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Working Equitation - Learning to ride one-handed

Are there any people who do working equitation on this forum?
I have competed a bit on my young Lusitano and if I want to move up a level I have to ride with the reins in one hand.
I’m looking for some resources of where to start - everything that comes up on a Google search is for western neck reining.
I can ride one-handed (or bridleless if you want) but not with proper collection or bend.
I don’t really know where to start. Everyone seems to ride in a curb - why?
My horse goes in a mullen happy mouth baucher…

The key is riding almost entirely off your seat.


This ^^^^.

The WE rules require that your tack is consistent. Eg., if you ride in a western saddle, the rider has western attire and tack. If you ride in Portuguese tack, the rider is in traditional Portugues attire. Ditto for English riding. If you are riding in a regular English (dressage, jumping or all purpose) saddle, then the rider has to have the appropriate attire and tack.

Riding one-handed is a traditional way of riding when riders actually used horses for work since. One hand had the reins and the other hand was used for…whatever…opening gates, roping, etc. It is only dressage competition that outlawed showing one-handed…basically because some riders could do it very well…and those who couldn’t …well…they didn’t like it.


I played mounted games and polocrosse in pony club, and arena polo for a bit in college (and even did a pretend joust once). Riding one handed is a tremendously useful skill, but I can’t say anyone taught me. I had to get the job done and figured it out. In WE, do you typically ride with your non-dominant hand, as you do in other one-handed sports?

Traditionally the reins are held in the left hand since most people are right-handed leaving the right hand for whatever duties the rider has to perform.

The WE rules have been changing and I am not current, but if there is a requirement about which hand to hold the reins, they would be in the current rulebook.



I’ve ridden one handed a lot. Riding one handed in a regular jointed snaffle can really squeeze your horses jaw because you are moving the reins as one and holding them closely together. A French link does not have the nutcracker action but seems to be quite confusing to them. Most horses will go better in a low port straight mouth bit when being ridden one handed. Or a hackamore/ bosal.


Whatever hand you use for the first obstacle is the hand you must continue to use for all the others. You can choose, but switching will get a DQ.

Agree on riding from your seat, we did a training ride just on that tonight actually! We’re coming back from laminitis and that type of work is perfect right now.


You ride with whichever hand you feel comfortable with. I always rode right handed as I am right handed. But if you were say barrel racing turning 2 left cans, you might want to use the left hand.

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I am just starting to learn about WE and have been to a couple of clinics.
I am right-handed but have been practicing with the reins in my left hand as I want to keep my dominant (right) hand free to hold the garrocha pole. As well, the bell corridor is usually set up with the bell on the right side.

I am at the same spot and have been messing around riding one handed. I feel most comfortable riding with my reins in the left hand…I am right handed and it leaves my right hand free for using for the obstacles.

I have likewise been working on my horse moving from my body and seat. She is getting pretty good at it…but lots of work to do. I always take my dressage learning and am trying to maintain the correct bend.

I work my horse in a curb bit. Honestly, she is much happier in the curb. I ride in an English saddle. I don’t plan on showing…I just use what I have.


Don’t over complicate it.

Consider your hands should be working together as it is already (if you open one rein you should close the other rein), so you are just making that connection narrower. Start doing simple leg yields with your hands touching, and then with the reins in one hand.

You will start realizing that the steering and bending is more about leg, and that the reins are only really needed for lateral flexion and longitudinal flexion - and that is why most use the curb.


I’m in France so the rules are different here.

I compete in a dressage saddle/dressage outfit.

Normally when I ride one-handed on trails and things I ride with my right hand but for WE I will have to ride left-handed because I need my right hand for doing the things. I have been trying to force myself to ride left-handed on trails because it feels so awkward ! I wonder if part of the difficulty with transitioning to one-handed riding is the rider’s awkwardness with riding that way, more than the horse’s understanding?

As mentioned we can ride one-handed pretty well and I ride him with just a neck ring too. So I’m terms of steering and basic riding it’s not a problem. But it’s more like neck-reining then and rather than bending in the direction of travel he sort of stays straight or even counter bends slightly. It’s figuring out how to go properly with one hand that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around. (For example how do you get the horse to look in the direction of travel without an opening rein to indicate?).
I like the idea to ride with my hands narrow to start.

