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Category: Lesson Recaps

Lesson Recap: Learning to Use Side Reins

Lesson Recap: Learning to Use Side Reins

As an amateur with very little Financial Capital to work with, every second I spend with TrainerA is worth its weight in gold. Whenever I lesson with her my goal is to study the techniques and strategies that she uses to improve Raglan’s training so that I can apply them on my ownβ€”and to make sure that Raglan and I are on the path to success, that we’re taking the right steps in the right order.

Definitely headed in the right direction, look at how handsome he is 😍

Last Thursday morning wasn’t a lesson per say. Outside of cooling Raglan out at the end, I never even got on my horse. But I think that watching a professional work with a horse (especiallyΒ your horse) is an integral part of a rider’s education. It was like a training ride, but with a lecture built-in!

We’d been having a series of no good rides. Every time I tried to pick up the contact, Raglan’s response was to yank the bit out of my hands, duck behind the bit completely, or fly backwards instead. My goals for Thursday were to learn how to use side reins, get some advice on Raglan’s avoidance of contact, and have TrainerA get a closer look at what needs to happen for us to be able to pick up the right lead canter.

When you call the ride quits because your horse is just #toomuch

Side reins can be a controversial tool. Some believe that they’re a valuable tool for teaching young horses about contact, others think that they create tension or are even downright dangerous. The idea behind side reins is that they simulate a pair of rider’s handsβ€”if said hands never pulled or wiggled and were always ready to give when the horse relaxes. They’re meant to help the horse learn to stretch down into steady contact, plus they can improve the horse’s top line and the quality of their gaits.

Side reins have to be used carefully, though. Because of the nature of the pressure they put on a horse any backward motion can easily escalate, so the handler has to really be on top of their control over the horse.

Notice that the side reins are buckled in above the keepers on the saddle pad, which prevents them from slipping down. Also, holy damn that resistance on the right track πŸ˜“

We started with just the outside side rein clipped in on the loosest setting. TrainerA also showed me how to run the lunge line through the ring of the bit and then clip it to the D-ring of the saddle to create a bending rein. We had one small moment where TrainerA had to pop him on the butt with the lunge whip to stop him from going backwards, but from there on out he behaved like a proper riding horse.

Lunging with side reins is a middle ground between lunging and long lining. The whip represent the rider’s leg (driving him forward) and the line/side reins are the hands (holding the energy). The goal is to have the horse seeking the contact so that he keeps the slack out of out the lunge line. You should never feel like you have to step backwardsβ€”in fact, TrainerA wanted me to make frequent changes to the circle and move down the arena wall (sort of like driving) to ensure that he was keeping the line taut.

First time using the side reins, left track

TrainerA also wanted me to focus on the quality of Raglan’s movement. We want to encourage him to stretch his neck down and out, then relax into the contact until his neck softens (TrainerA said he should look “jiggly”). His trot should be forward, but not so forward that his feet get tangled up and he loses his “floaty” quality. She worked a little bit on his transitions into and out of the canter, but for the most part she built up his strength at the trotβ€”and she did most of it on his right side, since that’s where he’s weakest.

First time using the side reins, right track

By the time she was done lunging she had both side reins clipped in on the loosest setting. She gave me the go ahead to tighten them up a notch or two the next time I lunged, too!

I think he’s starting to catch on πŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒ

Once we were done with the lunge, TrainerA hopped aboard to check out the contact problem. She’s a lot more aggressive than me in the saddle, so she easily nixed some of Raglan’s attempts to avoid the bit. She used small bumps to loosen him up when he tried to pull, physically lifted him up whenever he ducked under the bit, and pushed him into a beautiful trot that made him lift up and work hard.

The canter problem was a little trickier. She tried a couple of times to get his right lead, but he just wasn’t having it. Even though TrainerA has much longer legs to me (and therefore has access to more real estate on his sides), he wouldn’t let her push his hip in. He wanted to fall into the canter instead of engaging, and he kept lagging behind her leg when she cued for the transition. It took a lot of fiddling for her to get his body into the correct position for the right lead, and then she really had to support him through it.

TrainerA managing to finagle a right lead canter out of Raglan

For now TrainerA wants me to focus on using the side reins to keep building up Raglan’s strength. She thinks that the right lead problem will start resolving once he’s stronger. In the mean time, I’m also supposed to start introducing turn on the forehand (for haunch control), keep incorporating canter work into our rides, and continue improving the quality of his walk and trot under saddle.

Lesson Recap: Slowing Ezhno’s Lope Down

Lesson Recap: Slowing Ezhno’s Lope Down

With Rags still out of commission (two more days until he gets shoes, UGH) and Ezhno’s training in a spot where I could use some assistance, I decided to hit TrainerA up for a lesson last week. She found me an open slot in her schedule on Thursday and off we went!

The day before my lesson I put Ezhno back in the snaffle (mostly so that I didn’t have to juggle split reins and a dressage whip) and spent some time working on getting prompt lope departures. I also introduced Ezhno to the idea of moving laterally at the lope. We even got a few steps of sidepass in both directions!

Having TrainerA confirm that I’m taking the right steps with my horse’s training will never stop being gratifying. The work we did on Wednesday meant that Ezhno and I went into our lesson well prepared. TrainerA focused on a lot of the same things I’d practiced the day before.

We started off with sidepassing off the wall at the walk and the trot.

