Rein aids are most often the one thing that is misunderstood with new riders. Riders who are just starting out, may think that the use of the reins is to only steer and slow down your horse. While those rein functions are accurate for horseback riding, reins can also be used to have a conversation with your horse! Talking to your horse through your reins is called using rein aids. Once you have established your independent seat, learning reins aids will help make you and your horse flow smoothly together. When a rider has established their independent seat, they are able to set a synchronized rhythm, sharpen their horse’s direction, regulate his speed, and indicate a precise gait all while using their seat and leg aids. To learn more about leg aids, check out this article. Once your independent seat is established, using rein aids is like the icing on the cake! It is the final piece of the puzzle to make you and your horse become one while riding. Here are a few easy steps to help you learn how to ride while using rein aids.
Correct hand position:
Learning rein aids is all going to start with having the correct hand position.
1. Hands are to be close together and should be even on each side of the horse’s withers.
2. Your thumb knuckles should be up and pointed towards the ceiling.
3. A correct hand position will result in a straight line from the knuckles to the elbows.
4. Hands are positioned loosely in front of the saddle and are held low down by the horse’s withers.
5. Elbows should hang relaxed by your side and there should be a clean line from the horse’s bit, to your elbows.
A firm grip:
In order to have a steady contact with the bit, you have to have a firm grip on the reins while riding. Having a firm grip does not mean that you should tense up your wrists or your forearms. Your arms and wrist should always be in a relaxed position. Having a firm grip just means that the reins should be held tightly within your hands. Some riders use gloves to help them achieve the proper grip contact, without having to tense their muscles. Gloves offer that extra grip contact and is a great accessory to wear while riding.
Having steady hands is one of the key essentials for riding. Hands should never move up or down when in motion and should always be held comfortably in front of the saddle. The more steady the riders hands are, the more steady the horse will be. Horses respond greatly to how the rider is riding/feeling. If you are tense and your hands are moving all over the place, your horse is going to respond in the exact same way! Your horse will also get tense and will start moving all over the place. A calm steady hand, will result in a calm steady horse.
When it comes to rein leads, there are four different types of aids. These different aid signals can be referred to as keeping, taking, resisting, and giving. These aids help with communicating to your horse and using subtle signals as a means to show him which direction you would like him to go.
Keeping Rein Aid:
A keeping aid is the result of having a steady connection with the bit, while also letting your horse continue to do whatever pace he is currently doing. The amount of connection that is established with a keeping rein aid, is depicted on the type of frame that your horse has. There are typically three different types of horse frame.
1. Working frame – within this frame, the horse will stretch his neck forward and out from the rider’s hand.
2. Collected frame – Within this frame, the horse will stretch his neck forward and up to the rider’s hand.
3. Stretching frame – Within the frame, the horse will stretch his neck forward and into the rider’s hand.
For each different horse frame, there is a different amount of weight or connection that is established in the rider’s hands. The firmest connection is found in the stretching frame. The horse stretches his neck out the farthest in the stretching frame and therefore results in more pressure/weight that is in the rider’s hands. The working frame presents a little bit lighter connection in the rider’s hands. This results from the horse not stretching his neck as far forward and letting the weight bare out of the rider’s hands instead of weighing into them. The collected frame is the lightest weight connection. This result from the horse having a collected frame and keeping his neck up instead of forward.
A keeping rein aid is developed when the rider is able to keep a firm/consistent rein-to-bit connection while the horse is in motion. This results from keeping a steady hand and letting the horse step “into” your hand. If you release that rein tension/connection, you will lose your horses frame and you won’t receive that full horse-to-rider connection. The proper amount of rein tension must be applied at all times in order to keep your horse in a collected frame. This collected frame is resulted from your horse carrying his weight in his backend and coming under himself.
Taking Rein Aid:
Unlike a keeping rein, a taking rein stops your horse from what he is doing and interrupts his flow of movement. To achieve a taking rein aid, move your litter finger (or fingers) closer to your body. Make sure you don’t break at the wrist and keep your bit-to-elbow line straight. Sometimes your horse will require you to have a bigger pressure influence and may require you to move your elbow back instead of just your little fingers. The amount of pressure that is applied will depend on your horse. If your horse needs a bigger amount pressure, then move your elbow back for the taking aid. If your horse doesn’t require that much pressure to respond, then move your little finger closer to your body for the taking rein aid.
Resisting Rein Aid:
A resisting aid is followed after a taking rein aid. Usually, a giving rein aid is given after using a taking rein aid. However, when a giving aid is not applied after a taking rein aid, a resisting rein aid is established.
Giving Rein Aid:
With a giving rein aid, the pressure/resistance is removed after using a taking rein aid. The hand motions that were applied for the taking aid is now reversed and put back into the normal position. Instead of moving your little finger or elbow backwards/closer to your body, release the motion and put your hands back into the keeping rein position. This will reestablish the proper rein tension and help keep your horse in his collected frame.
Rein aids are a way to communicate with your horse through subtle reining signals. They are used for directing your horse into the direction you would like him to go, while keeping him in a collected frame. Reins are not a steering wheel for your horse. They are an outlet at which you can talk and direct your horse with different signals of communication. All horses are different! And therefore, all horses will respond differently to cert rein aid signals. So make sure you observe your horse and learn what signals/amount of tension work for him.