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Opinions Needed, Please: The Use of a "Fixed Rein"

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  • Opinions Needed, Please: The Use of a "Fixed Rein"

    I was a little apprehensive during my last lesson with a clinician that I have worked with many times.

    Some background info: I’ve been bringing my horse back slowly from some suspensory problems; He’s been doing walk-trot work under saddle since last June and we recently re-introduced cantering. We’ve been working on building up his hind end and whatnot, as well as working on my riding to improve his way of going.

    His walk improves after trotting and his trot significantly improves after cantering. He’ll still get stiff and hold his head up high at times, and we’ve (the BO who I have helping me exercise him sometimes) chalked it up to his occasional unbalance in back causing him to hold his head high. He has no other reason to hold his head so high--he’s built to work properly.

    This clinician hadn’t seen my horse in several months, so she began with watching him warm up after we chatted a bit about him. I begin riding by letting him start with a longer rein, first establishing that he must move in a forward manner. Then, after a lap or so each way at the walk and trot I begin to add in circles at each letter, which help to loosen him up before gradually shortening up the reins. Right now, by the middle of a ride he has many good moments (we just didn’t get to that “middle of the ride” point before she decided what we’d work on).

    The clinician decided what we were to work on during the ride--She mentioned that my horse is tight through the base of his neck (vs. his jaw or poll). She said that one must essentially “break away” that tension and one way to do that for tightness at the base of the neck is through the use of a fixed rein…

    The concept of the fixed rein was a little hard for me to grasp. This clinician follows a more classical way of training and assured me that, done properly (eg. The horse is rewarded when he breaks loose of that tension by moving his head a little, and that the following hand immediately returns at that point), is not bad. Clinician is very much against “riding deep” and whatnot and I know this is different, but it still didn’t sit too well with me during the ride (and I told her that and we talked about it).

    So, I guess my question is: what is your opinion on the use of a fixed rein? What do you use a fixed rein for? What would you have done in this situation (took advantage of the use of a fixed rein, continued to “ignore his head position” and put everything else together eg. Making sure horse is forward, engaged, etc. and wait for it to come)?

  • #2
    Originally posted by DTL View Post
    So, I guess my question is: what is your opinion on the use of a fixed rein? What do you use a fixed rein for? What would you have done in this situation (took advantage of the use of a fixed rein, continued to “ignore his head position” and put everything else together eg. Making sure horse is forward, engaged, etc. and wait for it to come)?
    Take a deep breath; I know that it can seen scary to put a horse in side reins with no 'give' but have faith in the process.
    Elastic wasn't invented until about a hundred years ago, and I assure you even once invented it wasn't being used to elasticize side reins. The first session can look ugly, but the horse is trying out options. Once it clicks for them, WOW, you'll become a believer.... most horses it takes less than 10 minutes for the guesswork to become reality.

    I use non elastic side reins and have been trained by a classical professional to use them correctly. I have found that the clear release and guidance a fixed rein gives a horse brings them through their body quicker than elastic ever dreamed it could, and with less confusion and argument.
    I'm working with two horses right now, both who tend to block energy around the base of the neck and wither. One locked and trotted flat or inverted, the other lets the front and back half of himself function separately, and bulges his underneck for balance. The second horse has only been in side reins twice and already most of the evasive issues and quirks he came with are gone. They are both joyous in their work.

    I'm sure the clinician has taught you how to properly adjust them and what caydence your horse needs.
    chaque pas est fait ensemble


    • #3
      Perhaps I am misunderstanding the original post. OP was the clinician talking about using a fixed rein to supple the base of the neck undersaddle or non-elastic side reins when lunging?

      It might help if you can describe how the idea was explained to you so that we can weigh in with our experience. Some people may have used this idea before but are not familiar with the terminology used.


      • #4
        I interpret it as using the rein while riding, not actual side reins while lunging.

        Music would constantly change her head position, slightly behind the bit, slightly above the bit, slightly bracing, slightly leaning.

        If you watched a video of my ride, my hands were constantly moving. NOT becuase I had a weak base, and was actively moving them, but because I couldn't prevent her from pulling my hands out of position.

