Rein manipulation

I’m struggling a bit understanding how to manipulate the reigns with respect to collecting a horse.

Conceptually, I understand the idea of impulsion as it pertains to collection. This is achieved through our legs/seat which create and ultimately drive that impulsion forward into the reign contact. Our hands, through the reigns, “catch” the impulsion and send any of it back to achieve an equilibrium between the hind end and the front end, thus collecting the horse.

I also understand that we’re predominantly concerned with the horse’s jaw and getting them to yield the jaw to facilitate catching the impulsion and achieving the characteristic arch in the neck at the poll. We’re not looking to crank the horses head up/down, sideways, etc. and it’s important to give when we feel the horse give.

If I’m wrong about any of the above, please let me know. I know there is more to it but I’m running through what’s going on in my head whilst writing this

This is now where my confusion begins. What on earth are our hands doing to accommodate all of this?

Many books I’ve read profess that all reign manipulation is through the fingers: a tighter grip with the fingers to increase reign contact or an opening of the fingers to ease up on the reigns.

Previous (very bad) trainers advocated breaking at the wrist or seesawing the horses head back and forth to get them on the bit.

More current people I’ve spoken to indicate that the motion is through the arms, not so much the hands. I’m having a bit of an issue with this because my arm, as it pertains to reigns and in keeping my elbows close to my side, really only functions in one plane which is backwards and forwards. Too much of this can be perceived as pulling back on the reigns which causes the horse to slow down.

So here I am asking for some clarity and advice on this. I know this is probably a simple question to a complex and lengthy topic and I also know that sometimes one reign/arm/hand is doing one thing while the other is doing something else, further complicating the matter. But I’m open to any thoughts, ideas, explanations, etc.

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Ultimately the part of your body that contains the horse in collection is your back and seat. The shape of your sitting determines whether the leg aid results in a longer step across the ground, a coiling/sitting down step, it should control the rhythm as well.

The reins serve to quickly nudge the horse back under your seat/onto your back. As soon as the horse is there, even if he will need another reminder the next stride, let go and see if the horse is rideable from the rider’s back.


Actually a lot of collection happens through the seat and torso of the rider. You can’t really pull a horse into collection with your hands. You can give little half halts to signal the horse. But the horse has to also be physically able to lift his front end and move like that.


And how does one nudge with the reigns?

I think I get what you’re saying in terms of the collection coming from the seat, using some nudging with the reigns, and then releasing when the horse is collected and then reassessing upon the next stride.

It is the fabled half halt.

What one looks like depends on the rider, the horse and the training level of both.
It can be as pronounced as a break in the wrist, a visible squeeze with the legs and a nociceable deep seat for a stride or two, or a s fleeting as a tighter grip and and a contraction of the stomach muscles.

It is the impulse to redirect the forward energy from the impulsion back toward the horse


As others have said, it’s in the leg and seat. Most of my collecting aid comes from me thinking of making my body longer, closing my inner thigh, and bringing my lower leg back slightly. I’m essentially shutting down the forward energy.

When I shut down the forward energy, my hands don’t allow as much, so I think of it as creating the tension between my shoulderblades and the back of my upper arm. When I need to get out of the collection (think collected to extended, or in schooling when you ask for a couple of collected steps and immediately get out of it) the tension comes out of my upper arm and my hands are “allowed” forward-- the horse should take them there.


Re: nidging w reins:

In my head I picture a jenga tower.
If it starts to tilt, I give it a little nudge and then let go again to see if it’s more stable now.

So use the reins enough to adjust the tower. No more, no less.

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Felicitas von Neumann-Cosel’s approach has always resonated well for me. She has a lot of video clips on Facebook you might check out.

