Dear Friend and Horseman,
Welcome to another Horse Training Tips Newsletter.
In this issue, I’m going to answer a question that was sent in by one of my subscribers.
There is a good chance you are going to think this topic is too simple or trivial to pay much attention to.
However, unless you are a professional cutting or reining horse trainer, you will probably be surprised by what I have to say.
Okay, lets get started with the newsletter
Here’s a question I have I’d like addressed in an upcoming newsletter if you get a chance:
While cutting, my mare drops her head really low on her cattle and keeps “ducking” under her rein/s (reins flip up). Any tips on what I can do to minimize this?
Yes, there is a way of attaching the reins to the bit that will help keep them from “flipping” up or getting “twisted” on the shank.
If you have watched any of my videos, you’ll notice that when I ride with a curb bit, my reins are attached to the bit in a unique way.
The reason I do this is to prevent the reins from flipping up or twisting on the shank and getting stuck there.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen somebody’s run get messed up because the reins flipped or twisted on the bit shank and stuck there. The special way I attach my
reins, pretty much eliminates this problem.
I’ll describe to you how to do it.
Make sure you use heavy, 5/8 inch wide reins.
Here’s what to do:
1. Cut a slit in the “bit end” of the rein. (Punch a small hole at the end of the
2. Insert the shank of the bit through the slit.
3. Turn the rein on the shank so the tail-end is pointing out away from the bit.
4. Take the tail-end of the rein and slide it through the shank ring (from the outside in).
5. Pull the rein down snug.
I think this will solve your problem, Jerri.
Larry Trocha Training Stable
Here is the photo Jerri sent me in response to my instructions. Looks good. The only thing left to do now is pull the rein down snug on the shank. (Personally, I’d prefer to use reins that are heavier than what Jerri used here).
There’s a lot more to having the right kind of reins than meets the eye
Since we’re on the subject of reins, let me expand on this topic a little more.
Many novice and amateur horsemen think that reins are JUST reins… that there is little difference in the quality of reins or any need to have a specific kind of rein.
Well, nothing could be farther from the truth.
In fact, there is a huge difference between the reins that amateurs use and the reins that professional trainers use.
When I take on a new student, or when an owner comes to ride his horse that I’ve been training, I always have them ride the horse with one of MY bridles.
And I start out having them ride the horse with an extremely loose rein.
As they ride the horse around, I explain to the rider all he has to do is barely move his rein-hand and the horse will respond.
Just a slight touch to the side and the horse will turn.
A slight lift of the hand and the horse will stop.
The horse is responding like this, even with a ton of slack in the reins. It’s like having “power steering” with finger-tip-light control.
The rider is usually thrilled with how great that kind of response feels because its almost certain he’s never felt anything like it before.
Of course, part of the reason the horse is responding so well is because I’ve been using some of my training techniques on him.
But a BIG part of this finger-tip-light response has to do with the
equipment I use.
ESPECIALLY THE REINS.
The reins I use are thick,
dense and have body.
They are hand-cut from SPECIAL hides.
With reins like these, a horse can easily feel them the instant they move.
He can FEEL the signal coming BEFORE it ever reaches his mouth.
Very, very few riders own a pair of reins like this. They usually have the typical reins found in tack stores and catalogs.
There is a huge difference.
Here’s what makes the difference
Let me describe for you the average rider’s reins and why they hurt your riding instead of helping.
Average reins are too light in weight and too flimsy with no body.
They are usually too narrow in width and too thin in thickness. Often they are too short too.
They are cut from leather that isn’t dense enough. The fibers of the leather are too loose, giving the reins a flimsy, limp, bodiless feel.
Professional trainers call reins like this, “SPAGHETTI” reins.
When you ride with spaghetti reins, it’s very difficult to feel the horse’s
mouth. And by the same token, it’s difficult for the horse’s mouth to
“feel” your hands.
Ideally, when you use your fingers and hands to cue the horse, the “weight and body” of the rein should TELEGRAPH to the horse that a SIGNAL is coming.
Without the “telegraph”, the “signal” takes the horse by surprise; he is not ready
to respond. So instead of getting lighter and softer in the mouth, he
Also, when you lope the horse, those spaghetti reins fly all over the place. Unless you ride with a tight rein all the time, you can’t control or manipulate the
reins to help your horse.
Plus, it just plain looks bad when the reins are flying around.
If you ever go to a show, the instant the judge sees you riding with spaghetti reins, he is going to assume you are a rank beginner and don’t know what you are doing.
Pretty tough to win anything when you’ve shot yourself in the foot and made a bad impression right from the git-go.
Here’s another reason why trainers cuss those spaghetti reins…
If you ever need to pop a horse on the butt to create impulsion or spank him for bad behavior, you can forget it.
Those spaghetti reins just don’t have the weight or the length to get the job done.
Okay, now you have a pretty good idea why I don’t like spaghetti reins and insist on riding with only good reins.
Now let’s go over the characteristics of GOOD reins and why those characteristics are important to our riding.
Ideal reins to use with a snaffle bit
On a snaffle bit, I want my reins to be 5/8 inches wide. You would probably be okay with 3/4 inches but personally, I find the wider reins more difficult to manipulate with my fingers.
