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a different way to hold reins?

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  • a different way to hold reins?

    I was always taught (and always have been) holding reins in the traditional way -- from the horse's mouth, around third finger, up across index, secured by thumb. But recently I've seen some endurance ride photos where riders appear to omit the third finger and the bottom part of their rein goes around their pinky finger. (This is on a single rein, too.)

    Can anyone tell me if they have done this, and what does it do?

    Seems to me that without the third finger in use, you'd have less traction to take/give rein, do half-halts, and have less of a secure grip.

    So I was puzzled when I saw this way of holding reins.

  • #2
    I think what you'll find about endurance riders is that when you're mounted up for as many miles and hours as that, you change things - a lot. It's not like a dressage rider who is mounted up in an arena doing everything perfectly for 45 minutes. When you get on the trail at 5 a.m. and don't get done until 24 hours later, you're likely going to hold the reins 38 different ways throughout the day.

    I only do LD rides and long training rides, and even with 25 or 35 miles, I change everything countless times - the way I post, the way I sit, the way I hold the reins. I ride without stirrups for a while, then 2-point with stirrups. You have to change things up periodically or you get very sore and tired.

    I still think there is an acceptable level of "correctness" though so you're not abusing your horse's mouth or back, but things aren't judged like they are in a show so you're free to do whatever your arthritic, frozen, or exhausted finges are telling you to do at the moment.


    • Original Poster

      Interesting. I can't say that I know what it's like to see sunrise and sunset and be on a horse still... And thoughts of perfect equitation must go out the window by about hour 3 or 4

      I do wonder how riders manage all the clothing changes in a 100-mile ride!


      • #4
        I've never ridden 100 miles so I can't begin to imagine what its like but wow After 30 miles I'm ready for a couch and an iced tea.

        Another note about the reins - I can't speak for anyone else, but I personally don't like to micromanage my horse. I stay prety disconnected from the reins unless I need to be. In other words, I often hold the reins loosely in one hand allowing the horse full use of her head and neck to pick the best path down the trail. Some people I'm sure do ride with a steady connection the whole time but of course each horse is different.

        I've seen horses cantering down the trail in a rope halter and rein draped loose around the neck. And I've seen horses cantering down the trail in a martingale and the rider with a death hold on the mouth and white slobber flying everywhere. Each horse is different.


        • #5
          So long as you and your horse are happy on the trail it matters nil how you hold the reins. So long as you're both happy. The TWH I ride the most will relax better if I cross the reins, where both are running the full width of my hand (even the pinkie ) and I rest my knuckles in his mane just ahead of the saddle pad. He can relax his topline so much more when there's zero noise on the reins/I'm 100% neutral..and this particular hold affords him what he wants from me, so he gets it, and I get a super duper running walk as a result, on a moderately slack rein- not too much, he'll get tense. He's picky picky- but this arrangement suits him so it suits me. And I get to take pictures with my free hand on the camera

          My QH meanwhile is a total ride on slack mostly off seat and legs, reins a flopping.

          On the trail you find what suits you and go with it.


          • #6
            You will get tennis elbow if you continually hold the horse for hour after hour.
            I ride with a long pair of western reins in case of a wipe out. I use to ride in a short little one piece gaming rein, no chance of dropping it but after a few good tumbles and losing the rein because it was too short I switched to the long western rein and it gives you something to hang onto if you wipe out plus it gives you something to hang onto if you want to dismount and jump the horse on foot over a scary ditch.
            I seldom touch the horse on trail and I certanly don't want to maintain contact. I want to also be as relaxed as possible.
            Even at a lope I sit well back to keep weight off the front in case he suddenly goes down.
            Going down a few times a year for me is normal. Hitting a hole, footing suddenly goes out from under the horse, a bank collapsing after jumping a ditch etc etc. Did 3 bad ones last year, one almost broke my leg.


            • #7
              Oh, you must have seen a picture of me riding Jake last year, using the new FIST hold, which combines a death grip with a give-and-take from the elbow!

              Usually effective in the OH SH** stage of endurance riding, while the one handed, loose-rein hold can be used at the end when the noble steed is dog tired from fighting the whole ride!

              Just kidding.... that happened to me once last year... Jake has settled quite well since then, and I do not ride in groups anymore.

              Truthfully, we certainly do use what works on the trail. I started english lessons this year, and found that I had really noisy hands... from endurance riding mode! Once I focused more on equitation, it got better, and I do try to maintain it a little on the rides.


