What Romal Reins Are…and Aren’t

Many riders think there’s something mysterious about romal reins. I’m here to tell you what they are and what they aren’t.
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Romal reins are a great training tool, but there are many misconceptions about the piece of traditional tack. Consider these points when deciding if romals are right for you and your horse.

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When Andrea Fappani loped Spooky Whiz into the arena at the 2016 NRHA Futurity finals, all people could talk about were his romal reins. Two years ago, it wasn’t common to see the traditional braided rawhide reins in the reining arena—especially on a 3-year-old horse running at a title worth more than $100,000. People wanted to know why he chose romals over split reins, which are much more common in the reining arena. They became fixated on the mystery behind the romals.

Add to that the popularity of ranch riding classes and the prevalence of romal reins in the ranch events, more people started taking notice and wondering if romal reins are right for their riding.

As a West Coast horseman, I’ve had romals as part of my training toolkit since I was young. I’m here to share with you two things that romal reins are and four things that they aren’t.

Romals Aren’t: A Fad

People like to get hung up on a “look.” You see it all the time in what people wear to show, styles of pads, amounts of silver on tack—horse showing is full of fads. But romals aren’t one of them.

Romal reins are a traditional piece of tack used by horsemen for generations. The art of rawhide braiding contributes to the allure of the tack, but the fact is romals serve a purpose. Historically, they’re part of traditional vaquero training methods where a horse advanced to riding in a bridle in phases. For the modern rider, you often see romals in working cow horse because when you’re working a cow down the fence, you can’t be fussing with split reins.

Romal reins have always served a purpose recognized by those who use them.

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Romals Are: A Great Training Tool

The best trained horse is one that you can ride in romal reins. You can’t cheat with them like you can with split reins. Per the rules of most organizations, your hand must stay closed around the reins and your free hand can’t run up the reins past the connector. You can’t put fingers between the reins. All of these factors come together to make you work harder to train your horse than you have to work with split reins.

Romals Aren’t: One-Size-Fits-All

My wife likes romals with a larger-circumference (fewer plaits). I prefer a smaller one. Some folks like them stiffer, and some prefer more pliable. They can be made from all sorts of hides to suit just about any rider’s preference.

Consider the length of your horse’s neck when choosing a set of romals. Obviously, you don’t want to have an extra-long set of reins on a short-necked horse or vice versa.

You’ll also choose between metal snaps or rawhide buttons to connect the reins to your bit. I prefer the snaps with an S hook for ease of moving my romals from one bit to another.

The key is to try all different sizes and hides to find what feels best in your hand. I have people come into my tack room at horse shows all the time to see how different romals feel in their hands. Once you choose a few that feel right, try them on your horse to determine which set of romals works best for your riding goals and your horse’s needs.

Romals Aren’t: All the Same Quality

You can find romals at just about every price point. However, your less expensive reins won’t handle the same as higher-dollar, hand-braided reins made from pricier hides. You definitely get what you pay for.

No matter the price of your reins, they won’t last if you don’t care for them properly. They require conditioning to keep the rawhide from breaking. They must be stored out of sunlight to prevent them from drying out.

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Romals Are: Good for Straightness

In my experience, romals help straighten up a horse that might drop a shoulder or lean in one direction. The reins are connected, so there’s not as much room for your horse to push or lean. When I pick my hand straight up from the middle of my horse’s neck, I can feel his straightness tighten up. This makes him more prepared for whatever I ask of him, whether it’s lead changes, rollbacks, spins, or loping circles.

Romals Aren’t: A Big Secret

Romals can be misunderstood—by riders, trainers, even judges. Everyone wants to know the big secret behind using them. But the truth is, it all comes down to what’s best for your horse and what feels best when you ride. If your horse goes better in split reins, then that’s what you should use. The key is to go with what works, no matter the latest fad. ↔

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