Saturday, September 8, 2012

Riding Reflection: Using the Inside Rein

The inside rein is almost taboo in dressage.  At least, that has been my experience.  In the past, I have heard more riders scolded for using the inside rein than anything else, myself included.  Subconsciously, I have held onto this.  I do not want to pull my horse onto his inside shoulder and I do not want to be guilty of the cardinal sin of using the inside rein to turn.  During my last lesson, my teacher essentially gave me permission to use my inside rein in the exercise she prescribed for us.  I was a little hesitant at first.

Me: "Wait.  You want me to keep full contact with the inside rein for the entire circle?"

My instructor: "Yes."

Me: "Like this?"

My instructor: "Absolutely and rotate to the inside of the circle."

Me: "Really?  What about my outside rein."
Me thinking, "There must be something with the outside rein, right?  What's the catch?"

My instructor: "Keep your outside elbow and allow with your outside shoulder."

So there you have it.  No "half-halt on the outside rein", no "hold the outside rein steady", no "inside leg to outside rein", counter-flexion, or anchoring of the outside.  I was instructed to lift both reins up a little, especially the inside, so that the bit works in the corners of my horse's mouth.  My elbows were to be bent and, most importantly, my shoulders down and mobile.  I tapped Harley's inside hind with a long, sturdy whip if he started to lose energy and the rest of the responsibility was up to my inside rein.  If really felt wrong at first, but different always feels wrong.  It is important in riding to ignore this feeling in the face of change and read your horse.

Inside rein in use in our August lesson: Even though I said that I was lifting the inside rein, look at how dead-on straight the line is from bit to elbow.  I also like the reach in Harley's frame and movement.  Notice how my leg is not back, as is often taught in dressage.  This would tip me onto the fork of my pelvis, pressing Harley down in front and dampening his energy.

Harley is engaging the inside hind, but I have dropped the rein and my position a bit.

Harley pushing his nose forward and opening his throatlatch area as he stretches into the rein.

A few strides later, he has rebalanced himself in a more uphill frame.

Harley told me very clearly what this exercise did for him.  He flowed right around that circle in trot.  He lengthened his neck.  Contrary to my fears in using the inside rein, he was less likely to tip onto his inside shoulder and if this did happen it was almost always because I let the inside rein drop.  Nearly instantaneous change.  How's that for cause and effect?

The more I allowed my shoulders to move, the more he fluid he was in his stride.  I tapped him with my whip as needed, but my legs were completely passive.  I kept them under me and my pelvis in neutral.  If we lost the flow it was usually indicative of a loss of energy (Harley's job), a loss of neutral pelvis (my job), a dropped inside rein (me, again), or tight shoulders (you guessed it, me).  If I kept these things correct, everything moved along effortlessly and I literally felt like I was doing nothing.

Nothing!  Just try doing nothing.
Now try hard to do nothing.
It is incredibly difficult, especially for people who like to "try hard".
People like me.

I have revisited this "new" exercise of using the inside rein on each previous ride.  Harley loves it!  He is so flowy and relaxed.  His canter has been amazing.  Now that I have tried giving the inside rein the responsibility it deserves, I think that I have been annoying him with the outside rein in canter.  I like to half-halt on that rein nearly every stride, especially going left.  I had not realized that I was doing this until I started focusing on the inside and felt the urge to hold the outside at the beginning of each stride.  At first I wondered if Harley was going to barrel out of control without the "support" I had been offering him.  How wrong was I?

Not only was Harley's canter more fluid and consistent, he was lifting in front, shifting his weight back for turns, smaller circles, and transitions, coming down to a balanced trot with ease, all without the "help" of my half-halts or the outside rein.  Instead, my inside rein was there in the corner of his mouth the entire time.  He was even giving these cute little snorts with each stride, the hallmark of a relaxed horse in canter.  For a self-proclaimed dressage enthusiast, that was a really weird revelation. 

Correct use of the inside rein does not equal evil and does not make my horse angry, annoyed, or off balance.  Quite the opposite.

I am loving this.


  1. I love it when something just clicks and it takes your riding to a whole new level.

  2. I got scolded (rightly) so often for being heavy on the inside rein, that the pendulum swung the other way. I wasn't keeping Val's neck straight - not enough contact on the inside rein.

    We don't want inside rein-itis, but we can't abdicate contact there either. It's all about balance.

    It's hard not to feel like we should be doing something, when it's so often by not doing anything, by staying out of our horses' way - not blocking or restricting them - that we get the best results.

    Thanks for sharing! :D

  3. I rode Speedy in 30 dressage tests this year. For nearly every one of them the judges commented that I needed more inside bend. After learning that the turn is not made with the inside rein, I have spent a lot of time ignoring the inside rein and focusing on the outside rein.

    When I rode Sydney last week at a lesson, I was instructed to rock both reins, particularly the inside to keep his nose pointed to the inside of the circle. I can't hold it steady as that is very alarming to Sydney. Either way, I am now learning how use the inside rein as it does have a purpose. Good luck with you inside rein journey. :0)

    1. I hear you on the turning part. I think of it as the inside rein is for positioning and the turn comes from the middle of the horse (seat and legs of the rider). Bend comes from there too, but there is no bend without flexion, which requires the inside rein. ;)

      I am not familiar with "rocking" the rein.
      Care to explain?
      (I get that steady can feel restrictive to the horse.)

    2. JL calls it rocking. You might call it sponging. With Sydney, I have to really rock it, or swing it, to get his poll and neck to relax. I start out small, but if needed I get it swinging pretty good until he finally lets go. With Speedy, it's just gentle sponging or squeezing of the rein with my fingers.

    3. Thanks for the follow up!

  4. There are so many different rein aids it gets confusing sometimes. I say whatever works for you and your horse is just fine.

    1. Thanks for your support. I am happy that I feel like I have permission to use both reins now.

  5. We have two reins for a reason! Trainer likes to quote Darren Chiacchia on this one: "It's easy to make a soft horse straight." Not without caveat, and yet.

    1. I understand, because a soft horse is supple and positionable, but a horse who is so soft that he is wiggly can be very, very challenging to make straight!

      Thanks for the quotation, Hannah.


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