The Outside Rein Revisited

 I always enjoy reading the posts of other people. It is not only a way to see what others are doing and teaching, but it is a way of staying involved when not riding. So today I read a post from someone explaining about the use of the outside rein, which, as you can see, has inspired me to respond.

The writer, after explaining that humans tend to do everything with their hands, reminded us that when riding a horse we like to lean forward and pull the reins with our hands, especially the inside rein, in the effort to turn like on a bike. This part did not especially prompt me to react, but what followed reawakened some points I have encountered many, many times before.

A few years ago I received a criticism from a hunter rider regarding my students. She told me she was amazed at how they struggle to learn to ride. She asked me very pointedly, “can’t they figure out that the horse follows his head”. All of this only serves to remind me of just how powerful ignorance can be, especially when coupled with money.

The writer of the article explained to riders how to get the horse into the outside rein. To summarize, she indicated that your inside seat bone and inside leg should push the horse to the outside, and therefore he will find the outside rein and take weight in it, allowing you to soften your inside rein. She states very emphatically, that this will make the horse straight and therefore balanced..

As a reminder to those who know, there is a difference between “stiff and straight in front of you”, and “supple and straight through the body”. This commentator is obviously a member of the first group. Most riders who are relaxed enough to feel their horses when they move, notice that they are stiffer on one side. Of course you feel that in your reins, but I am referring to those who can recognize that in the horse’s body. Once you are aware of that, the journey begins to acquire the knowledge and ability to supple and straighten the horse. At that point, the use of your aids can begin to effect the contact through the reins with the horse’s mouth. It is true, we would like to have an even contact, but that evenness is the product of a supple straightness, not through locking the horse’s mouth shut with a very tight noseband, and manipulating the bit until the horse wants to get away from the pain, thereby releasing the pressure, and satisfying the rider with a “seeming correct” contact.

(This horse is falling right and looks for the support of the left rein, but the same will not be the case going left).

As I have said for years, until the rider can understand the simple biomechanics of the horse in movement, and have as his goal to make the horse supple and “relatively” straight (we know perfect straightness is impossible), he will never have an even contact with his horse. When I hear instructors teach their students, using all the “correct” terminology, without having any idea what really to expect (aside from the ‘look’ of a movement in a show) it is always a disappointment to me and I know often the riders really want to learn, and are ultimately getting nowhere (except maybe to a show).

So, I hope many of you will know that if you just use your inside leg and seat to push your horse to the outside rein, as the writer instructs, you may have a good contact in the outside rein in one direction. But in the other direction, you will only be sliding sideways, without achieving a connection from the seat and leg. You might please the judges with your “leg-yield”, but you will not have your horse in the outside rein.


Searching for that New Horse??

A friend of mine is currently searching for a new horse.  This has caused me to reflect on  my many years of searching for horses, both in the United States and in Europe.  It was always of primary importance , of course, to be aware of who would ultimately be riding and training the horse.  Over time, I have developed some rather strong opinions as to what is important, and the criteria varies with purpose and individual.    Today, I am referring to amateur riders, who ride seriously, but  without professional intention.

For me, the most important element for the amateur rider is temperament.  If a horse is extremely difficult, it belongs in the hands of an educated, experienced professional.  Even then, it may never be reliable.  Those types of horses are rarely working “with” the rider and are always waiting for the moment when they can say “no”.  Remember however, a lively horse is not necessarily a difficult horse.  He can be very sensitive and reactive (electric) but still have a super work ethic.  However, he may not be suitable for some amateurs since they often have quick reactions, and can also become tense and stiff when the rider makes mistakes while learning.  Therefore, I would recommend a “relatively” calm and forgiving temperament for most amateurs, and especially for those whose responses are not trained to the point of being quick to react.

That said, I must address quality.  Quality is VERY important, and I have always advised to purchase the best quality you can reasonably afford.  WHY?  The more athletic a horse can be, the easier to train and ride.  As with any athletic pursuit, some things will always be difficult for both horse and rider.  This is where resistances originate.  Therefore, the easier it is for the horse to respond to our requests comfortably, the less resistant he will be.  Of course, good training is necessary so the horse can feel balanced and confident, but that is a subject for another day.  The important point is that the horse is phuysically able to fulfill our requests with relative ease.

