A Moral Dilemma 

Not very long ago a friend told me she had a moral dilemma. Her trainer had told her to use draw reins with her horse. She wanted to take her trainer’s advice, but felt that draw reins were unnecessary and a “cheat”.

It’s really tricky to know what to say here isn’t it? To evade answering myself, I went down the route of asking questions so that she came to her own conclusion.

Firstly, I asked what the problem actually was. He was raising his head to evade the contact? Or he wasn’t engaging his back? Or he was inconsistent to the contact?

Then I asked if there could be other causes of the problem: an unsuitable bit, saddle not fitting, tight back, too tight a noseband. The ground conditions and the rider can also be a cause. Then of course there is a multitude of paths to investigate in order that the problem is solved, not merely masked.

Did my friend think she had quiet, balanced hands that would only use the draw reins when necessary, and not start to rely on them? Did she feel confident in her ability to use a second set of reins?

Would the draw reins be a permanent fixture, or is it a temporary plaster while another area is developed?

Personally, I have a history with draw reins. For those who don’t know, draw reins attach to the girth between the horse’s front legs and run through the bit rings to the riders hand, and are used to develop the outline. Draw reins were very fashionable in the 1990s and 2000s, and I remember most of the girls at the yard having a pair. They were used on the ponies to get them ready for the show ring, and unfortunately I remember people using them with a double bridle. Now I cringe, and think that it was overkill. 

Another unfortunate, was that we weren’t that educated in terms of how a horse should carry himself, or on the correct use of draw reins, which I think led to an exaggeration of focus on the head carriage. We had no idea that our ponies should work from behind and when they soften their back they will put themselves into an outline. This led to having the handbrake on all the time, and being “handy” riders.

Now when I look at draw reins, I know exactly why I don’t like them. The gadget only works on the front end, and fixes the head and neck into one position. Yet we all know that horses have to be able to move their neck to balance themselves. The fact that the gadget is only at the front means that the rider can easily forget about the importance of the hindquarters. This is why I like the Pessoa: it generates impulsion and connects the back end to the front end. However, I’ve also seen it tying in the head and neck when used incorrectly, so a gadget is only as good as it’s user. When a rider focuses solely on the front end, when using draw reins, they can “draw” the head down and fix it in place.

I think, that if a rider understands all about impulsion, and the horse really isn’t understanding that he should drop his nose and lift his wither, then perhaps draw reins can be used to guide the horse in the right direction. But then they should only be used to give the horse a pointer in the short term. I guess you need the right rider and the right horse in order to use draw reins effectively and correctly.

There are many professional riders who compete successfully and train using draw reins, but I think I will carry on as I am. After all, I’ve seen and experienced horses finding their self carriage without any gadget, so it can be done. I also think that if you aren’t 100% confident and sure of what you’re doing you can you use gadgets of any kind then you can do more damage that good.

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