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So Who Owns the Reins?
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So Who Owns the Reins?

I’m not what you would call your “typical” kind of trainer. Most people that make a choice to become a trainer of people and their horses have been riding from before they could walk. I’m not one of those trainers. Most trainers owned horses and started training very young. I’m not one of those trainers either. Though I did fall in love with my first horse at the age of 7, it belonged to a neighbor. And although I rode horses on and off (mostly off) over the years, I didn’t really own my first horse until I was 37 years old; A Mother’s Day gift from a very understanding husband who recognized my childhood obsession with horses. That was when I had my first lessons on a horse. What I found after jumping from trainer to trainer was a lot of missing information. Much was taken for granted. They assumed I knew things I didn’t actually know, and I ended up being very frustrated through my never-ending search for answers. That search for knowledge led me to clinics and YouTube videos and buying famous name trainer’s DVDs in my quest for answers. I soon came to realize that while many of those people made great trainers of horses, they didn’t make good trainers of PEOPLE. That began my new goal in life, becoming a people trainer.

It took me several years to bring it all together, but in my journey to help people become better riders I learned several things.

1) I’m a very analytical person. I didn’t know this about myself. Horses taught me that. The ability to break down a problem and find a practical solution that fits the needs of different people isn’t something that I thought came naturally to me. I’ve always thought of myself as the “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of person. As late as I came into the horse world is as late as I figured that out about myself.

2) Horse people are very much like their horses. We horse people very much have a “herd” mentality, and the ways I’ve learned to relate to horses in that frame of mind very much applies to people. Don’t ASSUME you know what they are thinking and react, but find out what is actually going on inside their head. Your outcome in how you deal with them will be greatly improved.

3) Training horses and people has no hard core set rules. Thinking outside the box is a must. What might work in one circumstance may not work in another. The brain can never be in the “off” mode.

Take for instance the use of reins. Having a “good connection with the bit” is often said by those using a snaffle bit and riding with two hands. But why doesn’t the same idea apply to those using a shank bit and a lose rein? Just because there isn’t direct contact doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a good “connection”. Communication is still the key isn’t it?

One of the biggest issues I have with “green” riders is who owns the reins. Does it belong to the horse or to the rider? If the horse is going where they please, pulling on the reins, jerking their rider out of the saddle, then it’s clear the horse owns the reins. Most of the time this happens because the green rider doesn’t want to pull on the horse’s mouth, so they cave in and let the horse run the show. However that will backfire on them in the future, usually ending with being tossed from the saddle. After all, reins and bits were invented as a means of controlling the horse. If you can’t control the horse, why have them? So usually the first several lessons with a new student is all about Who Owns the Reins. A horse is perfectly capable of submitting to the reins, the same as most new riders think they need to do with the horse. It isn’t kindness to let the horse think they are in charge. It actually takes away the entire point of riding. After all, if we gave the horse a choice, most of them would be munching away in a field, not carrying around a saddle and rider.

So here is my advice to you. Stop and think. Do you own those reins or does your horse? Harsh bits would never be necessary if we kept in mind from Day 1 that those reins belong to us and NOT the horse. The arguments start when somewhere along the line in training there is miscommunication and the horse is either being misunderstood or there is a problem the rider isn’t seeing or the horse has learned that they are actually the one in charge. There may be circumstances when we need to rethink about why the horse isn’t submitting to the reins and bit (problems in the poll, teeth issues, saddle fit  or training issues etc) but let's start at ground zero. Do YOU act like you own the reins? Or have you given the horse the idea that THEY own the reins?

It’s something to think about.

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  1. Buckaroo Balance
    Buckaroo Balance
    "Thinking outside the box is a must" Love that part especially! In Centered Riding Sally Swift talks about the rider's arm from the elbow down belonging to the horse, it's a cool concept for gaining softness! Looking forward to an article about natural horse supplements! :)
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    1. AverageJo Equine
      AverageJo Equine
      Thank you for your comment, supplement article already in the works. =) Interesting! I would like to hear her reasons for that concept. Do you know where I can find it? (book video etc) I know my reasons for teaching that the reins belong to the rider (mostly new/timid students) and I would sure like to hear her viewpoint!
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      1. Buckaroo Balance
        Buckaroo Balance
        cool! Look forward to reading more! :) Check out Centered Riding written by Sally Swift it's a go-to for sure lots of amazing visuals to help you help your students (not to mention an instructor certification program!) There is also a Centered Riding II book that I think I like even more than the first one! You can buy them most anywhere or at centeredriding.org
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        1. AverageJo Equine
          AverageJo Equine
          Thank you! I look forward to reading that!
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