My personal, very abstract thought process is that I am softening & suppeling the horse & then sending him forward to reach into the bridle. To collect the horse, I’m still sending him into the bridle. I’m just moving the bridle back closer to me. I imagine the horse’s front & back end as gears like in a clock, meeting under my seat, and the reins running in a closed loop down through my body out my feet & up the underside of the horse’s neck and through the rings of the bit. (Think like draw reins, but your body is closing the pulley.) So to close the distance between me & the bridle, I: 1) tilt my pelvis slightly posterior to activate my seat & core. This also opens my hips and allows kinetic energy to flow down through my feet and through my imaginary bottom rein loop. 2) (my arms & shoulders maintain the contact by following the motion of the horse in an elastic manner.) I “bring the bridle back to me” by adjusting the follow through of my arms/shoulders to a smaller range.

I have no clue if this makes sense to anyone else! It took me riding an extremely well-schooled horse who knew exactly how to prepare for the halt through the half halt to where the actual halt was achieved by simply ceasing to follow the motion with your hands to work out this theory.


I feel more than think. To me, in my crazy autistic brain, the reins represent an umbilical cord.
edit: I can ride without pretty well without reins actually if it’s just riding. My whole body rides the horse, my spine merges with her/his spine, my legs are long muscles that run along the side of her/his ribs, and all my hands do is let her know that we are unmistakably together…ie connected. I connect in many ways with my horse, but the hands don’t really ride the horse.


It’s also important to keep in mind that position of head, position of neck, and collection of the body are three separate things that are not always present together. What you need is body position. Raised in wither and shoulders, lighter in front, working with the hind end.

Also that some horses (notably good working QH and Iberians) collect naturally, while some TB, WB, and draft crosses take longer to learn. If you are riding a horse that “falls on its forehand” or “gets strung out” because of body type, then collection will be more difficult

Some examples.

My Paint mare is athletic and has a good big adjustable canter. If we go for a canter on the trails, we might get up to a good stretched out hand gallop. Then say I want to pull her together because there’s a slope or a bend or a bridge or a pedestrian ahead.

I sit in and sit up. I use little half halts upwards to slow her as needed . Our idiosyncracy is that I may also say “Steady! Steady!” which maresy learned from my coach long ago in beginner jumping. I will then feel her pace slow dramatically, her stride become more compressed, her front end lift in the withers and shoulders, and the whole movement become a kind of delightful rocking horse thing. I don’t use leg because in these situations she is supplying all the needed impulsion :). Once she is hot with canter on the brain she prefers to modulate her canter stride rather than break to a trot.

During this, her neck is usually up and her head well in front of the vertical.

This would be the kind of collection you see riders doing on a jump or cross country course when needed.

When we are schooling collected trot to medium trot, I do use a touch of leg. My main cue is to sit in and raise my ribcage. If we are in sync, her gait will change. We aren’t always in sync.

I go into collected trot with clear contact on the outside, and a little half halt/flexion on the inside. Maresy has already been trained in hand that this means give the poll and have her head closer to the vertical. Everyday is different with horses, energy level, weather, mood, footing. So you need to know what’s a reasonable ask for this horse, and what’s the least amount of cues you can give to get the result on this particular day.

It’s often useful to get the collected trot on the short end of the arena. Then opening up to medium lengthening I keep the same body posture for both horse and rider and add leg and see how much forward I can get that day. My horse has been taught that she should keep a given speed until asked to slow and I have a quiet leg so I am definitely not bumping her at every stride.

With the Andy Cross dressage school master, I could do all this and get true extended trot from her on good days. She could collect beautifully at walk trot canter, but had a tendency to dump on the forehand if she was unfit or not warmed up. I did a lot of walk lateral work in warmup to get her using her hind end. When she was warmed up and happy, she had a wonderful slow manouverable collected canter. We did a loose but distinct canter pirouette a couple of times on her really good days.

I guess my point is that you need to be riding a horse that is capable of doing the thing, and has been taught. They are almost all capable of being taught, but in a lesson program there is no guarantee that any given horse has the build or fitness to collect easily for a student. A horse with hind end pain, hocks or stifles or SI, will be reluctant to weight the hind end. Riding a horse strung out and inverted over time can cause damage to hocks and SI. So collection becomes harder and harder.

