Giddy up riders! It’s time to get the low down on the various horse reins available.
After all, selecting reins is one of the most significant decisions a rider can make, so we need to get a hold of it.
We’re looking at the different horse reins, how they differ, what they do, and how to use them. Hint! It all comes down to your riding style.
So saddle up and let’s get into it.
Why Understanding Different Reins Is Important
Reins are one of the most essential pieces of horse tack you will ever own. They attach to the head bit, allowing you to control and communicate with your horse while riding.
You need to understand the types of reins before selecting the one you think best suits your riding style. Trust us, a loose rein is no match for a barrel rider!
Every riding discipline has reins that match the style and needs of the horse and rider. Whether it’s Western or English reins, getting to know the different types will allow you to make the best choice for your needs.
Types of Horse Reins
Rubber reins are often used for jumping and racing because the material offers extra grip. The rubber holds the rider’s hands in place, keeping them steady throughout the event.
The core of rubber reins is made with nylon or leather, ensuring they remain intact, regardless of the riding style.
These reins are perfect for riding in the rain as they won’t slip from your hands. The nylon rubber reins generally have extra stoppers, allowing riders to keep their hands securely in place while making sharp turns or high jumps.
Some rubber reins are connected to the bit with leather, but the rider still uses the rubber area for grip. The rubber allows for flexibility, meaning if the rider pulls back, the horse’s head can still move freely.
One of the biggest advantages of rubber reins is that they are highly durable. They last very long, making for a solid investment in your riding career.
Closed reins (Loop rein)
Closed reins, aka loop reins, are primarily used in eventing like dressage and show jumping. They get their name because there are no breaks or separations in closed reins; it’s a continuous loop.
Looped reins pass through the bit rings on the side of the horse’s mouth and come together at the centre, which the rider holds as a single rein.
A constant connection between the rider’s hands and the horse’s mouth makes communicating with your riding partner easy. This is vital in eventing when you need precise control of your horse.
When riding with closed reins, take note of the length of each side of the rein. The sides should remain as balanced as possible.
Smooth reins are one of the more common English reins, but fair warning, they are more difficult to use.
Using smooth reins is more difficult because no added grips help keep hands in place. Smooth reins often slip through the hand, making it challenging to control a stubborn horse.
Next time you hop on a carriage ride, take a look at the reigns. They are almost guaranteed to be smooth reigns. Noticeable by their smooth appearance made from a single piece of flat or rounded leather.
The smooth rein provides a traditional sleek look that lends itself to eventing for dressage and show jumping.
Similar to the smooth rein, a laced rein is different in that they have holes punched through the leather. A thin piece of leather is then laced through the holes, creating a braided pattern. This is great for riders looking for a little extra grip.
Laced reins are popular in English pleasure, dressage, cross country, and jumping because they give the rider extra grip while still looking sleek and stylish.
Any of the above English reins can become double reins. The only difference is that you use two sets of the same rein to create a double rein style.
Many riders in English pleasure and flat saddle riding use double reins to maintain better control of their mount, particularly for jumping.
You’ll likely use a double bridle or Pelham bit for double reins, as they have the necessary rings for the double attachment.
If you want to learn more about bits and tacking, here are the steps to tacking up a horse.
Yee-haw, the barrel reins are here!
Barrel reins are used explicitly in barrel racing—fast-paced rodeo events where riders weave horses through a series of barrel courses.
Generally made from woven fabric or paracord, these reins are usually colourful and flashy to stand out from the crowd.
It comes as no surprise that barrel reins are meant to keep the rider in control at all times with a secure grip to hold on as the horse rips around the course.
These reins are a bit shorter than other reins as the rider needs close contact with the horse for a quick response. Imagine pulling extra length while on a sharp turn; it won’t work.
Some barrel reins will have additional grips or knots along the reins to help the rider keep their hands in place.
Depending on your specific needs, you can choose between a closed or split barrel reign. Generally, barrel racers choose a closed rein to ride with one hand. It also stops the split reins from potentially falling in front of the horse, which may be dangerous travelling at high speeds.
Whatever the type, all barrel reins are lighter and narrower than everyday reins to keep the horse as light as possible to get up to high speeds more quickly.
Compared to the close reign, split reins don’t form one loop. Rather, the reins split, giving the rider two separate reigns to hold onto. Some prefer riding with split reins using one hand, while others use two hands to get comfortable for a long ride.
Generally, split reins are used for Western horsemanship competitions, such as reining, cutting, and Western pleasure. The split nature allows the rider to hold the reins further out, encouraging the horse to keep its head down.
If you’re first getting started with a split rein, you can knot the two ends together, but this is just for casual riding. Knots in eventing are not very professional.
Split reins connect to the bridle (headgear) on each side of the horse. They cross one another at the centre, leading the two reins across the shoulders and up to the rider’s hands.
You may benefit from using split reins when training or leading new horses. The loose fit is the perfect starting point for ponies.
We will mention draw reins, but please note they are not meant for beginner riders and should only be used by experienced equestrians who know how to use them properly.
Draw reins can help teach a horse how to keep its back rounded and head down. They work with a single pulley system attaching directly to the bit ring. The draw reins then allow the rider to push the head into the correct position.
A big heads up, draw reins are merely a tool; you can’t use them as regular reins. Their intended purpose is to aid in horse training, not cause discomfort.
Forcing the horse into position is a BIG NO! You should always let the horse get comfortable to the reins to make their experience positive. You must never force your horse’s head unless you are a trained professional that knows how to do this safely.
The placement and use of draw reins vary between English and Western riding, but whichever it is, using draw reins shouldn’t be taken lightly. Generally, draw reins are used when other training methods have not worked.
Some riders use draw reins alongside regular reins, only utilising the draw reins when absolutely necessary. The setup can get quite complicated, and you need to know which parts of the reins to hold at what time.
How long should reins be?
Reins come in various lengths, mostly 48”, 54” and 60”. Most horses use 54” reins and are comfortable at this length. Pony reins are generally about 48”. If you’ve got a massive breed like a Clydesdale, the 60” is your best bet for comfort and communication.
What happens if the reins are too long?
Having the correct rein length may prevent the reins from hanging or dragging on the ground. This leaves the horse in danger of tripping. Long reins may also get caught on stirrups which is dangerous to the rider. Split reins are often quite long, so a closed rein is better for high-speed western riding when the horse needs free rein.
Which type of reins are typically used for beginner riders?
Most first-comers to horse riding feel more comfortable using the closed rein (loop) because it is easy to hold onto and doesn’t risk dropping one side of the reins. It takes time to get used to riding, so selecting the right reins for a beginner is an important consideration.