              • #8
                Originally posted by Shadow14 View Post
                Even at a lope I sit well back to keep weight off the front in case he suddenly goes down.
                Going down a few times a year for me is normal. Hitting a hole, footing suddenly goes out from under the horse, a bank collapsing after jumping a ditch etc etc. Did 3 bad ones last year, one almost broke my leg.
                I'd be looking for a new place to ride. A horse falling down on you is extremely dangerous. I ride on some ugly trails too but I've never had a horse go down. I'd be REALLY worried if the horse was falling down several times in a season.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Auventera Two View Post
                  I'd be looking for a new place to ride. A horse falling down on you is extremely dangerous. I ride on some ugly trails too but I've never had a horse go down. I'd be REALLY worried if the horse was falling down several times in a season.
                  Regardless of where I ride I will runing into holes. Groundhogs like to dig them.
                  The last fall came while crossing a large snow covered field. It was about a 100 acre field with a nice covering of hard snow. The footing was excellent with very little breakthrough. I was travelling at a easy jog when he suddenly went down hard on his side pinning his full weight on my leg and I rolled off but my leg remained pinned under this body and I rolled over once completely turning my let 180 degrees. I thought it was broke. I always keep a good hold on the one rein and he has been trained to just stand up quietly once going down so he just stood up. I put my face in the snow and after the a few minutes tried standing up. It was not broken but severly strained but I managed to mount and carry on.
                  I was playing the odds of not hitting a hole but he sure did. A great big one too.
                  But what are the odds??? Huge field, little hole?? I just play the odds.
                  In the summer I can see the holes, the change in grass but not under winter snow.
                  How to you teach a horse to stand up slowly when going down?? Most would leap up and panic??? I put him in deep snow, maybe 3 feet and at times he can't lift his feet high enough and he will go down in the snow. The first few times he panic, lunged up and tried to get away. I just lay in the snow with a firm grasp on one long strong rein and let him cool down.
                  Before long when he goes down he just learns to lay there for a short time , rest and then just stand up, no fuss, no panic.
                  Also remember Vickey I teach my horses to hobble both front and back so they don't panic when they find themselves restained.
                  Honestly my horses learn to trust me with anything.
                  Anyway if you cover ground, run new country whenever you can find it you will hit something that takes the legs out from under the horse, I have come to expect it and always keep the reins ready in a falll. When it comes it usually is in slow motion and suprisingly I think throught the entire fall and remain calm and thinking


                  • #10
                    Well I guess I'm lucky then that we don't have a groundhog problem here. We've run into sink holes or vermin holes before but never had a fall because of it. A couple of good stumbles, yes. My friend's horse went down on a patch of ice we couldn't see under the snow. She didn't panic. Just stood back up. My friend got back on and down the trail we went. I don't know too many trail horses who panic at things like that. A trail horse is a trail horse usually because they're steady and cool headed or know how to think through things. My youngster acts like she has rockets under her tail sometimes but she always thinks through problems. I guess that's the difference in a true nut case, and one who just has plenty of energy needing to be burned off.


                    • #11
                      You'll also see folks that ride one-handed... similar to western riding. In that case, both reins can either: come into the 'fist' from the bottom and out the top; or, held between the index finger and thumb, with the thumb at the top.

                      I do not ride endurance, but I do go for some 2 - 4 hour backwoods rides. I find myself holding the reins in a variety of ways - depending on terrain and speed of travel. There are times when I two-hand the reins (even with a solid-mouth grazing bit) and others when I drape each end across the horse's neck, overlapping each rein and then holding them in one hand. This is one of the "safe" ways of riding with split reins - if you drop one, it's still hanging on the horse's neck. I too ride with 8' long split reins.... If I land on the ground, the horse is still "attached" to me. More likely to step on a rein and stop themself too. (although this can cause bruising in the horse's mouth - OUCH).

                      and then there's the majority of the time, when I'm simply riding in a traditional neck reining method.


                      • #12
                        All my reins are single loops - no split reins. I have dropped one too many times to trust myself with split reins ever again. Thankfully my horse is a Dedicated Dumper versus the Dump And Run type. Meaning she dumps me and then hangs around to make sure I'm getting back on. After all, it's scary out there in those woods all by herself. Better stick by mamma who can fight off the Loch Ness if need be.


                        • #13
                          I always kinda wondered what is 'safer' for trails.. split reins or non-split reins? I guess a horse would get tangled in the non-split more easily, but you'd think if they really got in trouble, the reins would just break (assuming we're talking about leather here, or similar materials).
                          Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!


                          • #14
                            If I loose the horse I want him to step on a rein. If he buises his mouth so be it but I want him to stop, not run off and possibley get hit crossing a road running for home.
                            I spend time teaching my horses to stake out on grass and they learn when they step on the rope running from the halter to the stake in the ground to stop, assess the situation and lift the offending foot before pulling.
                            Often in spring my horse spends 2 hours staked out with a 30 or 40 foot rope and a concrete block. Watch him step on the rope, try lifting his head and finds he has pinned himself down. He doesn't fight it. He just seems to know which foot to raise to release his head, no fuss.
                            To teach this hand graze the horse. Put a 2 foot or so rubber strap, those bungy cord style, the black on to the halter ring securely and take the metal hook off the other end and let it drag on the ground. Have a good lead and wear GLOVES and let the horse graze holding the lead rope.
                            If he steps on the rubber strap and tries lifting his head he will panic at first but before long it becomes normal and if caught he just lifts the offending foot.
                            I say wear gloves and use a nice long soft lead road in case he panics at first and fights it. As soon as he gets his head free the first few times you can hold him. He will quickly learn.
                            This can be a start to teaching ground tying with long reins.
                            My horse ground ties, hobbles and stakes out.


