How to use the reins


western style

Let me continue to talk about the difference between Western and English riding style. This time I will focus on how to use the reins. This might be the biggest difference between those styles.

I remember last Easter holiday. It was in Norway while I was trying to ride a Friesian horse with the English classic style. I just couldn´t make him turn direction! After many years of riding Western it had become almost impossible for me to pull the hands backwards to turn the horse´s head! Usually I only do that to stop the horse from moving forward!

The Classic way

In the English riding lesson you´ll learn to turn right while moving your right arm back towards your body. Left turn with the left arm. The reins are always fastened together in the middle, which prevents them from falling down from the neck.


The Western way

In the Western riding lesson you´ll either learn to ride with only one hand or with two hands, but with divided reins. This means bigger complications!

If you ride with one hand the story is more simple. You just move the arm out from the horse´s neck towards the direction you want to go. The horse will see your arm in his side view, and understand where to go.

While using two hands you still do the same thing. But in this case you also need to understand how to shorten the divided reins fastly. They are long and it´s easy to make a mess! Don´t ever let them drop down on the ground. Divided reins won´t stop over the neck, they just fall down easily on the side of the horse. While turning the horse with two hands you need to move both of them to the right at the same time. But one hand stays on the other side of the neck. It means that you need to keep the hands distant from each other, if not the horse won´t be able to see where you want it to go.

While doing English riding, you keep the hands much closer together. It´s such a big difference that it might shock you in the beginning! But there are many similar points as well. Like stopping the horse. In both styles you should use the weight of your seat and your voice to make them stop nicely, while also pulling the reins backwards if necessary. In the English style you normally say “Proooooo”, while in the Western style you say “Whoooooo”.

Dressage or reining

If we talk about dressage, there are many similar tricks. If the horse puts his head down as you want, you should leave the reins longer. In the Western style they use more legs than reins to make the horse work in the ground. Still the dressage style is called reining.  In the English style you keep the reins shorter to be in contact with the horses´s mouth all the way.

The “new” way

Then you´ve got the Pat Parelli style, or let´s call it Horsemanship style. This is a way to ride where you use more psychology than equipment or techniques. You might use a rope and a stick, but never for hitting the horse. Only for showing them what to do. You might work more on the ground than on horseback, but once you´ve trained the horse perfectly, the rest is simple from above.

This style is all about adding and removing pressure or comfort, and make the horse become safe in any situation.

You will never get a good ideà about the difference without trying both styles. Take a lesson in the style you´re not knowing, and understand the horse world even better. But always add a big part of horsemanship to it!


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