Monday, August 8, 2016

The Driving Rein (or Dumbo's Magic Feather)

The photos from Milner (and insta) showed me consistently using a Driving Rein in my classes. 

Driving Rein (and a cute gray boy)
I had previously convinced myself that no one notices... but uhhh I guess that's not true :)

So, since everyone gets super-duper-bonus points for noticing my weird rein hold - I figure it deserves some explanation (as I understand it).

Use of a Driving Rein is something that I've done on and off over the years.

Up to this point, I had only ever used it in clinics and with a couple of my dressage trainers when I was (much) younger.  Bernie Traurig is known for having a major fondness for a Driving Rein, and even noted that with some young horses he would ride that way for a year to establish honest, true contact.

As a tool in clinics I've always seen it applied to discourage those of us who like to brace our hands or break our wrists (I'm guilty of both).

By bringing the rein in over the top of the hand, the only way to increase pressure on the rerun is to pull straight back with your shoulder and elbow. 

With a traditional grip (entering between the pinky and ring finger) a naughty rider can increase pressure by playing with their fingers (gasp) or bending their wrists (double gasp). 

You also have the option of bracing your hand down toward the wither (with a locked elbow) to give yourself some leverage against a heavy horse, or perhaps if trying to contain a bolting maniac (who would do that I wonder????).

My last couple of horses have given me reason to guard against sudden desires to bolt/spin/whatever - and that defensive mindset often leads me to stiffen my arm and brace in my hands - even when there is no bolt or misbehavior in sight.

The problem with this particular habit on a horse that doesn't bolt forward is that when I try to maintain a steady contact, I end up holding too much, not following the mouth and bottling a certain pretty Gray pony up in the corners (or in the last stride to a fence).

So, by flipping the rein and forcing my elbow to unlock, I keep a softer feel of the mouth and am forced to rely on straightening from my leg as well as pushing more sincerely to my half halts.

It's not a bad thing.

However, it can make the line on a crest release a bit silly...
For those of you who are trying to figure out how in the hell such a small adjustment can change how well you follow with your elbow or shoulder.. I encourage you to have a little National Velvet moment and find some baling twine, or ribbon or an extension cord to loop around your feet and hold like reins.

( I just spent a REALLY long time trying to find a picture or clip from that scene of the movie and am somewhat shocked I can't find one... am I the only one who remembers that?)


Hold the reins normally, and give yourself some contact.  Pretend you are trying to soften then mouth and see how much wiggling and breaking your wrists can do.

Then flip the reins, so they enter your hand between your thumb and forefinger, do the same thing and notice how all the movement has to come form the elbow. 

Ideally try this on an actual horse... but you know... most people aren't reading blogs while they are riding (are they?).

The Driving Rein also naturally lifts my contact a bit and helps me carry a higher line of contact/balance.  I might be overdoing this now - as there were a few moments in Canada where my hands were getting precariously close to my chin - but for now that's better than my preferred alternative of burying my hands and creating a stiff connection.

artificially raising the balance a bit... but..... I'll take it
So for now it's a helpful tool for me to break bad, defensive habits.  Already my softer elbow is translating to my traditional rein hold, but if I get in trouble I revert to bracing, so I'm still being required to use a Driving hold in the ring.  old habits die hard, but hopefully I'm on a path to improvement...

It's also making it easier for me to separate my hands if I need to offer some help landing a lead.  I don't know why it's easier than with a traditional rein - but maybe because my shoulder is already soft, I am more likely to utilize my hands separately in the air.
staying low, with contact on the right, releasing forward on the left
So, while it probably isn't a tool for everyone - there is a method to this particular madness for me - and it's likely to stick around for a little while until my panic buttons change a bit.


  1. Thanks for explaining. I had heard of this tool; nice to see it in action and that it's actually working for you. I will try to remember to try it in my ride tomorrow. I think this could really help me on the flat.

  2. Inneresting. My trainer has had me try this while schooling (I have numerous and varied sinful hand habits) but it's been a while and maybe I forgot about it. It's a great tool to have in the back pocket tho!

  3. Sorry for calling it out! But thank you very much for your insight on it! I can be a little grabby with my hands when I'm nervous, so I think I may give this a try and see if it helps.

  4. Interesting! Great post, and I totally remember that part in National Velvet!

  5. It really helps prevent me from going to my hand too much and killing my impulsion/rhythm. Let me know how it works!!

  6. I'm actually really surprised they're okay with this in the hunter ring!!

  7. I had no idea this was legal in the Hunter ring! So many things I don't know. Very interesting though, now I want to try it.

    Also, points for the National Velvet reference!

    1. Totally okay in the hunter ring - but you can pretty much ride upside down as long as your horse goes well. You might get killed in the eq ring... I haven't tested it there yet

  8. Thank you for the explanation! This really made it so clear! I have a few students who would probably benefit from this!

  9. When I think back to rein torture month, this was the one that I minded the least. And actually, now I sort of want to play with it on C again. Thanks!

  10. Hm, maybe I will try that. Sydney tends to be heavy, and I have to think very consciously about not getting into a tug of war with her, because she will always win. May Kate Olsen rides her jumpers in a driving rein too, and recently got a lot of flack on social media for doing it.

  11. Thanks SO MUCH for this explanation. I'll admit that I was never really clear on what exactly a 'driving rein' was, but this post makes total sense!

  12. Thank you for the explanation! Breaking my wrists is a TERRIBLE habit I have. I may need to try this

  13. I've been made to do this before, and I am SO bad at it. Haha. I get so busy noticing how weird it feels that I forget how to ride in general. It is a really good tool though. It's great for making sure your balance is completely and 100% not based on your feel of the horse's mouth too, or at least that's what I've primarily used it for.

  14. I have used this tool before for my trainers particular TB that I rode for a while a few years ago that would take off if you locked on his mouth. This tool worked great. I could only ride him with the driving rein. I rode this way for so long that a normal rein hold felt weird to me after...


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