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THE HORSE GAZETTE bad side reins By Karen L. Brown © 2010

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conversation I had with a friend who wanted to understand why “natural” horsepeople hate side reins. I’ll pick up where I left off so if you missed Part One go to and find it in the archives for June 2010.

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can be properly used only a handful of times and get what you want. For example, it takes months to properly and pro- gressively get a horse moving correctly in side reins. Anything less, and one gets a real pretty head set, probably too much contact on the bit, steady but mechanical movements, and bracing in the poll with the neck “breaking” at C2-C3 vertebra. Where the horse breaks is a dead giveaway to wrong or overuse of side reins; admittedly you won’t see this with just a few sessions. Heaviness in the hands, travel- ing on the forehand, not tracking up, lack of hindquarter dexter- ity, stiff shoulders, loss of bend between shoulders and hips, or breaking laterally at the withers rather than a complete nose-tail bend, loss of impulsion, neck and/or a shoulder popping out to one side, are all more symptoms of improper use. In young horses, side

reins, many other tools, and all gadgets, can greatly damage self confidence and exacerbate any tendencies to be spooky or un- settled. At this tender age, these learned behaviors will continue under saddle. Another typical result of side reining (and lung- ing in general) is that the horse is constantly being driven from the ground, and thus, never learns to drive himself into the bridle and remain there under his own impulsion. This too will continue under saddle. So, there’s a whole lot that can go wrong while trying to achieve a little bit that can go right. Many of the things

that go wrong can be masked or are tolerated at the lower levels, but will come back to haunt the rider at higher levels of perfor- mance and maneuvers. Once a resistance is ingrained, it is very

None of these tools Last month I related a

difficult to get a horse to unlearn a behavior taught by force. If enough months or years go by, the horse will have compensated his way of going to the point he actually needs physical therapy in order to release long held tensions. In young horses, it can take as little as one experience to deeply ingrain resistance. Even if I were to con-

sider using side reins at some point, I would NEVER do it until my horse was 100% confi- dent and secure emotionally and mentally, and physically devel- oped enough to sustain the level of self carriage demanded while in them. In fact, before I used any kind of tool on my horse he would also already have learned how to give to light pressure, flex at the poll upon the lightest request and be able to hold that flex comfortably for a period of time, be able to flex left/right while still flexed at the poll--all without any signs of hollowing the back, popping out the neck, twisting the head, losing impul- sion, or dropping behind the bit or grabbing the bit in his teeth, or clamping the jaw. The moment a horse

does any of those--everything done from that point is wrong. Now you are damaging the horse’s body and athleticism as well as his confidence and desire to work. The extreme difficulty in using a tool is in not allowing any of these evasions to mani- fest/develop, hence the expertise required.

Most people use side reins and other head gear as if they were molding a piece of rubber into a new shape. Tie it up long enough and when you release the tie, it will stay in that new position. Unfortunately, with horses, the laws of physics apply: for ev- ery action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Tie a horse into a position different than his normal way of standing/moving and he will resist. Unlike the rubber

that will eventually give way to a new shape; resistance in a horse becomes permanent. He may hold his head where you

ing achieves the desired posi- tion, frame, and carriagewithout using or creating resistance to the very goal one wishes to attain. Classical dressage, if one can find it, is as natural as it gets. As is any discipline or training that places the mental, emotional, and physical well being of the horse FIRST and performance second. When the horse is given this all encom- passing consideration, he will always perform to the best of his abilities—with joy in his heart.

So, if you ask a “natural” what he thinks about side reins or any other gadget, he may not give you this whole diatribe. He may just say “BAD side reins!!” The original quote

bears repeating as I close this article.

manship principles? Karen Brown is a free-

may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson What are your horse-

lance writer and horse trainer who trains all breeds of horses, restarts problem horses, and provides instruction in natural horsemanship. Go to www. for more information about this author.

virkstis attends preakness “As to methods there

duced by tools and gadgets that natural types are opposed to. Ev- ery resistance that is held by the horse reduces the quality of his performance. Each step taken with resistance puts the horse two steps closer to retirement. Truly classical train-

want but the resistance is held somewhere in the body and thus, precludes maximum athleticism and promotes destruction of mechanical structures. Have no fear, (oops, I mean have fear), such methods are widely accepted by all disciplines, English and western, as standard operating procedure. It is the resistance pro-

Part 2 of 2

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