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Side Reins: Benefits & Risks

more research could stop ongoing lameness, should you use side reins when lunging your horse

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Side reins are a common training aid that have been around for years. They are often used with young horses to introduce the idea of a contact on the bit during in hand work. But like most training aids, they have recently come under fire from public opinion. Some believe they aren’t needed and shouldn’t be used. I personally love a pair of side reins and I think used correctly, they are a fantastic aid.

What are side reins

Side reins are two reins what attach to the bit like normal reins but attach to the girth or roller rather than being held by the rider. They simulate the perfect rider. They apply the right amount of pressure and give at the perfect time. Which is why many people find their horses are more stable in side reins than when ridden.

Types of side rein

There are three main types of side rein; solid, elastic and doughnut. Solid reins are usually leather, but can be another non stretch material. They don’t have any give to them. Elastic reins resemble the solid reins but will have a section of elastic, meaning they can stretch with the horses movement. Doughnut reins are similar to elastic reins, but rather than an elastic section, they have a rubber ring which will give slightly with pressure. They tend to be heavier than other side reins too, which can encourage the horse to work lower. Solid reins should only be used for more experienced horses.

Recent study finds many owners don’t know how to use side reins correctly

A recent study looking at how horse owners and riders use a range of training aids such as side reins and draw reins has highlighted an issue of many owners not using them correctly. They found a number of issues such as; reins being too tight, being used too regularly and horses not being warmed up before having the side reins put on. All of these things pose a welfare risk to the horse.

What are the benefits of using side reins

There are many beneifts of using side reins on your horse, especially for horses still in the early stages of their training. Some of the benefits include:

  • Introducing them to feeling and softening to contact on the bit
  • Encouraging them to work in the correct outline
  • Build top line and suppleness through the back
  • Helping with straightness

Side reins can achieve these things by applying pressure on the bit when the horse is in the incorrect frame. When they move into the correct position they are rewarded by the pressure being removed. They then learn this is where they should work. For example, a horse who points their nose will learn that dropping their nose to just in front the vertical will release the pressure. If you have a horse who over bends on one or both reins, side reins will apply pressure down the outside rein, encouraging them to work straighter through the neck.

What are the risks of using side reins

If you aren’t familiar with side reins, then you could be doing your horse more harm than good by using them. Not knowing how long they should be or warming your horse up before using them can make them tight through their neck and back. These are some things to bare in mind when using side reins:

  • Start long & loose
    When you first start using side reins on your horse they should be long and loose. Look at where your horse usually carries their head. Your side reins should be just short enough to apply a small amount of pressure to the bit when their head is in this position. As soon as they move a small amount to the desired position they should give. As they progress you can start shortening them.
  • Keep them equal lengths
    Both reins should be the same length, or maybe slightly shorter on the inside rein. Otherwise the horse will be crooked and build up muscle unevenly.
  • Warm up first
    You should warm your horse up before attaching the side reins. After warming up you might want to work the horse in them a bit longer for a bit first before shortening them to make them work a bit harder.
  • Remove them before cooling down
    Always unclip them before you start your horses cool down. This gives them a chance to stretch out again.
  • If in doubt, ask your instructor for help.
Scottie long reining with side reins

Scottie in Side Reins

I have always owned side reins, but never really used them much with Scottie. Since his injury he has reverted back to being a banana to the left. We have been doing a lot of ground work and I have been finding it quite hard to correct this banana shape from the ground. But a pair of loose side reins when we are lunging and long reining are helping to keep him straighter through his neck and shoulders which makes him work properly.

Last Updated on 09/11/2021

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