        It took FOREVER for me to actually be able to do what my instructor had been saying for yeears: "Keep your hands completely still, as if your arm and reins were side reins."

        We all work so long on learning to "follow" the horses mouth, but it becomes a way the horse can evade what we are trying to do.

        I was sort of OK in terms of not letting the horse pull my hands forward, but when she stopped pulling, my hands moved backwards (without my being awared of it) to maintain the contact.

        Once I finally GOT IT (physically as well as mentally), there was an IMMEDIATE breakthrough in Music's performance. I went to a dressage show just days afer the lesson where it finally clicked (and in the lesson we only did it at a walk and trot) and my score went up at least 5 points, maybe more. It was like riding a different horse. EVERYTHING got so much LIGHTER. She completely stopped leaning on me after about 3 strides, instead of the constant altenation between leaning and not leaning.

        You need to HOLD your hand in one place, and use your fingers WITHOUT moving your wrist or elbow or shulder. (Once you get the hang of it, you DO move your hand a little to follow t the walk and canter, but all the aise are by moving the finges, NOT moving the hand.)

        I now have a grab strap on the front of my saddle. When I don't have an instructor watching, and I want to make sure I am not slipping back into moving my hand, I hook a finger on each hand around the grab strap, and keep it there. I can do shoulder in both directions, walk-canter-walk, 10 meter circles, etc, all without moving my hands. Sometimes (especially if the horse is resisting the bend) I will take one hand off the strap for a few strides, but I make sure I don't move the hand from its new position WHILE giving the aids.

        If this is what the clinician means by "fixed hand" then yes, I would
        "take advantage of the use of a fixed rein, continue to “ignore his head position” and put everything else together eg. Making sure horse is forward, engaged, etc. and wait for it to come?

        With Music it worked like magic.

        chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


        • #5
          Originally posted by DTL View Post

          The concept of the fixed rein was a little hard for me to grasp. This clinician follows a more classical way of training and assured me that, done properly (eg. The horse is rewarded when he breaks loose of that tension by moving his head a little, and that the following hand immediately returns at that point), is not bad.
          So, I guess my question is: what is your opinion on the use of a fixed rein? What do you use a fixed rein for? to come)?
          What you don't want to do is give away the contact when the horse raises his head which could be construed as a reward and you don't want to pull back which may be picking a fight or inviting more evasion. Pehaps you're not comfortable with the term "fixed rein" which connotes rigidity? I view it more as maintaining the contact and rewarding when the horse yields. Timing, consistency and a smile are all.

          Do you feel that your usual warm-up was rushed?


          • #6
            Ah! Sorry I suppose I misunderstood the term.

            Think of it this way. If you hold your position, with all body parts remaining in the same relative places to the center of gravity, then the horse can trust you aren't going to meddle with things and get in the way of them moving correctly.
            Every time I ride I hear Paul Belasik say to me "hold your position and ride forward"
            You have to make sure that your back is strong, your leg is soft, and your seatbones are level. most importantly your shoulders should be back and down like folded angel wings. then you are riding with your center, abs are activated and you will be constant. Regardless of what that horse does below you, you can remain in synch with their center of gravity. you essentially become a human side rein.
            chaque pas est fait ensemble


            • Original Poster

              Thank you, for all of the great information and feedback! And yes, this was for working my horse under saddle so I suppose saying "fixed hand" rather than "fixed rein" would be less confusing to most! The practice of this is making more sense to me, now; It was just a hard concept to grasp, seeing that one is always striving to have that perfect, following hand.

              The clinician said that while riding "deep" or in "rollkur" can damage a horse, that allowing a horse to go around under saddle with his head in the air and not using or lifting his back much, can also hurt a horse, too. She said that because of my horse's previous lameness problems (hind suspensory ligaments) and his conformation (being very straight in behind) that I really shouldn't let him go about with his head in the clouds just because we've chalked it up to his doing it because of his previous lameness problems (and being unbalanced at times due to weakness).

              Thanks again, everyone!