Managing your reins well promotes good communication with your horse and safety for you both. Just as any good craftsman must become fluent with his tools in order to excel at his trade, so too must we as horsemen become fluent with our tools, including the reins.

I believe that whenever you’re not asking for a maneuver, you should allow your horse to travel on a loose rein. This encourages freedom of movement and your horse’s peace of mind. On a trail ride, your horse won’t truly relax until you let go of his mouth. But unless you feel confident about being able to pick up the reins smoothly when you need them, you may be reluctant to “let go.”

In Part 1 of our series, I’m going to show you how to take up your reins in a movement I call the “choke.” I’ll also show you how to ask your horse to give laterally to each side, in preparation for future lessons.

The goal throughout these lessons is to be able to use your reins smoothly yet quickly, in a way that makes sense to your horse and preserves the responsiveness of his mouth.

To Get the Most from this Lesson

  • Outfit your horse in a snaffle bit with a roping rein or, as I’m using, a mecate rein. Eventually you can use my methods with open reins, but it’s easiest to start with a closed rein.
  • Mark the precise midpoint of your reins with a piece of duct or electrical tape (see photo No. 1).

–Photos by Darrell Dodds

Horseman Chris Cox has traveled the United States, Canada, South America and Australia for over 17 years presenting clinics and demonstrations. His approach focuses on building confidence through knowledge and establishing a relationship with your horse. Raised on a cattle ranch in Australia, Chris attended Longreach Pastoral College, an agricultural school where he earned the Horsemanship Award for top scores in class work and practical skills. Today his home base is his Outback Ranch in Mineral Wells, Texas.

This article originally appeared in the May 2005 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.

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