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Split Reins

16th October 2012

And why are they so long?” (Same child – bless him – but I had the proper answer this time). Split reins come in a variety of lengths but rarely less than 6 feet and can be up to 8 feet. It’s largely a matter of the length of the horse’s neck but the minimum requirement is one of balance. Because each rein has an unattached end, proper control requires that the rider should feel as much weight coming from the attached end (at the bit) as from the free end.

In that way, you know that you’re not pulling on the horse’s mouth (as you would if you had a shorter rein into your hand than out of it) and there’s no unnecessary slack in the reins (as there would be if you had a longer rein coming into your hand than going out of it). Because of the distance from the horse’s mouth to a comfortable hand position, that means the reins will be twice as long as that distance. That way you have a balanced feel to them and there’s no need to grip them to keep them in your hand: they’ll just rest there.

And they have other advantages. The same working horse might not be in dense country at all. Perhaps the reverse and the rider might need to dismount and have his horse wait awhile. That’s when the “ground tie” (yes, really, that’s what it’s called) comes into effect. A properly trained western horse will stand and wait simply on the command of “stand” with his reins taken off his neck and hung straight to the ground and left there, usually with a gentle tug down as the command is given. It couldn’t be done with a looped rein and a “mecate” (see  “Bosal”blog) has a “Feodor” attached to it for just this purpose. It’s so important that demonstration of an effective “ground tie” is a manoeuvre that crops up in a number of western competition classes.

Reins then come in a huge variety of materials and configurations around the overall concepts described above but the only other major differences are in the way they are held by the rider. Used with a simple snaffle bit, it is perfectly acceptable to use both hands but, once your horse is working with a curb bit, only one hand is acceptable unless the reins are fitted with a “romal” and handled California Style.

I was doing a Western Riding demonstration a little while ago and, inevitably, a question came up for which I had no answer (ten year olds have that way about them, don’t they?): “Why has your horse got two long reins and my pony only has one short one?”

And, of course, being something I’d always taken for granted and never bothered to ask, I didn’t have the answer. The best I could manage was a rather lame: “Because that’s the way a Western trained horse works”. And although that of course is correct, it still begs the question.

So, having been suitably chastened I am now able to say that they’re split because a working horse has to go into some pretty dense country and a looped rein that gets snagged on a passing bush is quite likely to cause a situation to develop. But if you have split reins and one gets caught, you just have to let it go, hold on to the other one and then gather up the offending one after it comes clear (which it can because it isn’t looped). Simple really.

Ground Tie

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