to teach a young horse to give to contact. They provide a solid contact that the horse will learn to yield to - in theory. Personally, I hesitate to use them, although they are very popular. They also help teach a horse to stay straight.

However, side reins do not react to the horse's actions the way using ground lines (or reins) to a rider's hand do. The release only comes when the horse drops its nose. If a horse is greatly inclined to evade by throwing its head up and poking its nose, then some sessions in side reins might be a good idea.

Side reins are also used to keep a trained horse stable when a rider is being lunged.

Side reins should only be used when lunging or doing ground work, and never for normal riding. Some people do use them to prevent a pony from grazing, but this is not correct...grass reins should be used instead. Side reins when doing normal ridden work are unsafe.

Disadvantages of Side Reins

Again, side reins give only when the horse ducks its nose. This might teach some horses to evade by dropping the nose behind the bit. It is hard to correct this behavior when on the ground.

Because side reins are 'fixed', a horse may learn to lean on them. This is especially the case if rigid leather side reins are used. Once this bad habit as developed it is hard to fix.

Side reins that are too tight will teach the horse to fix its head rather than work correctly in a frame. Side reins that are crooked may also teach the horse to be crooked instead of straight.

A horse in side reins does not have the freedom to stretch its head and neck out. Horses that are learning to work in a frame need to be able to do this periodically. Because of this, side reins should be used only for short periods.

Also, side reins should never be fixed between the horse's legs. This causes the bit to act incorrectly on the horse's mouth. Horses should never be left unattended wearing side reins as it is possible to get a hoof over them.

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Comments 6 comments

Narsuki profile image

Narsuki 4 years ago

Personally, I do not believe in side reins because they a "Shortcut"and are not teaching your horse to give on cue. If you want a good frame, do groundpoles every 3 days and make sure there are at least 3. It's a lot of work for your horse to go over poles set at 1 stride apart and not hit any, and doing poles will give you an excellent top frame with time


jenniferrpovey profile image

jenniferrpovey 4 years ago Author

Poles and caveletti (very low jumps) are a great exercise for dressage horses.

Another thing that will help build your horse's top line and muscles is hill work (I realize, of course, that not everyone *has* hills available).


Narsuki profile image

Narsuki 4 years ago

yes, hills are awesome. They're also great for making a rider concious of their hands. When going up or down anything more than a gentle slope, remember to have loose reins and give the horse his head. Trust you horse.

And what me and my trainer do is we do 3 poles, a jump and then three more poles to build topline in the arena.

And for teaching the head down cue, we hold the reins as if stopping(At the stop) and keep holding until the horse lowers his head. Even if he doesn't lower a lot, we give immediate release no matter how small the lowering. This is also the beginning of collection and you can work on it every day once your horse knows it and he will start to hold longer and longer as his neck muscles get built up!


jenniferrpovey profile image

jenniferrpovey 4 years ago Author

I use that cue too. However, I'm going to add a reminder that true collection starts at the back end of the horse and the head and neck are the *last* piece of the puzzle.

If you are pulling the horse's head down without engaging the hind quarters and strengthening the horse's core muscles, you will get a fake frame that looks pretty but does not achieve anything. I've seen it too often.


Narsuki profile image

Narsuki 4 years ago

I'm glad you brought that up. You can always tell when you a 'false' collection from true collection. My instructor actually had me ride a couple strides without bringing the horse's hindquarters under him so I could feel the difference between that and 'true' collection. It's kind of like doing two point- you have to know what it feels like wrong to remember how it feels when you have it right.


jenniferrpovey profile image

jenniferrpovey 4 years ago Author

Not everyone can always tell that, though. Look at all the high end dressage riders using rollkeur...which makes for the epitome of false collection. And winning.

It seems to me that a lot of people don't know the difference at all.

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