When you first learn to ride a horse, most of us are taught to turn by pulling the inside rein. Unfortunately, this is a habit which persists even as we learn new skills.
And while it feels very natural to turn your horse to the left by pulling the left rein, it actually creates problems if you want to progress further. Your horse should be able to follow a guiding inside rein. That’s not to say you don’t use your inside rein at all when you turn a corner or circle! But turning with the inside rein alone hinders your horse rather than helps them.
Let’s explore why turning with your outside rein and aids is the better option than using the inside rein in isolation. And of course, we’ll look at how to do it.
Why Should You Turn with Outside Aids?
If you pull the inside rein to turn, this moves your horse’s head to the inside. Sounds ok, right? But what this does is move his weight onto the inside shoulder, causing his hips to swing outward. Not only will you have a turn which isn’t very straight or easy to ride (especially in tighter turns) but your horse will probably resist too. Horses turned this way often lift their heads round the turn because they aren’t connected over the back, and because they need to use their necks to compensate for the lack of balance. Another scenario is that they might turn without obviously resisting, but will have far too much bend in the neck.
If you use the outside rein aid to turn, along with your outside leg, the experience will be different. Your horse will remain straight when he turns – in that his front legs and hind legs will be aligned with one another. Because he can stay connected over the back and aligned in his body, he can turn without losing balance and shifting his weight. So your horse can stay softer in the bridle, and you’ll eliminate the swinging hips too.
Of course, this doesn’t mean there’s no use for your inside rein, seat, and leg at all. It just means that they aren’t your primary turning aids. The inside leg and rein are still responsible for creating bend and flexion.
How to Turn Without Pulling the Inside Rein
A horse naturally wants to lean through turns, almost like a motorbike, falling onto the forehand in the process. As the rider, your job is to try and keep the horse aligned and off the forehand.
As you ride the turn, your inside leg is used at the girth. It will keep the horse bending through his body. The inside rein is used to create and maintain flexion, but not to initiate a turn.
Only once your horse is correctly bending can you ask them to turn. If your horse won’t bend around your inside leg, they’ll swing the hindquarters in or out as an evasion. This means your horse will stiffen and lean through the turn. Just like a motorbike, again! That’s why it’s also important not to turn too steep – only as tight as your horse can manage in good balance.
To ride a turn to the left, these would be the correct steps:
- Riding in a straight line, prepare to turn left. Keep your hands on the correct sides of the withers, and your body straight as if a metal pole were running through your core.
- Half halt your horse to prepare him and prevent him from running through the turn and losing balance.
- Close your outside (right) leg behind the girth. Your horse will respond by moving his body away from the pressure to turn.
- Use the outside (right) rein alongside the neck to ask your horse to turn, bringing the shoulders in the direction you want them to go. The outside rein stops the horse’s shoulder from bulging out, so your horse stays aligned in his body as he turns.
- Your shoulders and hips should rotate in the direction of the turn, but not collapse or tip.
- As this happens, your inside leg stops the horse from losing balance, stiffening, and putting all his weight into the inside foreleg. Try to picture your inside leg pushing the horse’s inside shoulder upright instead of letting him lean in like a motorbike.
- The inside rein remains open, guiding the horse into the turn and creating flexion. The right amount of flexion is approximately where you can see the corner of your horse’s inside eye but not his entire face.
If you’re doing this correctly, your inside rein should feel very light. You should be able to give or take it as needed, and your horse should turn without stiffening his neck and rib cage against you. The turn should also feel quite balanced and upright. If you have overused the inside rein, he will feel heavy and will lean on the inside rein and foreleg, losing balance through the turn.
Now you know why turning without pulling the inside rein is so important, there are tons of ways to put it into practice. Once you master this, you’ll be able to make much tighter turns when jumping, and will find your horse won’t lose engagement and balance in small circles.
Have you been turning by using the inside rein? Leave a comment to let us know if you’ll be trying this for your next ride!