═══  Sidepassing off the wall naturally slows the horse by putting weight on the inside hind
═══  It’s okay for him to be slightly counterflexed, but ultimately we want him to be straight
═══  Don’t twist my body during the sidepass (AKA I can’t sidepass for him)
═══  If I lose his front/back end during the sidepass I shouldn’t halt to fix it
═══  If his hip really starts to lag I should straighten him out, not try to kick his hip into catching up
═══  Keep inside leg on to keep him straight and prevent from losing his shoulder

Then we went into the main exercise of the lesson: sidepassing off the wall at the trot and then moving directly into a lope transition. This was a really neat exercise that I’d never considered! I was worried that we wouldn’t have enough impulsion to transition to the lope from the sidepass, but it went well.

═══  Picking up the lope from the sidepass means the lope is slow and organized right away
═══  This can be done from the walk or the trot (I should practice my walk to lope transitions)
═══  On the right track he over flexes to the outside during the sidepass (which means I lose his shoulder), so I have to focus on keeping him straight and picking up that shoulder
═══  To slow Ezhno down I need to sit back and not use my voice (voice sounds too much like “whoa”)
═══  Hey, here’s a novel thought: if I want my horse to slow, maybe I should engage my core?

We spent a little bit of time working on adjustability (which also improves the quality of the lope) and our trot to lope transitions (which are still behind the leg and involve a little bit of head tossing).

═══  I shouldn’t have to hold him in the canter with my leg/spur
═══  Push him forward to get energy, then ask him to slow and rock his weight back
═══  For better transitions I really need to close my hand (this will get better with consistency)

Just like the day before, we also did a few steps of sidepass at the canter in both directions. Ezhno also had a moment of stupid when he spooked at the far end of the arena for no reasonβ€”I can’t decide if he heard something out in the woods or if he was just ready to be done with work, LOL.

It was a really great lesson. I’m super excited to keep working on this stuff with Ezhno!

Lesson Recap: First Training Ride, First Lesson, & First Turnout

Lesson Recap: First Training Ride, First Lesson, & First Turnout

TrainerA on Rags for the first time, finding 8,000 things for us to work on!


I’m going to be honest, TrainerA can be intimidating. In the time I’ve been with Ready to Ride, I’ve never lessoned with her. Sure, I’ve ridden in her clinics, but in a private lesson you don’t have eight other people to hide behind! TrainerM typically takes the new/intermediate students, while Trainer’s schedule is booked solid with a core group of students that are Serious About Showing.

(Am I Serious About Showing? Not sure, but TrainerA makes it out to KW far more often than TrainerM, and I’m not about to turn down a lesson from either of them!)

While their training program definitely has a focus on producing performance horses (you go where the market is, you know?) TrainerA does have dressage experience, which makes her a great fit for putting training rides on my green bean/teaching me the Tao of the Dressage Diva. I was super excited to have her teach me a lesson so that I could teach Raglan a lesson.

Not excited to learn a lesson LOL

Last week Rags and I had been working on the basics (stop, go, and steer), but I knew there was probably something more advanced we should be working on, so on Monday/Tuesday I started focusing more on using leg/rein to put him down in the bridle. It seemed like the next logical step, and TrainerA agreed! 😁

She had me put Rags in a big circle and focus on keeping a consistent amount of pressure on the bit while putting leg on to drive him into the connection. Β We started at the walk, but quickly moved to the posting trot, where I found out just how much ground my new horse can cover with one stride (spoiler: it’s a lot, especially compared to my western pleasure Paint).

Paint walk VS. OTTB walk

Keeping a consistent contact meant really focusing on my hands and widening them to keep the pressure the same whenever his head shot up (while putting on so. much. leg.). On the other side of the spectrum, Rags also has a bit of a rooting problem, so TrainerA had to coach me to really open my chest, keep my elbows bent, and “activate my shoulders” to prevent him from pulling me right over his head, while at the same time not punishing him for reaching for the contact. If he started to root I could bump him off of the bit with gentle flexion, but in general we wanted to encourage him to stretch his neck out and down, towards the bit.

Okay, it doesn’t look terrible in the gif, but MAN HE PULLS

Under no circumstances was I to pull him backwards into frame with my reins (guilty of this bad habit) or release the contact (darn my performance training that says to release when a horse gives!). Praise came from my voice and from walk breaks, not from dropping the contact.

Speaking of walk breaks, Rags is the laziest. He’d get a walk break and then when we tried to get back to work he’d just stop and refuse to move. At one point I goosed him with my spurs and he even gave a little kick out, the brat!Β Flexing him side to side a couple of times seems to unglue his feet from the arena floor, but we’ll see how that progresses as he gets stronger and is in more consistent work.

I have video from the lesson (including TrainerA commentary), but they’re from the middle and I still hadn’t figured out that once we found our golden spot I needed to keep the contact/leg and hold him there (we’re in the “rider works hard now so that she doesn’t have to later” stage, UGH), so it’s not really a good representation of how we ended the lesson.

TrainerA put another ride on him yesterday and said he felt great, so I call that a success. She’s in Hawaii next week (lucky duck), so we’ll keep working on this while she’s gone and then go from there when she gets back. Our main goal is to teach him that forward is good and that there’s nowhere he can go that the contact won’t follow, because we can fix any heaviness later but it’s not easy to retrain a horse that retracts his neck, curls behind the vertical, and sucks back behind your leg.


Rags also got to go out into the turnout for the first time since he got to KW (I wanted to be around to supervise in case he decided electric fences are for pansies), so I leave you with this cute video: