How to Ride a Give and Retake of the Reins
Some dressage tests ask you to perform a give and retake (G&R) of the reins, in trot or canter.
Have you attempted this, only to have the judge comment along the lines of, ‘G&R needs to be more clearly shown’, or ‘no obvious G&R’ when you thought you’d done it?
So how do you make it clear?
Read on to find out.
Purpose of G&R
It helps to understand why this movement is requested.
Its purpose is to show that you are not holding the horse into an outline solely with your reins and that you are not supporting his balance or controlling his speed with your hands.
In other words, it demonstrates that your horse has achieved a genuine outline and sufficient self-carriage to remain in position for a few steps without needing any help.
G&R is different from ‘allow the horse to stretch on a long rein’
Although both movements require you to give away the rein contact, the difference is in the duration – two or three steps for G&R, as opposed to minimum half a circle and often longer for ‘allow stretch’, when your horse has the time to seek your contact by lowering and stretching his neck.
What the judge wants to see
When you relinquish your rein contact for those two or three strides, the judge wants to see the reins go into a clearly visible slack loop, with no change in your horse’s:
- size of stride
- alignment to the figure
How to give and retake clearly
As in everything with riding, preparation is key. Before you arrive at the place where you will perform the G&R
- make sure he is as balanced as possible
- find his ideal speed and stride length for remaining in balance
- make several mini gives, i.e. minute contact releases that are so small no one can see them, but big enough your horse notices.
There are some slight variations here, depending on your own physique, and that of your horse.
A rider with short arms will struggle to show contact release using the same technique as a rider with long arms, so pick the more appropriate option:
1. Ideally, you should not change your upright body position. Push your hands smoothly forward and slightly downward in the direction of the bit until your elbows are straight – this should be enough to allow the reins to visibly loop. After a couple of strides, gradually and smoothly bring your hands back into their normal position to retake your regular contact.
2. For those with short arms, and for some horses with tricky neck conformations, you may need to incline your upper body forward slightly (from your hips, not your waist) to achieve a visible loss of contact. This is not ideal, as you will shift your weight more onto his shoulders, potentially causing loss of balance/increase in speed as a result. If this occurs, try to keep your seat firmly in the saddle and close your upper legs a bit more snugly around his ribcage to discourage him from speeding up.
It is a challenging fact of life that not every rider or horse has ideal conformation – you simply have to find a way to work around it, much as para riders do.
The important criterion is that the reins must show a visible loop for a couple of strides for the judge to be able to give you a decent mark.
What not to do:
- Do not throw your weight forward suddenly
- Do not straighten your arms forward at shoulder height – this will maintain the contact, simply in a different place.
- Do not snatch the rein back after the release – ensure to retake the contact smoothly and softly – remember your horse’s mouth is on the other end of those reins.
- Do not continue the contact release for too many strides – this would invite the horse to interpret the movement as a stretch.
To show a clear give and retake, you must present a visible looping of the reins for a couple of strides.
During this release, your goal is that your horse does not change his way of going before, during, or after the movement is completed.
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