                            • Original Poster

                              Oh yes, I totally forgot about the Western way of holding reins in one hand. Looks totally relaxed. That would be funny to spring it on my indoor arena English riding instructor.

                              Originally posted by Diamond Jake View Post
                              I started english lessons this year, and found that I had really noisy hands... from endurance riding mode!
                              I hear the hands comment! I went from general English lessons to more of a dressage focus and that is one thing I am still fixing. There's interesting things to be learned from dressage, but my real delight is riding outdoors in a natural environment. The winter has not been very good for that...so nice to be coming into spring!


                              • #16
                                I like and routinely use 8' split reins. When we go to MT in the summer, my favorite reins go with me I like heavier reins, no spagetti reins for me. I just like the weight- less static on the line between me and the horse. easily crossed over their neck and held w/ one hand, or both on one side. My best set is 1" wide, then tapered in the middle, then weighted on the ends, which makes one helluva popper. All of my split reins are tied on the bits with thin pieces of leather for safety-I can't recall the formal name for them, sorry- it would break if a horse stepped on his rein.

                                I also like a long continuous loop rein, thicker nylon cord, on slobber straps for safety (breakage if stepped on is important to me). I made my own as nothing I could buy was long enough for my tastes, I want to let them drink w/o sprawling on their necks to let them drop their heads. Again, easy to hold anyway I want to- english, western, or convenient.

                                And I can't say as I've fallen off any of the horses we currently own or any I usually ride, so I don't really factor in splat factor when choosing reins. Now I recall I came off a borrowed Arabian in 06, she spun in surprise when a cow popped out of the woods, and I was too lazy to drop my wadded up slicker to grab leather. I got dizzy before she stopped, so I plopped right off. Never did drop that damn slicker, either. LOL


                                • #17
                                  Your spin story reminded me of the time I was riding my QH on the trail with 2 friends. I had lost my good bottle and bottle holder somewhere in the tack room so just grabbed the "to go" cup out of my car. I had nowhere to put it so I just held it in one hand, or squeezed the end of it down into the hole in the pommel of my saddle.

                                  Well, we rode along for a while at the walk and trot and then decided we'd canter. Her mare, and my mare are both extremely competetive. This was the first time we'd ridden those two together. We thought absolutely nothing of just picking up a nice canter, side by side on the wide track railroad bed trail. Without any warning at all, both our mares sprung forward like they were shot out the starting gate. She had a big curb bit on her horse and I had a Little S Hack with basically no leverage and no "bite" to it.

                                  Both our mares had their ears pinned and galloped for probably 1/4 of a mile before we could get them stopped. No one rein stop there - there wasn't room on the trail. We were both so pissed at those mares we made them canter several more times, side by side, while IN CONTROL, thank you very much. We got a couple miles down the trail with all this drama taking place. We finally let them walk since they'd learned their lesson. She looked at me and said "What the HELL was THAT all about?!" Then she burst out laughing and said "Your cup!!" I looked down - was still holding the quickie mart to-go cup in my right hand, reins in my left. Never lost the cup. Gosh we laughed so hard over that.


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by sublimequine View Post
                                    I always kinda wondered what is 'safer' for trails.. split reins or non-split reins? I guess a horse would get tangled in the non-split more easily, but you'd think if they really got in trouble, the reins would just break (assuming we're talking about leather here, or similar materials).
                                    It will be etched in my mind forever. A young rider with a reasonable safe schoolie, had the buckled, english reins in front of the horse as she was standing there. Horse put its head down to scratch a leg or use leg to scratch its face and put his leg through the reins. Lifted head. FREAK!! I was nearby and quickly and calmly "whoa'd" him...
                                    my kids were not allowed to take the closed reins off the neck of the horse unless they were unsnapped (barrel / roping reins) or unbuckled.

                                    With split reins. It's not too difficult to knot them - or more easily, put an elastic hairband on them to keep them together if the rider is more comfortable that way. I can, if necessary, remove a rein from the bit and use it as a lead whether the rein is tied on or clipped on with a snap.

                                    I am sure that many endurance riders prefer a long, closed rein as it's less fuss along with the use of a combo halter/bridle.


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by sublimequine View Post
                                      I always kinda wondered what is 'safer' for trails.. split reins or non-split reins? I guess a horse would get tangled in the non-split more easily, but you'd think if they really got in trouble, the reins would just break (assuming we're talking about leather here, or similar materials).
                                      I use a non-split rope rein that clips to the bit. If the horse gets away and tangles, the rope won't break but the clip(s) will.

                                      For purposes of keeping hold of my horse if I fall off or have to vault off in an emergency, I ride with a rope halter under the bridle. The lead rope loops back to attach to my belt. (Obviously, it isn't tied to my belt, just slipped through, so there's no danger of being dragged.)
                                      Training and campaigning Barb endurance horses at The Barb Wire.