We have all heard that before…”I now have my horse on the outside rein”.
Many instructors use this term as a means for the rider to stop the horse falling out through the outside shoulder, and early on in my own dressage training I even wrote an article about the inside leg/outside rein connection.
But since then, and having seen 100’s of lessons and ridden a range of different horses, I no longer use this term in teaching inexperienced riders , because they often get the wrong concept and apply it incorrectly.
We see riders who then fix the outside rein as if that will control the shoulder of the horse…But does it?
The answer is no. A fixed outside rein may give the rider the impression they have a contact but it actually just blocks the horse from being able to bend and step through with the inside hind leg . The outside rein must have a connection but it must also ALLOW the horse to bend. It will not straighten the horse unless it is properly applied, in conjunction with all the other things that need to happen at the same time.
i have found that using the word “connection” as opposed to “contact” works well, as often we see riders who think that “contact” means you pull the horses head in so the reins have weight in them…That is not contact.
In addition, taking the outside rein to correct and straighten the horse should be done for one stride, and then the outside rein must allow, and then correct again if needed, while those 100 other things are still happening.
One of the best ways to learn the concept of Inside leg to outside rein is to learn to ride a ‘correct” s/in.
Many riders ride a shoulder-in by pulling the inside rein to get the bend. Incorrect. And if they then hang on to the outside rein without allowing the horse to bend , they just end up with a blocked horse which physically cannot step under with the inside hind leg.
A correctly ridden shoulder-in enables the rider to learn how to bend the horse through the body.
Once a rider can understand and feel this concept, of bending the horse through the body, they will better understand how the inside leg and outside rein act in unison to channel the energy
In addition to the “hold the outside rein” term, riders are also often told that the inside leg must remain on, to push the horse into the outside rein…Also wrong.
The inside leg should be like a post, that the horse bends around, but if you don’t know how to establish the correct bend then putting your inside leg on and holding on the outside will only serve to block the horse, and your body, and typically then your inside leg will draw up and your outside rein will pull back, and ye ha you are a cowboy.
Plus, your inside leg can only work well, and remain long, and be applied in the correct way, if your position is correct.
Nothing in dressage, should be held for long periods of time…The outside rein should not be fixed, but act more like a faucet, letting a little bit of water out at a time. The inside leg must ask and then release.
No it’s not easy.
Nuno Oliveira used to say…
“To straighten the horse
1. By acting on the forehand through using the outside rein toward the neck when the horse is falling outward or away from the neck if the horse is falling inward.
2. Later when the horse is trained and collected, we straighten him using our leg aids.
NOTE: We must never hold the leg tight against the side. We must never use continuous aids, but rather, momentary aids.”
So how then can riders help to keep control of the shoulders without simply thinking inside leg into outside rein?
I have found that to straighten the horse, it is better to think about the position of the shoulders, both his and yours, so not to get stuck with a strong contact on the outside, but a crooked horse.
Secondly, you must think that whenever your shoulder is open, your hip on the same side must open also, as often we turn our shoulders and block with our hip which makes the open shoulder ineffective.
A great way to help you determine where the horse is putting weight (on which shoulder) is to take the centreline. Often we get lost on the wall of the arena as it provides us with a security, but it also hides where the horse is falling out.
Take the centreline and with an even connection on both reins try to feel into which shoulder the horse is putting more weight . Video it if you cannot decide if the horse is straight or not. Think of your two hands as being in line with each shoulder, and then adjust accordingly…
Take your two hands out (when horse falls in) or towards the neck (when horse falls out) depending on where the weight is going, all the while keeping your inside leg down and long, and applying it when you feel the horse losing the forward energy into the outside rein, and then releasing when you feel him respond.
The outside rein must keep a connection ,but also allow, in correspondence and unison with an elastic inside rein that asks the flexion, while your upper body and hip enable the horse to bend, and your legs keep the forward momentum and ask the inside hind of the horse to step under his centre of balance.
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