The correct use of your outside rein influences the horse’s whole body and it’s essential for good dressage riding.
If it is used incorrectly, or not at all, you’ll find it difficult to balance and steer the horse around a dressage arena, let alone perform a good test!
So, what does the outside rein do, and how do you use it?
Keep reading to find out!
What is the “outside rein?”
The terms “inside” and “outside” are used to describe the horse’s bend, not his position within the arena.
For example, if you were riding on the left rein with your horse bent to the left, your inside rein would be in your left hand and your outside rein would be in your right hand. However, if you were still on the left rein but in counter-canter (with your horse bent to the right), then your inside rein would now be in your right hand and your outside rein would be now in your left hand.
How to use your outside rein
The outside rein has several important functions, including:
- Controlling the degree of neck bend
- Controlling the horse’s shoulders
- Regulating the tempo of the rhythm
- Balancing the horse through half-halts
Let’s go through each one individually.
1. Controlling the degree of neck bend
When riding the horse through a corner, negotiating a circle, changing direction, and/or performing lateral work, having the correct bend, and having enough of it, is essential.
When you use your inside leg to create bend, the horse must stretch through the outside of his body whilst shortening the inside of his body to create a curve.
The outside rein regulates the amount of neck bend you require. For example, if you are riding a 20-meter circle, you won’t need as much bend through the neck and body as you would for a 10-meter circle.
If you allow too much with the outside rein you will create too much neck bend causing the horse to jack-knife, lose straightness, and fall out through the outside shoulder (see number 2).
However, if you don’t allow enough with the outside rein then you will prevent the horse from stretching through the outside of his body, block his outside shoulder, and possibly even cause him to tilt his head.
The ideal amount will allow the horse to bend uniformly through his body and neck whilst filling the outside rein and aligning him to the track he is following.
2. Controlling the horse’s shoulders
If you have too much bend in the horse’s neck (see above), you risk losing control of the horse’s shoulder, and he will drift outward. This is commonly described as the horse “falling out through his outside shoulder.”
Alternatively to falling out, the horse’s weight could fall onto his inside shoulder causing him to lean in around circles and through turns. That causes the horse to lose his balance, especially in the faster paces. In order to correct this, you need to ride more from your inside leg into your outside rein and encourage the horse to bend through his body.
As well as maintaining the horse’s straightness, the outside rein can also be used to push the horse’s shoulders across through the use of an “indirect rein.” This is where the rein is closed against the base of the horse’s neck and the horse moves away from it, and it’s required for riding pirouettes and other dressage movements.
In all instances, it’s important that you do not allow your outside hand to pull backwards or cross over the horse’s neck.
3. Regulating the tempo (speed)
The first and most important of the dressage Scales of Training is “rhythm.” The correct speed, or tempo, of the rhythm, is also crucial in dressage.
If the horse is allowed to rush forward, the expression and quality of the paces will suffer, and the horse will lose his balance when negotiating the corners of the arena.
In combination with the rider’s leg and seat aids, the outside rein is used to control and regulate the speed of the rhythm and harness the energy to create engagement and impulsion.
4. Riding balancing half-halts
The half-halt is crucial for balancing the horse and preparing him for every transition, exercise, and change of direction you make when you’re schooling your horse at home or riding a dressage test.
The outside rein is used in combination with your weight and leg aids to ride half-halts.
Getting your horse “into the outside rein”
Establishing a good outside rein contact starts with the horse’s hindquarters. In every movement that requires bend, energy should flow from active hind legs to the bit, with the horse clearly stretching into and filling the outside rein.
Arguably, almost every well-ridden exercise that requires bend will help improve this connection, but one of the best training tools is shoulder-in.
The main goal of shoulder-in is to improve the horse’s straightness and achieve higher levels of collection by encouraging the horse to take more weight on his inside leg, but when ridden correctly, it’s also a super exercise for establishing a secure outside rein contact.
If you neglect to use your outside rein when riding around circles and making changes of direction, your horse will fall out through his outside shoulder, tip onto his inside shoulder, lose straightness and balance.
You will also struggle to regulate your horse’s speed and position your horse’s shoulders, making it difficult to negotiate the dressage arena perform lateral movements.
The outside rein contact should be constant but elastic as it received the energy from the hindquarters, and your outside hand should never be brought across the horse’s neck.