Rein Management

On the drive to school or church, my stepson and I often talk of horses. The other day I mentioned how I thought Knockout would be really good at Western Reining, with his cow sense, athleticism, and cutting horse breeding.  Dawson responded skeptically, “Well, I’m not going to ride him!”

“Why not?” I asked, “Knockout’s no problem.  He’s very attentive and responds well to light cues.  Just don’t try to hold him.  He doesn’t like to be held and will sometimes panic…which can lead to bolting or bucking.”

“Then how do you get him to stop or slow down?” Dawson queried.

I explained Knockout and I have an understanding on the use of bit pressure. I always first give him an opportunity to respond to seat cues.  If he doesn’t take me up on the light stopping cue of sitting deep in the saddle, I will quickly firm up with rein pressure.  However, I never hold the rein pressure.  Once Knockout has responded as asked, I immediately release the pressure.

The pressure release lets Knockout know he gave the right response. It also gives him a reason to respond.  He escapes the bit pressure by responding with his feet…and responding with his feet always results in release of pressure.

Knockout and I both have our responsibilities. He responds to my cues.  I respond to his response by releasing pressure.  That way, Knockout always has a way out from pressure and never needs to feel claustrophobic or panicked.

Later that evening, I showed Dawson a short segment of a Carson James video in which Carson demonstrates rein management. In the video, Carson is backing a horse and shows how to hold the reins with slack (drooping slightly with no tension) but with very little travel (no excess slack).  Managing the reins in this manner allows the rider to keep slack in the reins while staying only an inch away from light pressure and only two inches away from heavy pressure.  So the rider can quickly and smoothly transition between varying amounts of pressure and instantly return to slack reins upon proper response.

Rein management is all about good timing in giving the right amount of pressure for the occasion, then instantly returning to slack reins with zero pressure.

A few days later, we were walking back to the trailer at the end of a high school rodeo when I pointed out Dawson’s tight reins, “Your horse would appreciate some slack in those reins so he can relax.”

“If I do that, he’ll trot off,” Dawson responded, dropping his reins to demonstrate.

“Stop him and back him up,” I replied. “Good!  Now drop your reins.”

So, we had a short little mini-training session right there in the fairgrounds parking lot. I showed Dawson how to catch the horse starting to walk forward, stop him, back him one step, then drop the reins.  After about four times, the horse stood relaxed on a loose rein.

“Now, lift the reins about a half an inch and lean forward slightly. When the horse starts to move, just move with him.”

We walked back to the trailer at a slow walk on loose reins.

Next weekend, we took an eight mile horseback ride together, paying close attention to slack reins at different gaits and working toward good response to light cues.

It was pretty awesome! 🙂

I’m still fairly new to this horsemanship stuff. My experience is pretty limited and I have a lot yet to learn.

I’m learning, though, that there are a lot of parallels between horsemanship and parenting ADHD teens.

Much like horses, teens don’t respond well to being held tightly. They need a little freedom to move and make some of their own decisions.

Much like horses, teens need relationship and understanding. Rules without relationship don’t work well for horses or teens.

Much like horses, teens need consistency. They need to be able to rely on encountering pressure when they fail to respond to light cues.

Much like horses, ADHD teens live very much in the moment. So pressure and release need to be well-timed to be effective.

Much like horses, teens need to feel the comfort of smooth relationship with minimal pressure when they’re doing the right thing. If all they feel is pressure no matter what they do, they’ll soon quit trying or blow up in exasperation.

This means…much as in horsemanship, I need to get really good at rein management in parenting, with alertness, balance, feel, and good timing.

I’m still learning…and so is he. Maybe we can figure this out together…with help from a couple of horses.  😉

4 thoughts on “Rein Management

  1. I learned to ride from an incredible man. He would have kids come for the day, they’d be able to saddle, “bridle” and ride by the end of the day. He didn’t use bits, he did have a bridle of sorts, wasn’t really a hackmore but on that line. He said bits were too painful to use, that they affected the way a horse breathed. I have ridden with bits later in life but never found the kind of response Rudd’s horses had. He insisted that the horse knew what was needed without pain being part of the process. I watched him ride his stallion with only his homemade bitless bridle and bareback, he really didn’t even need the reins, they were tied together and left draped over the stallion’s neck. All his horses would do that, I was started that way, bareback with no bit, I was allowed to use the reins, neck rein style. I would suggest you might find Joe Camp’s blog of interest ( ). Someplace in his archives he has a post about the bitless bridle he uses, it’s very similar to the one Rudd used. Also Monty Roberts is a great resource. I know you read Anna Blake’s blog. All the best with your horses and kids.

    • Wow! What a legacy Rudd gave you! 🙂

      Yes, I’ve read a couple of Joe Camp’s books. Good stuff! Joe does a good job of explaining the importance of relationship in horsemanship.

      Thank you, Aquila! 🙂
      joe recently posted…Rein ManagementMy Profile

  2. “Rein management is all about good timing in giving the right amount of pressure for the occasion, then instantly returning to slack reins with zero pressure.” As I was reading, I thought to myself, “That’s how I like to be treated too!” Thanks for the insights, Joe. You sound like a wonderful grandfather.
    Lisa notes recently posted…Top 10 Books of 2017My Profile

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