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.