How to hold your Reins to develop a healthier horse – Manolo Mendez

Shared with Thanks to Manolo Mendez Dressage: visit their website to learn more.


Some Thoughts On Contact and Straightness…How to hold your reins to develop a healthier horse.
(Image captions at bottom of post)

“We must remember never to restrict the horse’s natural head nod at walk and canter (there is no head nod at the trot). The rider must have equal contact on both reins and follow the horse’s normal head carriage so as not to block the head movement in any way.”

“It is vital is that the rider learn to use the reins as a pair of absolutely equal length. The contact should follow the horse and help shape its posture but never constrict the horse’s balance — his self carriage should be independent from the rider.

Riders need to look first to themselves when their horse is crooked. Often a rider uses too much inside (or outside) rein, causing the horse’s head and poll to tilt inhibiting the horse’s head carriage and ability to flex throughout its entire body. The poll is no longer supple, the horse’s jaw, tongue and ability to swallow are affected severely, the body holds tension, impacting the contact and trans-mission of the aids.

Over time, the horse’s muscles begin to set in patterns that can render one side of the body concave and the other convex. The longer the crookedness is left unattended,the harder it will be restore symmetry so that both sides of the horse work with regularity and evenness.

It is a challenge to rehabilitate the horse’s body so that it can feel again what it is like to travel straight and free. A horse can be crooked in different ways, not always to the right OR the left but sometimes both. ”

Ask yourself how you would like to dance with someone who is pulling on one of your sleeves and twisting your body throughout the entire dance? Would you be more balanced or less balanced? Of course, you would be less balanced and if your partner let go, you would loose your equilibrium. Pulling/ Holding more contact on the outside rein while kicking with the inside leg to create roundness creates a dynamic where the rider has to carry the horse and the horse’s body works while being crooked instead of straight which is the opposite of what we want.

By the same token, it is important to keep your hands level when you ride – straight lines or turns – because if the rider gets in the habit of lifting the inside hand, the horse has no choice but to tilt its head – with enough repetition, it is another crookedness the rider will have to consciously try to undo once they become aware of it – and re-modeling the horse’s muscular mass takes time and effort. Best to avoid it altogether.

Furthermore, if the rider has uneven hands they too will develop crookedness in their bodies (shoulders and hips). As the rider is able to develop even and following contact – very important in turns where the outside of the horse’s body lengthen and the rider’s body, shoulders and arms must accommodate that change in posture, two things happen: horse and rider both become straighter and more even and the horse is able to develop more impulsion as a result.”

“Too often, I teach riders who will accuse the horse of trying to “get away with something” or of being lazy, of hanging on one rein when the horse is physically not ready for the work asked, nor understanding what is being asked of him. The rider gets frustrated, sometimes pulling harshly to get the horse to release the rein they are supposedly holding on to, and the horse gets more confused, anxious and reactive. Because they are not holding on to the rein. Their body is crooked – shorter on one side then the other and they physically cannot give with that side of their body as they can in the other direction, on the other “rein”.

A rider who wants a good partnership with his horse should take a step back and observe what is happening.

Ask: Is my horse able to perform this exercise on one side but not the other? Is he crooked or not stepping evenly? Is the bit and bridle fitted properly. Am I asking in a clear, simple correct way? Am I blocking him?

Only when both sides of the horse’s body are EVEN can the horse travel straight and in balance. The rider should keep in mind that when he works to the right, he is also working his horse’s left side. As you work the horse to the left, you are working the right side. Analyze the horse’s feedback and figure out what patterns and exercises would help him, instead of fighting to “make him” do an exercise.

Build up towards straightening and suppling your horse gradually with tactful and even contact.

If you ride to help your horse, your horse will recognize this and as his trust grows so will he desire to please you.”

©Manolo Mendez Dressage. 2014 Extract from: “Developing the Basics and Understanding Straightness Better (2011)”


LEFT IMAGE:Turning left, Manolo has to accommodate the change in Dinamico’s alignment and the lengthening of his right side. He moves his outside hand slightly forward to match the horse’s shoulders on the bended line. The contact on the reins remains even. If he held on to the outside rein or pulled on the inside rein, he would make the horse crooked.

MIDDLE IMAGE: Manolo demonstrating even contact on even reins while traveling straight. Note the soft contact with slightly open, sensitive hands. The horse’s mouth has four billion nerve receptors and we must treat it with respect. Manolo’s arms, hands and wrists are relaxed transmitting no tension or stiffness into the horse via the reins and the bit.

RIGHT IMAGE: Turning right. Here again, Manolo is adjusting his contact to mirror the horse’s alignment. His outside left hand is positioned slightly forward of his inside hand. Note the soft contact, there is not pulling involved in turning.

If you like this post, share it. This is information that can apply to any discipline, any horse, any breed.

Thank you 

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