Here, I should not that some horses are more “naturally balanced” than others.  If you find the horse is considerably more difficult on one side compared to the other, this would indicate not only a training issue, but a lack of “natural symmetry” and the horse will be more difficult to maintain.  Always try to find the most “naturally balanced” horse you can afford.  Also, keep in mind that some breeds are  typically more difficult than others, and some lines within breeds are easier.  For example, most people find Donnerhall offspring easier to train than those from Sandro Hit.

To conclude, I will list, in order of importance, my recommendations:

1.  Solid work ethic.  Not tense, nervous,  or seeking a way out of the contact.

2.  Good conformation and way of going.  Not dragging feet making a cloud of dust when he moves, not stiffening  the hind legs and back, not “bad”  in the mouth, and not fussy or tense.  Rather a lively picture, moving up and over the ground.

3.  Training commensurate with your needs and experience  The horse is readily forward, supple in  his body and quietly accepts the contact.

These are generalities, but also important to consider.  And above all, don’t fall in love and blind yourself to what you know in your heart.

So……… Happy Hunting and Happy Holidays.

Remember the Haunches???



I have been trying for two weeks to think about how to translate my frustration into words that hopefully will bring riders and owners to become more aware of the lack of use of the haunches.  Training has reached a point where finally it is noticeably rare to see a horse who is using his hind end, much less actually bending and engaging the haunches.

I have decided to use the canter pirouette as an example.  WHY?  Because the lack of bending of the hindleg , and the lack of “sitting” as a result, is easy to see.  And when you see that the horse is on the forehand and lacks engagement in the canter pirouette, you can  assume that the same is true throughout his work.

I have been spending a lot of time observing horses in training and competition, and I hear so many times that the “modern” sport horse has such extravagant gaits and because you see a “bending of the hocks” one believes that the horse is engaged and “pushing”.  However, that is rarely the case.

Let’s look at a couple of pictures:


As we can see from above, this has little to do with a correct canter priouette.  Both of these horses are “schooling” pirouettes.  So many people may say, “yes, they are just learning the pirouette, so you can not expect more, at this time”.  But…..I have to say, schooling the canter pirouette means “preparing the horse by exercises that supple, straighten, and elevate the horse“.  Exercises such as counter canter, shoulder in and transitions, both within the gait as well as from gait to gait.  I watch OVER, and OVER people attempting to train canter pirouette by cantering to a spot, and trying to spin around, mimicking a canter pirouette, in hopes that the horse will somehow find a way to do it (and as you can see from the pictures above, good hearted horses do try).    But I think we can all agree, it is sad to see our equine partners look so pitiful.

Now, lets look at another picture I took of a person training the pirouette who has spent most of his time riding transitions and counter counter.  He has schooled some lateral work, and back to counter counter.  And finally brings the horse into a schooling pirouette.

So, what do we see is different?  It should be obvious the horse is carrying weight on his haunches, that he has an elevation of his withers, and can find and manage his equilibrium.  Compare with the pictures above.



It is not only dressage horses and canter pirouettes that I am referring to.  The engagement of the haunches and elevation of the forehand are important for horses of all disciplines.  Certainly a jumper is much easier to bring to a jump, with good and controlled strides, when he uses his hind end, and can be collected easily and without brutalizing his mouth.

Unfortunately, and the reason I finally had to include this problem in my posts, is that it has become “the norm” to see horses “flashy in the front”, dragging their hind toes – stiffening their hocks – stiffening their backs – “pulling” not pushing, and soooooooo crooked, that I had to comment.  Of course I am not the only person who is aware of this, but I believe they, like me, can only wonder how we came to this point.  Well maybe I can guess, but I will vent on Judges another time.

For anyone who knows me, and follows my blog, you will realize that I am a strong advocate of training, not forcing, a horse.  I am not someone who gets upset when a horse works hard.  To the contrary, I have worked my horses long and hard.  However, I am a strong believer that the horse should work in a way that does not cause pathology, now or later.  And that means, ONCE AGAIN,  “Calm, STRAIGHT, and forward”.  Allowing the horse to stretch his neck and seek the  bit, not drawing his neck in and nose toward his chest.  The kind of riding will never produce the kind of engagement seen in the last photo above.

So, I hope on your next ride, you will think about the haunches…. and not just about the head.