Can we talk about short reins?

We’ve all heard “short reins win gold medals” but obviously it’s not just shortening the reins that’s important.

I’ve struggled with this for a bit and it’s kind of frustrating. My trainer can get on and ride with her hands on the 2nd tab and says when he’s going correctly this is a good place to be. Some days I can easily get there and some days I feel like he braces against me and almost pulls me out of the saddle. I assume the answer lies in the amount of engagement at any given time but I find it difficult to get a fair amount of engagement when he bracing against me.

My guy isn’t naturally forward thinking so I do need to create that energy which I think may be adding to my frustration. My trainer however can get on, shorten the reins and get right to work. Any suggestions on what I can do to get over this hump? Some days I’m successful and the work goes well but some days it takes all I have and it still doesn’t happen.

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More leg! :partying_face:


Without seeing you, your horse, and the trainer in question it is anyone’s guess but Xanthoria has a good starting point for more leg as a general rule.

I find that sometimes, many trainers ride with an amount of force/pressure on the reins that amateurs are uncomfortable with. I remember reading something to the effect of it being more than 20lb of force. This is a gross, sweeping generalization about amateur riders but they tend to have Dobbin’s best interest and sometimes his feelings in mind while they ride, where trainers can get on and take the emotional aspect out of the equation and ride the horse to get the ride they want out of it.


“short reins win gold medals”

I’ve never heard that before :thinking: interesting.

I think beowulf raises some good points. I also think that many professionals are better at riding forward. They’re confident in the energy that will be produced. Some ammies are a bit afraid of the gas pedal, so to speak. Plus, pros are often stronger.

What I often see is people asking the horse for more but blocking the horse in some way, so the horse can’t/doesn’t produce the energy and impulsion as with the pro. You also have to believe in what you’re asking. Be confident in your aids.


Speaking as a dumpy amateur currently only able to ride once a week, comparing with how I was when riding more…

I think a lot of it is core strength. Ideally, it’s short reins supported by a strong core, so it doesn’t feel like the rider is pulling but rather supporting the horse in a good way. I also feel many of those supportive muscles are hard to activate except when I’m riding quite a bit (yoga doesn’t quite keep them in shape between rides for me).

Also, taking breaks on a long rein when the horse needs it mentally/physically, but shortening back up when the real work begins again. Ideally, the short reins should feel “better” for the horse, not constraining. The sense of pulling and bracing can come from a rider’s weak core, or it can come from the horse expecting the rider to do more than her fair share of the work (so more leg, as others have said before).

Despite my current lack of riding fitness, I much, much prefer heavy in the hand to horses that are techy about contact. I find it easier to take too much, then give, versus negotiating taking contact at all.


It’s a quote from Charlotte Dujardin several years ago.


If i don’t have a good hold on my mare she will bopple her head up when i ask for a transition to a trot.

It all started 2 or 3 weeks ago and We (ie the coach) thought it might be teeth, so i had her floated (vet had to really look for something to take down too…her teeth were pretty smooth). Next question was so why the head bop? We (this one was me!)figured out that i just was allowing her too much rein. Took her in and voila! nice even transition. Because it all kinda happened overnight…we thought it might be physical, turns out she needed more contact. Or so it seems lol.

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Isn’t that always the answer lol

20lbs does seem like a lot more then I’m aiming for. I’m feeling about 10 maybe and it’s uncomfortable to me, not bc I don’t want to hurt Dobbin, but bc it’s lifting my seat a bit.

Not afraid to go. But when I put leg on I feel like he puts a much brace on and while we are moving forward thru space it’s with dropped shoulders and prob hind legs out behind. I’m really missing that part that lifts the shoulders and engages from behind into that short rein.

This could def be an issue but I do feel pretty strong at least until I need a rest.

Walk to trot isn’t too bad and I can mostly carry the short rein in the trot and even carry it into the canter but then the canter starts getting strung out and shoulders dropped. My horse is fairly young but pretty fit and schooling 3rd so he should be easily able to work on a solid contact.

what i had to do (like about 3 or 4 times sometimes in a 5 or 10 min trot-a-thon!) was to put myself into relaxation. To purposefully quiet down and just ride…just go with my mare.