I also want the snaffle reins longer than normal. Anywhere from 7′ 8″ to 8 feet long. They need to be this long so you have plenty of tail hanging down, even when you hold the reins with your hands spread far apart.
You need that much tail so you can pop the horse on the butt to create impulsion. Or, if the colt is acting up, I can spank him on the butt with the tail of
Also, the reins need to be “shaped” right so they will “hang” in balance.
Generally, I want the rein to be fairly thick down by the bit. The weight down there will keep the rein hanging stable and keep it from flying around.
The thickness and weight should taper down and diminish in the area where the rider’s hands hold the reins. This makes the reins more comfortable to hold and more accurate to use.
As the tail of the reins come down from the rider’s hands, the rein should also start to get thicker.
At the tail end, I want the reins to be very thick and heavy. Again, this extra weight stabilizes the end of the rein so it doesn’t fly around plus the added weight makes it easier to accurately pop the horse on the butt.
I want my snaffle bit reins to have body but I also want them supple. But not TOO supple. I DO NOT want them totally limp. They should just be supple enough to easily bend around my hands and fingers.
Ideal reins to use with a curb bit
Okay, now lets talk about the kind of reins I like on my curb bits.
To tell you the truth, my ideal snaffle bit reins would be absolutely fine to use on a curb bit too. However, there could be some differences that would be fine on a curb but not on a snaffle.
Keep in mind, when using a curb bit, you mostly ride with just one hand on the reins. So, curb bit reins could be a little shorter than what I’d use on a snaffle. I’d say around 7′ 6″ would be about right. And again, I want them 5/8 inches wide.
Any wider than that and they’ll be too difficult to manipulate with your fingers. Any narrower and they’ll be too light.
With the curb bit, I’ll mostly be neck-reining the horse. I want the horse to be able to feel the rein on his neck BEFORE I ever get to his
mouth. (See photo on the right)
This requires a rein that has a LOT of BODY. (“Body” means the leather fibers are firm and dense)
And curb bit reins don’t need to be quite as supple as snaffle reins. They could be a little stiffer and be fine; again, so the horse can feel the rein on his neck.
Reins with this much body, hang nice and quiet when the horse is moving. When showing, I feel this type of rein is the absolute best to use. They give the horse and rider that professional look that is so important in the show ring.
As for the shape of the reins, I want them to have the same kind of balance as the reins I use on a snaffle.
I want that rein fairly thick down at the bit end. Then taper down in thickness about the place where my hand will go and then get very thick at the very end of the
Reins that are shaped like this have that really nice “hang” to them. There’s a nice weighted “curve” all the way from the bit to the rider’s hand.
(See photo on the left)
Unfortunately, reins of this quality are not easy to come by. The leather they are made of comes from special cow hides. The leather needs to have nice tight fibers and be very, very dense. (Which means they’ll require a little break-in time).
Because top quality reins come from such hard-to-get hides, you will NOT usually find them at your local tack store.
As far as I know, there are only three leather shops in the entire country that make these kind of reins.
They supply only a handful of retailers that cater to professional trainers and non-pros that show.
When these reins are available, I stock up on them so I have some available for my “good” customers and horse training clients.
If you would like a pair, click on the link below to check them out.
Tip for breaking-in new reins
If you have acquired a new set of high quality reins, they will require some break-in time before they limber up and get supple.
Here’s what I do to speed up the break-in process:
1. Take the rein and put it around the top rail of a pipe panel. The smaller the diameter of the rail, the better.
2. Grab one end of the rein in your right hand and the other end in your left.
3. Step back and apply pressure while pulling on the ends of the reins in a see-saw motion. Pretend you are trying to cut the pipe in half by see-sawing on the rein.
Doing this will loosen up the fibers in the leather and make the rein more supple. Do it just enough to make the reins usable and no more. You may want to apply a light coat of oil.
Tips on how to darken leather
Sometimes when we get a new headstall, reins or saddle, the leather may be “lighter” in color than what we’d like.
All leather will darken with use and age. However, there are ways to speed up the process and darken the leather fast.
Here are just a few tips that will get the job done:
First, be aware that leather is made of cowhide and just like our skin, it will tan and darken when exposed to the sun. Leave the leather in direct sunlight for a few days and it will darken considerably.
Leather will also darken when oil is applied to it. Neatsfoot oil, mink oil, olive oil will all do the job. However, to get any significant darkening to happen, you’ll have to apply several coats of oil over a period of
Here’s the fastest way I know to darken leather. Take some “Fiebing’s Leather Dye” and mix a small amount into a cup of oil. When applied to the leather, it will really add some color. (To be safe, start by adding just a little dye to
I believe Fiebing’s has a darkening product like this that is already mixed and ready to use. I can’t remember the name of it but you could ask your local saddle shop.
I DO NOT recommend that you use straight dye on the leather. Unless you really know what you are doing, the results may not turn out the way you planned.
Also, some new saddles and leather equipment are coated with a “shellac” type of finish. For oil or dye to penetrate the leather, the shellac will have to be removed with leather de-glazer. Again, Fiebing’s makes a product that does this easily.
Okay, I hope this information helps.
Well, this wraps it up for this newsletter. I hope you liked it.
Until next time, have fun training your horse.