As for the bit my horse is only 5 so I’m hesitant to change anything there. He has big wolf teeth that I’ve never had taken out (and don’t plan to) so I think he likes the happy mouth in case the bit hits the teeth ever.


Do you have any good reining trainers near you who’d be open to letting you haul in for a lesson or two? Riding one handed is, at others have said, really about your legs, seat, and core, not the bit at all. Good working western trainers excel at teaching this skill. Reiners in particular have to be extremely adjustable and sensitive to very subtle aids from the rider.


Actually, neck reining is exactly what you are doing when riding with one hand.

Your mind is polluted by competitive dressage. WE is a test of the functional performance of a horse…not how pretty it looks. I spent a weekend scribing for a WE dressage show and not once was bend mentioned by the judge in her comments. Bend and collection are whatever is functionally (that word again) required to appropriately do the movement in the test such as in circles (don’t want to be counterbent, HP etc)

Not that I have seen. Unless required by the rules, you can use snaffle bits…again, I am out of date since the US joined WAWE so I suggest reading the rules.

Guess I need to take my own advice…here ya go…Section 1.9.1

Any bit can be used regardless of tradition or discipline with the exception of the
• Mechanical hackamores, including the flower or wheel hackamores
• Gag bits
• Twisted or wire bits
• Combination bits
• Bits with a port higher than 3.5 inches. Exception: Spade bits may have a higher
port. If a spade bit is used, the bridle reins must be held in one hand in all trials,
regardless of level.
Elevator bits or bits that have a purchase of more than 3.25 inches
• Shank bits that exceed 8.5 inches in shank length as measured from the inside top of
the bridle ring to the point where the shank connects to the rein ring
• Any bit considered inhumane by the Judge

Also,on use of the hand Section 1.11 (the rule book is a wonderful thing)

1.11 Use of Hands
Horses may be ridden with one hand or two in all levels up through Intermediate B (L5). All trials in Advanced (L6) and Masters (L7) levels must be performed with the reins in one hand.
Exception: Riders using a spade bit must use the reins in one hand regardless of level.
Competitors are free to use either hand to hold the reins, but may not, under penalty of disqualification, switch hands.
Competitors may use either hand when negotiating obstacles in EOH and Speed trials; however, the same hand must be used consistently for every obstacle under penalty of disqualification.
Holding the excess rein in the free hand during the trial is not allowed. Exception: Western riders using a romal rein or knotted/connected split reins may hold the excess rein loosely with the free hand

Sounds about right.

Regarding the lack of bend in WE, that has not been my experience at all. The dressage tests specifically mention bend and counter/bend, and when I have taken clinics the clinician (who was also a judge) taught me that bend is very important in EOH things like the clover, figure 8, slalom, etc. I’ve attached a screen shot of one of my WE dressage tests. It’s in french but I’ve highlighted the parts that mention bend or counter-bend.
It wouldn’t be possible to do things like half pass, pirouettes, etc, if the horse was not bent in the direction of travel!


Definitely seek out a reining trainer. You will learn what to do, and get a whole new appreciation for western riding at the same time. Collection, extension, bend, counter bend, half pass, counter canter, all happen in exercises with one hand on the reins.


You can ride two handed in the dressage phase until you’re at the upper levels. I don’t worry about neck reining for the dressage trial at all given we’re not far up through the levels.

Most people only worry about the one handed riding during ease of handling and the speed trials when you need to have that other hand opening gates/ringing bells/switching cups.

I would seek out a Western Dressage trainer instead of a reining training.


A lot of western dressage riders (including myself) still ride two handed depending on the bit/rein set up. Locally, a lot of the western dressage folks still ride with classical trainers that don’t necessarily know the ins and outs of western riding/neck reining. I’ve been told by several I’ve lessoned with that it all goes back to the seat and that one handed riding/training isn’t really in their wheelhouse.

Seeking out a reining/ranch trainer if there are any local ones for OP isn’t a bad suggestion based on her specific question.