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Side Reins: mechanism of training and support of the vaulting horse.

Posted on November 12, 2010 at 8:38 PM Comments comments (4979)
Side Reins: mechanism of training and support of the vaulting horse.
Often I am asked what number (or how short) do I want the side reins?
 It’s a simple question that requires multi-layered answers.  
The placement of the side reins in my opinion depends on series of questions
I ask myself.
  • Where the horse is in his training? What level of collection?
  • What support does the horse need? How much self carriage?
  • What frame can the horse comfortably carry? What is the horse's stamina and fitness level.
  • Where is the Poll? Ideally the poll should be the highest point but not at the sacrifice of suppleness over the back.
  • What is the clarity of the gait? Does the gait needs to be clearer, what do I need to do to establish clarity.
  • How is the horse going today? An overall assessment of the horse and his environment to see if there are contributing factors.
In an ideal world in ideal circumstances I will place the side reins in the position that supports the horse the best, determined by riding the horse and assessing the balance and self carriage the horse can attain under saddle.  I don’t start the horse out on the longe without the support of the side reins, the first determination is how do I get the horse to warm up stretching over the back to swing.
Biomechanics that come into play
I have found that most horses do not stretch automatically without the use of the reins.  My object in the warm up in trot is to have the horse bascule, the hind legs rhythmically placing under the horse’s body with each diagonal pair perfectly clear.
Achieving the goal
I want to see the stomach muscle from the stifle to the girth being used and the pad being pushed up off the back by the horse. I use transitions and half halts to get the horse to stretch to the bit and swing through the back. For this exercise I place the reins low on the sircingle and short. I have to assess each horse and find the length of reins that will get the horse to relax and swing. I work the horse in trot in both directions with this objective in mind.  
Horse’s readiness
When I feel the horse is ready for canter warm up I will usually raise the reins to about handle high depending on training and not necessarily shorten them as the length is shortened by moving the reins up. In warm up canter in both directions first the reins are about 2-3 holes longer than my desired length. After the horse warms up I assess the length again to see how much more support the horse needs. The more a horse has developed in an uphill canter with engagement over the back the higher and the shorter the reins can be placed.
Gaging excitation levels
What works in practice might not work in competition with all the other variables thrown into the loop. With extra energy with an electric atmosphere, a horse’s frame can change pretty drastically and more support from the reins may be needed.
Cool Down
After vaulting I lower the reins again this time longer to give the horse support while he stretches down and cools down in trot on both sides.
Because of all these considerations the side rein placement and length is forever evolving.
A longuer is like an orchestral conductor, monitoring & calculating pulses of energy and flow to create a harmony. In this context, the longer uses the side reins with the same sensitivity for the vaulting horse’s movement and adjusting this activity as needed.
Carolyn Bland
Team Gold medalist