Once the rider masters the open rein, we move to the direct rein.

The direct rein takes a little more skill to master. Unlike the open rein, the direct rein uses both hands and both legs to cue the horse to turn.

In this article, we will focus on the hands and reins, but remember, the legs play an important part so we will discuss that as well.

direct rein 1

We start by asking the rider to take the hand in the direction of the turn and move it to their back pocket and look toward the horse’s tail. This is very effective for our young riders because their legs hardly reach down to the horse! What this does is stabilize their leg at the girth and as they turn, their outer leg moves behind the girth. The horse moves in the direction of the rein movement.

The hardest part of this, is the release that is needed from the outside hand. If you move your inside hand in the direction that you want to turn the horse, and pull back with the outside rein, the horse will not turn and will stop. So, the outside hand needs to move forward slightly to give the horse the freedom to turn.

direct rein 2

As the riders progress, they can use less effort in the direct rein and presses back to the outer thigh. Notice that the outside hand and rein are released and, in this case, the rein is supporting the horse’s outer neck and shoulder.

When the rider starts to move her weight to the appropriate seat bone in the saddle, the horse will make the turn with less and less rein movement. At some point, the movement to turn the horse may only need a squeeze back from the rein and the shift in weight in the saddle.

In any case, the inner leg is always at the girth and the outside leg is just behind the girth.

One of the biggest errors that I see is when the horse responds with only slight pressure from the rider and the rider starts to move the rein toward the pommel of the saddle. This movement must be performed with coordinated leg aids. We’ll discuss this in the post about indirect reins.

Linda Watson-Call is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.
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One of the first skills we teach a young rider is how to control the horse by turning left or right, making circles, and serpentining the arena.

The easiest way to understand how the horse moves in a new direction is by teaching the open or leading rein.

Leading the horse

When we lead the horse from the ground, our hand is on the lead line near the horse’s halter. When we want the horse to turn, we move the horse’s head to the left or right by moving the lead line in our right hand to the left or right. The horse moves in the direction of the lead line.

Scouts learning how to lead a horse at Hooked on Horses Day Cap

Scout learning how to lead a horse at Hooked on Horses session

The thing to remember is that we are not “pulling” to horse left or right. We aren’t pushing the horse either. The horse is moving away from the pressure.

Huh? What does that mean? Think about it. If you are moving the lead line to the left and the horse moves her head to the right, there will be tension or pressure on the horse’s face. To eliminate the pressure, the horse moves in the direction of the lead line.

Open or leading rein

Now let’s transfer the concept to the saddle.

Adia is demonstrating how to use the leading or open rein

This rider is demonstrating how to use the leading or open rein

This rider is asking Leslie to turn to the left. Notice, the rider’s left hand is moving the rein to the left. She is NOT pulling the rein to the left, she is opening the area between Leslie’s neck and the rein by moving the rein away from the neck. Leslie’s nose is moving in the direction of the rein, to the left.

This is exactly what the rider in the first picture did on the ground. Move the rein in the direction you want your horse to go in.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I will say “Pull right!” to a young rider as the horse is moving in toward me. That’s quicker, the rider understands it, and I don’t get run over! But once the rider is old enough to understand the concept of opening and closing the reins as if they were doors, we stop say “pull” and start saying “move.”

It isn’t long before the rider is ready for the next step – using the direct rein.

Linda Watson-Call is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit their website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.