Romal Reins are used on horses that have transitioned to a shanked bit or spade bit after being well trained in a hackamore and/or snaffle. They were introduced to the western part of the U.S. in the mid 1700’s by the Spanish vaqueros coming north from Mexico to raise cattle on the vast expanses of unfenced land in the areas where California, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona are now. Their life depended on extremely hardy, well trained horses and romal reins were used on such horses as they only required a very slight movement of the hand for direction.
The Romal Rein is a closed rein composed of 2 distinct parts: the reins and the romal. The reins connect to the bit and make up approximately half the length of the entire piece of equipment while the single romal cord makes up the other half. The reins attach to the bit with rawhide or leather loops, steel snaps or rein chains. Rein chains add extra weight to the bit end of the reins to help horses develop a good headset. Some horses prefer to not have the weight of the rein chains and perform better with leather or rawhide connectors or snaps. The romal is larger in diameter and heavier than each rein and has braided buttons on the lower end to give it balance. The reins and romal are joined with a connector strap of braided rawhide or leather.
The late Luis Ortega, renowned braider of rawhide equipment is quoted as saying that “during my buckaroo days (early 1900s) the romal was often made to correspond with the owner’s waist size, so that when roping extensively, it could be removed from the rein and fastened around the rider’s waist, out of the way”.*
Rawhide buttons (knots) are braided onto the first 18 inches of each rein. These buttons serve 3 purposes. They help to keep the body of the rein off the neck of the horse to protect the rein from sweat. They add weight to the rein to balance the weight of the rein chains when used, and, they put a little extra pressure on the side of the neck the rein lays against when cueing for a turn with the rein. The horse feels the buttons and responds better than with plain leather reins.
At the end of the romal a popper or quirt is attached. This was used by the vaqueros to both train the horse and aid in moving cattle. It’s constructed of a flat doubled piece of leather so it makes a pop when it touches a surface.
Romal reins are used today by many equestrians including contestants in the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s (NRCHA) Bridle horse events and in many contests sponsored by various breed associations. The following is taken from the NRCHA’s rule book, pg. 28: “the reins can be held in either hand, with hand around rein in a fist position with thumbs up. The non-rein hand must be on the romal (the keeper, or hobble, that attaches to the romal is considered to be part of the romal). The non-rein hand is not allowed, at any time, to touch the reins or a score of -0- will be applied. The rider is allowed to shorten the reins while the horse is in motion as long as their hands are held in a legal manner. No fingers are permitted between the reins in the Bridle classes, except in the Two Rein class”.**
Dennis Moreland Tack has handmade romal reins made of rawhide, kangaroo, and leather in sizes to fit both small and large hands. Call 817-312-5305 for more information. We’re a full line manufacturer of handmade tack and we’re here to help you!
*Luis Ortega’s Rawhide Artistry Braiding in the California Tradition by C. Stormes and D. Reeves. ISBN 978-0-8061-4091-9