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  • Writer's pictureColton Woods

Q&A: Rein Connection~ A Worthy Pursuit

When one person asks, many are wondering! Here is a great Q&A focusing on the getting connected to the horse's feet. More specific, earning the connection that comes with working to connect the rein to the horse's feet. Mentally that is. Below you'll find a detailed breakdown on the importance of understanding the horse's locomotion, exercises to help establish this connection and other important take home points throughout the answer!

This question was posted by our friend Byron, in our other friend's horsemanship group- Patrick King Horsemanship, Classic Principals for Modern Riders. Byron posed his question to Patrick and I as he rode with both of us in our annual Principals of Ranch Horsemanship and Cow Working clinic in 2017.

Question from Byron:

I am having trouble getting something to click that I was working on- have control of the front feet using our reins. My understanding is that we should be able to have the horse pick up either of the front feet by changing the balance and weight of the horse then lift and guide a rein to direct the chosen foot. It is iffy at best for me in the saddle, but I was trying to do this from the ground and was really struggling even getting my head around the process.

My goal there was to have the horse stand, add feel to change the balance, then use a lead rope and halter wanting that foot to move. Ultimately I pictured being able to move that foot in any direction or suspend the foot. A lofty goal perhaps (pun intended).

Instead I get all kinds of movements with an occasional almost.

Is this even worth pursuing? I hope so. If so, how might you go about the thought and action process to pursue it. I am not getting much saddle time in but can sneak in some groundwork pretty easily and I'd like to get better at some of the timing, balance, and feel things like this that would make life better in the saddle when I get the time. While hands are only 2%, I'd like that 2% (or more in my case) to speak volumes of whispers vs. shouts of muffled requests.

Answer from Colton:

This is well worth pursuing for both you and your horse! We'd like to get to where have the level of connection and understanding with our horse that their feet could move as if they were ours and we are able to put them wherever we'd like. Yes we are connecting the rein to the feet which may account for the 2% you're referring to but what you're also doing is improving YOUR timing, YOUR feel and also gaining control of the feet. Those concepts right there will go far beyond just the 2%. They'll help the other 98% in so many facets. Recall us doing the demonstration with the lariat rope around my ankle and Patrick discussed Impact, Stance, Thrust and Flight. During that we touched on the importance of picking up on the rein at the point in time where we are able to still influence the foot. This time takes place right after thrust and as flight initiates. As the foot is in the flight stage (head up) we are able to influence the foot. When the foot is heading down to its destination, yes we could move it but we'd cause our horse to become unbalanced. For the visual learners, visualize a bell curve. The point between the base line and the apex is where we can influence the horse's footfall. Once they've crossed the apex, that foot has a destination it is going to. If we change that destination we then take the likely chance that they will become unbalanced. We wouldnt want to essentially pull their feet out from under them and cause them a lack of balance because particular for green horses or those who may not understand a lack of balance can cause a lack of confidence. Here are a few different ways to improve upon this Byron: #1 Teach your horse to lead by each foot. Use a soft rope (I use a 60ft soft lariat with metal honda). This is a set it up and wait. Take the slack out of the rope and wait for your horse to think about shifting their balance so they can move that foot then release. You will see this mental shift because before that foot ever moves they will need to arrange they body, shifting their weight, to prepare for the request. Build upon that. You'll get to where they start to pick the foot up. Then you'll just guide that foot towards you. NOT pulling abruptly but guiding it. If they go to take their foot back to the original spot simply hold the rope and let them run into their own pressure. When they place the foot back down where it was after that first step they should find relief. Here is the key- WAIT ON THE REST OF THE FEET. Hang with them until those other feet follow. I start this by teaching them to lead towards me. #2 Ground Work Circle w/ lariat rope Once that first exercise is working well (may take several sessions, no rush), I like to send them around me in a circle at the walk as they wear that lariat rope on their inside front foot. In time with the foot falls I'd time it to where I could take the slack out of the rope to their foot and ask that foot to step forward and in towards me slightly. Early on I may pick up on that rope once every 4-5 strides, then once every 2-3 strides and when a horse is super confident you could do it every stride and take them anywhere because they are waiting on the guidance. What I've found to be important in this is that you'd like the horse to softly and willingly be guided. Therefore if you find that they pull that foot back, get quick, become unbalanced- it's all OK, keep it slow and just hang in their with them and see the exercise through. It'll take time for you both to get on the same page but thats alright. Look for that soft, willingly guided, following the feel improvement in the connection. You'll be well on your way there. #3 Ground Work Circle You can do the same ground work circle as above without the lariat rope and use your halter rope in time with those front feet. You'd be looking to guide them just the same. Your horse will have made the connection previously with the lariat rope in getting in time with those feet so this is another way to teach your horse you're working on getting connected to those feet. Now guess what- under saddle! There's two great ways I know of to go about building this connection. #4 Ridden- Moving out With a nice cadenced walk, in time with their feet, pick up on the desired rein and ask that foot to step forward and over towards the direction of the rein. I.e. you're using the left rein, horse should step forward and to the left. The forward is so important because you dont want to take away from the momentum. Dont worry about doing it every step. Ask for it. Remember what it felt like, mentally note what could've been better or if it was right on and then try again. This is a great exercise during a warm up/cool down session to do cause it can be so casual. Try to feel down to those feet and get in time with them. Your horse is smart and will catch on at some point, having better timing will help that be sooner. #5 Ridden- Set it up and wait Another way to do this is to request from a stand still. Now Patrickcan either back me up here or tell me to get lost if I'm wrong, but this would be very similar to his 'one step' exercise. That rein is to be connected to the horse's feet and you can treat it just like leading the horse from the lariat rope or any of the other previous exercises. Dont get in a hurry here, but you can use your seat as needed to help your horse prepare if they need it. What I mean by that is if you were to place the rein forward and out and to the side asking that horse to follow that feel by moving their front feet out and towards the rein and the didnt you may need to help them. Help could come in the form of helping them get their weight off the forehand so they could make the reaching step or help may be adding energy so they can follow that feel. There are other forms but those are two prime examples. Essentially here early on your horse would follow that feel of the rein around just like they would a lead rope on your ground work. As the horse makes the connection of what is being asked the rein will come closer and closer back to center to a point to where they will feel the slack and distance change in the rein and they will begin to prepare accordingly. BUT #1 BYRON- Don't over think it! Go out and try it, feel it, remember it, compare it, let it soak and try again! You and I both can over analyze anything, but do your best to not over think it. Go out and give it a shot. Keep us posted and let us know if you have any questions. Always more than happy to help! Great to hear from you my friend.

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