Side reins for lunging...yea or nay?

I have a green horse who needs to develop his topline and stretch down. Under saddle, he’s just now working on accepting steady contact. Also, I don’t feel he has the physical strength required to stretch down with a rider on board (he’ll do it a little at the walk, but not the trot).

What’s the general consensus on lunging with side reins? I would obviously start with them loose, and for this level of horse I’d use elastic. Do you think this would help him, or is it just gadgetry? I’ve never been a fan of any gadgets in the past, but I see the potential benefit of side reins for this horse.

Manolo Mendez on FaceBook, YouTube, his website and his videos on Vimeo teach how to get a horse to stretch forward and out, using his toppling, with a cavesson only. Also, Jec Ballou has great exercises, either in her books or her online courses, for developing the topline and getting the horse to stretch forward and out, both on the lunge and ridden.


Side reins aren’t a gadget. I would say they’re the only lunging device universally considered not a gadget. I rarely longe without them.

Start them loose/unrestrictive without flopping and you’ll be fine, as long as you have elastic or leather ones and not the ones with the heavy rubber donut that flops around.


That ^.

Once you have your horse longing steadily, our idea years ago was that properly adjusted, very loosely initially, helps keep the horse’s outside shoulder from drifting out, helps steady the horse just by being there.
We didn’t have round pens or walls around for longing, would longe any one place handy.
Side reins gave that bit more guidance.

For other goals, you need to work with a trainer that shows you what you are looking for and adjust them for that as every individual horse may benefit from best.


Funny thing, I saw a horse working freely in the round pen yesterday which I haven’t for years… His outside shoulder was not drifting out, quite the opposite! I don’t think I see the point of round penning if not for babies or a behavior fix. I don’t want to repeat work that keeps my horse bent to the outside with a head tilt, loading the inside fore.

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Yes, many people don’t realize how much their own stance affects how the horse goes.
A free horse running around will be an interesting lesson on how the person handles the horse, or doesn’t, just watching how the horse moves.
At least on a longe line the line works as some kind of basic contact previously taught when leading.
In our instructor courses, we were taught all that, to think what our goals are, how to stand and move and how that affected the horse’s way of going.

Many people just laugh at a horse running around frantic and trying to figure what that person is wanting from them, painful to watch.
When horses look the other way and/or lower their heads it means horse is trying to be obedient and is asking what do you want, please explain?
I expect that horse with head to the outside was maybe doing that?
Is our time to figure how to ask so horse understand, backing off first helps, let the horse know we get it, let’s keep trying.

On the longe line and with side reins, we should already be past that, horses confident that we are asking and have a way to respond.

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There’s a time and a place for the use of side reins while lunging. But they are so often misused.

Education in the horse’s mouth comes from the rider’s hand, and finding the “release”. Side reins don’t do that. That is their flaw. Engagement of the hind end frees up and softens the front end and lengthens the topline. Sure, give the side reins (correctly fitted) a try if you think they might help what you are seeing. It’s no illegal or harmful to give them a try. But they may not help. Or maybe they will.


Yes, side reins for lunging IF you really know how to use them…something you really can’t learn virtually. As pointed out here, there is much involved from introducing them to a horse already well along in ground handling thats ready for that step in training, equipment, how to adjust them and handler competence without which the desired result is not going to happen.

Side reins are properly adjusted and used routinely if and when appropriate by most Pros in most disciplines. If they aren’t producing the desired result? Its not the side reins. Please get help in properly learning how to use them from a competent, experienced person.

Some “ trainers” may not be as competent as you would think so dont assume they are a automatically the best source of knowledge in these matters. Same with self proclaimed internet “experts”.

I prefer long lining myself. I think it’s far too easy to eff up the walk with side reins particularly on a horse that isn’t fairly advanced. I’m a dressage person so developing the walk might be of higher priority to me than someone developing a hunter. YMMV.

That being said, IME horses work over their backs when relaxed, sound, and in well fitted tack. Under saddle and on the lunge / long lines. It’s my preference to exhaust those three criteria before moving to more equipment. If you’re preference is different that’s perfectly understandable. Side reins are certainly well respected and can be very effective. I do far prefer ones with elastic.


I was always taught that side reins were the only acceptable lunging aid. I got some side reins for my horse somewhat recently in hopes of helping develop her topline, but after a few sessions with them, my conclusion was that she didn’t seem to really understand the contact they were giving her and it was more effective for me to just ride her.