I have certainly watched lessons where coaches had students adjusting head and neck position but not body posture. Horses can have raised necks and head on the vertical and be dumped on the forehand. Often these horses break down behind young.

Conversely, horses can have low necks and noses pointed out and actually be in extreme collection. I’m thinking of QH working cows. They are up in front, weight in their haunches, super manouverable.


My favourite read of the day, sums up dressage so nicely.


You have all given me some great food for thought, thank you for the replies (and the great video @alicen)

Perhaps I’m focusing too much on my hands. I’ve put in tremendous work to quiet my hands since coming back to dressage so I’ve been obsessed with that for a while now, possibly to the detriment of the rest of my body.

Today in my lesson I remembered something I was told a while ago which was to post in and out of the saddle with more energy. I tried that and much to my surprise, the collection came almost without effort. I “nudged” the reigns seldom, and really only to address some slight shoulder bulge or for a bit more bend to the inside. I imagine this is what you all are referring to when you say it all comes from your seat/torso.

The challenge now is to do that at the strides where I’m sitting…


Even in the sitting trot you are still “posting” in that you are thrown up/out of the saddle in the same way. If you can learn to bounce with the rhythm, which looks like a quiet seat to any outsider, you can give your aids at the same time you would at the posting trot. Some people (myself included) find it easier to get a horse round and on the aids at the sitting trot.


The sitting trot is easier because you keep the aids on for both counts. In the rising trot that is not so easy. In the sitting trot remember to ‘keep the bounce’ with your seat, as it is easy to ‘ground the trot’.

The reins, not reigns - a King reigns over his land - the art of learning to use the reins, is learning how not to use the reins.

The reins never move back. The can soften forward, they can come back to where they were. They can hold.

So take hold of a pair of reins. Get some one to pull. You have to hold the reins and not let them go forward. Let them pull and pull and pull. When they suddenly let go of the reins. The reins should soften and give. You should not go flying backwards for 3 steps. This is a skill. If you go flying backwards or the reins stay taught you are pulling. We do not pull in dressage.

You do not hold the inside rein. If you hold the inside rein you block forward.

The outside rein you should be able to hold and only give forward when you choose to.


Oh my, a horrible spelling blunder on my part :man_facepalming:t3:

I find the rising trot much easier in this context. I think I tend to tense up at the sitting trot rather than letting my seat bounce with the motion (I suspect this is what you’re referring to when you say ground the trot).

That is a great analogy for using the reins. I have caught myself pulling at times, which goes back to the original topic of this thread.

Hi @centaursam,

Part of your problems might be stiff shoulders. For decades my shoulders were pretty stiff trying to satisfy my riding teachers. No matter what I did there was still some slump AND I could not do several rein aids that depend on perfect timing and delicacy.

Then this year I read “Horse Brain, Human Brain” by Janet L Jones, PhD, and read that there is a specific muscle, “Teres major is the fancy name for a small muscle at the back of each shoulder just below the armpit. It opens and steadies the shoulders and upper back as you ride…you can also steady these areas by flexing the entire shoulder and upper back, but this is one of many global tensions that causes the beginning rider to slap up and down at the trot…”

Since I discovered this muscle my teacher of over a decade is FINALLY praising my back. She even asked me to show another student of hers what to do. I find that my whole arm relaxes and tends to move like a pendulum from the shoulder joint without me having to consciously move it. A lot of tension that can cause problems with the horse’s mouth has simply disappeared.

You will sit straighter. Your back will be straighter. You will probably please your riding instructor.


it will become easier with practice and core strength. I think of it as letting your belly ‘slosh’ up instead of standing up. The horse has to be relaxed to sit comfortably, and the rider of course as well.



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the result is obvious, the road there not as much