Trainers and experienced riders often turn to draw reins for help to encourage a horse to achieve comfortable collection or teach him not to push against the bit. In the proper hands this tool, which operates like a pulley between your horse’s bit and your saddle, teaches your horse to maintain frame while he travels in a collected manner.
Here I’ll discuss how draw reins work, correct adjustment, proper uses, and common misuses, so you can take advantage of the many benefits this tool offers.
How it works: The reins slide through the snaps attached to your bit to create a pulley system. This slows your pull to deliver softer cues to your horse. The trick is to rock your hands to signal each side separately, rather than pull evenly with both hands, which puts direct pressure on both sides at once. As you soften your horse by bending him to the right and to the left, he’ll be more supple and responsive at the poll and inclined to flex straight down and level.
• Improve suppleness. Soft flexion to each side leads to improved overall flexibility.
• Teach collection during transitions. The support of the draw rein encourages collection as leg pressure changes, for example as you move from a walk to a trot, any gait to a lope, or change leads.
• Refresh good habits. Used sparingly, draw reins can remind a horse to maintain a position he’s taught from the beginning—relaxed, flexed at the poll, and soft in the mouth.
• Overflexion. If a horse achieves ultra-suppleness and is too reliant on direct pressure, it’ll negatively affect his response to lateral cues and his overall handle.
• Too often. In time, a horse learns to flex his head to his chest without softness; he’ll travel behind the vertical, going forward with little rate of speed. Or, he’ll become dull-mouthed.
• With rough, heavy hands. Wrongly applying even pressure with both hands teaches your horse to brace against you, potentially encouraging a run-off situation or causing neck stiffness.
• To overcome poor conformation. An athletic horse with good conformation carries his head level with his topline comfortably. A horse that has trouble with that position, whether due to the length or thickness of his neck or the tie-in between his neck and shoulders or chest, shouldn’t be forced into an unnatural position. n
Al Dunning, Scottsdale, Arizona, has produced world champion horses and riders in multiple disciplines. He’s been a professional trainer for more than 40 years, and his expertise has led him to produce books, DVDs, and his own online mentoring program, Team AD International (teamadinternational.com).