For many riders one of the hardest lessons and ‘feelings’ to learn is the correct use and balance of the outside rein. On a horse, if you pull the right rein, he will probably turn right but you will lose energy in the forward movement as he either falls in over the inside shoulder or bulges out over the outside shoulder.
A common rule of thumb is that the inside leg creates the energy and the outside rein regulates it. Another old adage that is very useful is that the outside rein controls speed and direction while the inside rein affects suppleness and bend.
Ideally we want our horses equally balanced between both reins and both legs. You will always be told though to ride your horse from the inside leg to the outside rein. This is because the inside leg creates the power and push from the inside hind leg (and therefore from both hind legs), and the outside rein catches that energy and makes it available to the rider for lateral work, transitions and changes of direction.
We should also make it clear that the simple explanation is that the outside (outside rein) of the horse is usually the side closest to the outside of the arena. In lateral work it is the side away from which the horse is bent; for example, if you are leg yielding across the arena from M to K, in leg yield to the right, the horse will be bent left so the right rein is the outside rein.
When your horse is balanced, vertically straight under you and accepting working from your inside leg into your outside rein, then turns, lateral work and transitions become easy. The outside rein – as with any contact with the mouth – should feel elastic. Imagine the security you feel when someone holds your hand; not too tight, just enough that you know they are there.
If you think that you have the correct contact and feel on the outside rein, then give your inside rein away for a few strides on a circle or shoulder-in. If your horse maintains the correct lateral flexion and bend and continues on the correct line of the circle, then he is working correctly from your inside leg into the outside rein.
The outside rein is really important in all lateral work as it prevents your horse from bending too much to the inside or falling out over the outside shoulder. Exercises such as leg yields, shoulder-ins and spiralling out on a circle all help a rider to get the correct feel for the balance of how much outside rein is enough.
The outside rein is also really important in being able to ride ‘straight’. A horse’s hindquarters are wider than his shoulders, so all horses and ponies have a habit of ‘leaning’ on the edge of the arena which makes them travel with their quarters in. Correct use of the outside rein helps to re-position the shoulders in front of the quarters. The minute our horses are straight they are able to move in better balance and this makes them easier to ride.
The outside rein helps the rider to maintain a wonderful balance while on track and keep a smooth rhythm between fences. It also allows a rider to turn quickly to get to fences or on landing because he is able to control the outside shoulder with ease. Have you ever tried to just pull on the inside rein to turn after landing over a jump? Your horse probably didn’t listen and drifted wide on the turn over the outside shoulder. This is because you didn’t have him ‘listening to’ and balanced from the outside rein.
As with everything in riding, no one aid is used in isolation; there is always a balance between multiple aids, making riding much more challenging than the average person thinks. The timing, feel and use of the aid, as well as its release, are all important to make an aid effective, and the hardest thing about riding is that we may ‘have’ something in one ride and lose it in the next. The joy of riding is in constantly learning and improving as we learn to ride our horses more and more effortlessly with aids that are nearly invisible.
Text: Mandy Schroder