The ‘Why’ of it, why i needed to constantly remind myself to relax has subsided, but it was uncanny how different the ride was for both of us when i could let-go. It was a spinal injury that had me fearful of the ground, but here’s the thing, When i did release, my horse also did and became quite ‘fancy’. There is a wonderful freedom to that…like those are MY legs down there doing all those amazing things.


I have the same struggle - I don’t feel like he has enough energy from behind to go into the shorter, steady contact or when I do have that energy, I block it with the shorter rein.

My trainer is way better at getting him in front of the leg and keeping him there, so that’s secret # 1

Secret #2 is her ability to be firm and super steady in the contact and give without throwing it away. A lot of amateurs (myself included) struggle to be connected firmly without pulling backwards, or to soften / give without giving up the connection.


i loosen the inside rein periodically to reward. Like, keep her with me and when she’s going particularly well, (esp past the scary gate where we saw the big black snake) i’ll loosen my hand for a second and tell her good girl. Hopefully that will translate someday into a show ring, she will feel the loosening and pair it with ‘good girl’ and i can give her a whole bunch of silent accolades. like a backwards clicker-treat.


I find I cannot shorten my reins if my horse is not already round, forward, and SOFT. If I take the reins while the horse is already thinking upside down, we just end up further upside down.

Yes, most people are uncomfortable with the weight of the contact that is pretty much required at the upper levels unless you are Nuno Oliviera. My trainer likes to tell me that I need to put the horse where I want the horse and then it’s a matter of staying there. There is no wishy-washiness in the contact. If your reins need to be super short so that your contact is consistent then your reins should be super short. She also says that I paid for my reins so I should be able to use them however I want.

On a related note, I once had a clinician tell me my arms where “shorter than they thought” after asking me to leave the length of my reins but give the elbow. And my arms became completely straight.


Your #2 is the illusive goal I’m still working towards after many many years. Some days I have it and it just clicks, some days I’m glad people aren’t watching.

My fitness places a huge part in it, the fitter I am the more days it clicks.


I’m a big fan of the classic “seat, then legs, then hands.” I believe where CDJ was going with that phrase is that you need to catch the energy you create from your seat and legs else it just leaks out the front and you typically get the horse on the forehand. YMMV.

The AQHA legend Lynn Palm put it this way; “don’t abandon him” when I rode with too little contact.


Bending lines may help you in this situation, getting the horse onto the outside rein first. I think too many people just ride down the rail when they should be on circles. YMMV.


I think short reins also require timing that not all ammy’s can accomplish - if you can’t balance contact and energy quickly, the horse gets heavy. I find (with my own students), they aren’t quick enough to get strong enough to get a reaction so that they can give quickly. They escalate contact so slowly the horse braces (or escalate leg so slowly the horse gets dull). I think a rider’s energy and confidence also plays a big part in just getting it done.


I have one horse schooling 4th and another schooling 2nd, so we are friends with bending lines. I meant that shortening my reins before I have forward, down, round, and soft in the warm up is a waste of time. I guess that goes without saying. I also meant that when my mare steps out of a canter pirouette, loses the balances, and ends up upside down, I have to go back to thinking stretchy before I can bring her up again.


Lots of great info here thank you. For those of you you’ve mastered this are there any tips for getting over the hump?

I think the secret lives in here somewhere.

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Ok I’ve been thinking about this and everyone’s replies. I recently had a pretty well known rider on my boy and took video and after watching the video of him getting on and getting right to work I do think it’s about setting the limit and really activating and letting it come thru without playing games or negotiating. Set rein length, send forward but also leave a little room for them to go into. I think I’m setting rein length but then also blocking a little. Very much a determination and timing thing. Yes?

He got him going in 26 seconds of getting on. Ugh lol. I need to up my game


The whole of this is that its just not easy to do. It requires strength in your core, flexibility in your seat, timing to get the back end going and a respected half halt to keep the front end behaving, knowing when to give a little on inside rein or to flex or whatever when you have a “leaner” who likes to lock his jaw, muscle memory and/or quick thinking when you get that “I dont want to” feeling from the beast you are riding. If it weren’t hard, we’d all ride like Charlotte. I thankfully have a forward thinking horse, but he can use his “stallion neck” against me when a little tired or not in the mood. This is still better than the previous mare who blew off my “lets go” aids more than she responded to them. :neutral_face: