In April’s Newsletter, I gave you some exercises to help you learn how to use the outside rein. This month, I want to address the importance of the outside rein when you ask your horse to come on the bit. And then next month, I’ll go over what it looks and feels like when your horse steps through the outside rein.

Once you have a handle on using your outside rein, ask your horse to step through it and come on the bit by giving what I call the connecting aids. During the connecting aids, there’s a marriage of three sets of aids:

  • The driving aids (both legs and the seat)
  • The bending aids (both legs and the inside rein)
  • The rein of opposition (the outside rein)

Imagine what would happen if you were to apply your driving and bending aids to their maximum without adding the rein of opposition. That’s right. Your horse would be running very fast on a very small circle. Not very good balance, eh? However, with the addition of the outside rein, an imaginary door shuts in front of your horse. As your horse maintains his speed and straightness while yielding to the outside hand that is closed in a fist, he bends the joints of his hind legs to a greater degree and changes his balance and shape.

When you’re ready to give the connecting aids, you’ll combine the three sets of aids for approximately three seconds. Of course, there will be times when you give the aids for just one second. But it’s best for the green rider to think that the connecting aids last for the amount of time it takes to take a full breath.

As you breathe in, tighten your stomach and the small of your back. You should feel it as a wave that travels up your stomach into your chest. Your shoulders go back and down and the wave goes down your back into your seat. At the same time close your legs and maintain your horse’s bend with your inside hand. As he begins to move forward and bend to a greater degree, you’ll feel a surge of energy come into the rein. This is the moment to close your outside hand in a fist. The outside hand says, “You’re not allowed to speed up or bend to a greater degree than you already have.

Instead you must yield to the outside hand, and because you’re being driven forward, you’ll bend your hind legs more.” At the end of your full breath, relax all the aids and resume a light but pleasant contact with your legs on your horse’s barrel and your hands with his mouth. Then you can ride him forward in a new state of balance and attention.