Have you seen trainers on snaffle bit colts holding their reins in several different ways in the training arena? Which technique is best and are they all legal in the show pen? Follow along on the video as AQHA/NRCHA judge and trainer Bozo Rogers shows us how to hold reins on a snaffle bit horse.
Since snaffles apply direct pressure to the corners of the horse’s mouth and cause no leverage action on the jaw, a snaffle should always be ridden with 2 hands. Communication with the horse is made through a direct pull on one rein or the other, but never on both reins at the same time. A turn to the right is initiated with a slight pull on the right rein and opposite for the left. As you’re making the direct pull you need to be certain to bring the outside or opposite rein to the neck so the horse feels the pressure from that rein. This will help teach the horse to neck rein. Importantly, this also puts slack in the opposite rein so the direct rein pull isn’t hampered by pressure from the opposite rein. What is the best way to hold both reins at once to accomplish these maneuvers?
Bozo Rogers says the best way for most people to hold reins that are attached to a snaffle is by crossing the reins and making a bridge (bight) over the top of the horse’s neck. This will leave the tail of the right rein on the left side of the horse and vice versa for the left rein. Bozo says this way is legal in events that allow horses to be ridden in a snaffle. It’s also easy to move one hand or the other down the rein to make a direct rein pull. It’s quick and accurate which can be very important if you need to turn the colt, or double the colt, to get the back end disengaged in the event of a run away.
Leave enough space between your hands that you can move each hand independently of the other. You want to make sure that if you pick your right hand up to make contact with your horse’s face that your left hand isn’t forced to come up also because the space between the reins is too short. If the space between the reins is too long it’s hard to keep the reins functioning correctly. You can’t move your hands quickly enough down the reins to pull and release the rein accurately if you have too much space. A nice rule of thumb is approximately 12-16 inches of space between the reins for an adult on an average size horse. Try to keep the reins in a small area no larger than a few inches above the saddle horn and no more than a foot in front and a few inches behind the horn. This will be similar to how you’ll ride one handed when the horse is ready to neck rein.
Another method that is often used says Bozo is to lay one rein across the neck and double the other rein over itself to make an open-ended bubble or loop. Hold the rein that was laid across the neck with both hands and hold the looped rein with the hand at the loop. Make a fist around the reins and put your pinky finger between the top rein and the loop on the looped rein so you can move up and down the reins as needed. Again, leave enough space between the reins to allow your hands to work independently.
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