The ideal rein contact we all aspire to have is light, constant, and symmetrical.
But we’ve all ridden that horse who clamps onto the bit, or leans on one rein. The natural response is to hold the rein more firmly, or heavily. Then, as your arm starts to fatigue you realise you’ve not taken the best course of action, but by now you are committed to a tug of war, and your horse is winning rapidly.
Let’s go back to the beginning. When you first become aware that one rein is getting heavier, pick up a bit more contact with the opposite one. Don’t get heavy handed, just close your fingers around the reins a bit more firmly. Check the heavy rein – is it you or your horse who is pulling? Relax your fingers slightly to ensure it’s not you.
The biggest obstacle you now face is the fact that as you take up the lighter rein, your horse will now veer that way.
To clarify, if your horse is hanging on the right rein and you take up the left contact you usually create left flexion and the horse drifts left. This is why it’s important not to completely drop the right rein to help maintain some straightness and direction. The left leg is also vital in preventing the horse drifting left. Ride a few laps of the arena focusing on using the left leg to keep the horse straight, holding the left rein more firmly than before and keeping the right fingers soft. Ignore the wobbles and incorrect bend and just wait for your horse to stop leaning on the right rein.
When you make these corrections you need to be brave and trust yourself. Don’t go back on your word and panic as you veer off course, but ride through the blip. Once your horse understands this new consistent approach and rein contact you should find that they stay more symmetrical in your hand. Spending your warm up time focusing on a steady, even contact and moving your horse around the arena from the leg and seat only.
If you do find yourself in that tug of war situation down the rein then take a free walk on a long rein, shrug your shoulders and shake out your arms before retaking the reins, focusing on keeping both hands light and quiet so that your horse has no excuse to lean on the hand. This wipes the slate clean and allows you to reset the contact.
It’s worth tackling the problem of a heavy, one sided rein contact early as soon as you notice a difference developing because an asymmetric rein contact prevents you creating a straight horse, which limits your ability to move laterally and prevents them from going into self-carriage.