However I do understand that they have their place, and it’s better to use them with a cavesson and curcingle, and if I had like a couple lunging lessons with someone I could probably get her to figure them out, but instead of investing in all that at this point in time, I prefer to just hop on the mare and ride. To me, the release of the aid as a reward for stretching down is one of the most important steps right now, because she is sensitive in the mouth and if I hold at all then she just holds right back. Side reins don’t give any release on the mouth (as far as I can tell on my own anyway…)

I’m a big fan of doing TONS of walking to develop fitness and muscle :hugs:

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You can do this (free work in the RP) without the outside bend/head tip. It takes a lot of work but is possible.

I seldom use side reins and get lovely stretching and engagement of my horse’s top line but like the round pen work, it is work and diligence on the lunging person to be able to shape the horse. Mindlessly letting them cruise around…with or without side reins is just exercise…not working the horse for a certain bio mechanical outcome.



But IMO long lining requires a feel that most people don’t have. (not saying they don’t work for you)

I think part of the discourse with side reins is that people think they stay one length for the duration of the session. I change the length of my side reins probably 3-4 times in the 1/2 hr I longe.


Be careful with side reins on a horse that isn’t balanced and needs to build muscle and doesn’t understand the contact. Sometimes this can create more issues than the benefit.

I personally prefer to lunge in a rope halter and eventually a normal halter. The horse can stretch and use their neck as needed for balance and doesn’t create tension and the fake frame you so often see with side reins.

Very few people can set up and use side reins properly. If you don’t have a lot of experience with it I say go without.


I rarely lunge without side reins (although I prefer to long-line with some horses). IMHO, they’re basically required equipment if you want to produce correct work and train on the lunge line, as opposed to just letting the horse get some sillies out. I do warm-up at the walk and trot, and cool-down, without, and avoid doing any meaningful walk work with them on until we’re at a point of introducing piaffe in hand from collected walk.


I have yet to see side reins used in a fashion that accomplished anything I couldn’t do in hand or in the saddle, and I have seen them used in disastrous ways. The trainers I know who can get the most correct results do not use them.

I have seen so many horses in sidereins either rolled btv or bracing and inverted, and on the forehand in both cases.

If I recall, OP, you have the 2 foot hunter that can’t stay straight or balanced, and a trainer you love that isn’t necessarily giving you all the help you need? Or have I conflated you with someone else?

With any technique, a really important question is: why are you asking?

Are you second guessing advice from your trainer? In that case we need more details.

Is this something a barn busybody (non trainer) is suggesting, or that you saw at a distance? If so ask your trainer.

Is this something you found online, no one at your barn uses them, and your trainer is no help? Don’t use a new technique if there is no one there to walk you through it.


I don’t think this is that poster with the 2’ hunter question. You are thinking of @danhelm441 I believe.

Ah yes, my mistake. OP started the difficult horse thread. Apologies!

My basic question still stands, though. Is this something your trainer is suggesting, and you doubt. Or is this something you’ve seen but have no support to try out?


Yeah, my horse is the difficult greenie. However, we’ve been very conscientious about groundwork lately, and I’ve seen big improvements in him already…especially in his ability to maintain focus.

I will definitely talk to my trainer about side reins before using them. But she’s gone at a show and I’m just engaging COTHers to bounce ideas around.

My interest in side reins is generally to get him lifting through his back to build his topline and getting comfortable with steady contact. But I don’t want to create a false frame, which is why I posted the question.

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I have not seen anyone use side reins effectively to teach a horse to lift his back.

I see videos online of horses going nicely in sidereins but they are clearly well schooled horses being used to video a demo.

Sidereins mimic a low fixed hand, and I don’t feel that’s a useful way to ride.

However, I am open to the possibility someone out there gets useful results from them. I just haven’t seen it yet.


Without forward, your hands don’t teach a horse to lift his back either. Of course a pony on a circle in a dinky trot doesn’t magically lift its back because it’s wearing side reins. On a more educated horse, the side reins can be attached close to the d ring of the saddle or the top rings of a surcingle.

I like using side reins to “teach” and cement the idea of contact because they will always be steady. There’s no possibility of banging hands or weird avoidances. You go straight into the hand and everything will be stable. I also like that side reins can help curb a snatching habit and they can “fight” with the side reins instead of me. I never want to introduce a situation where my horse can fight with my hands.