One of the most important aspects of English riding is holding the reins correctly. Your hand position communicates many messages to your horse, including how fast or slow he should go, whether he should turn right or left, and whether to start or stop. Since it can be difficult to judge your own hand, wrist and rein position when riding, since you are looking down from above, it may be helpful to have a friend videotape you while you're riding, so you can check your hand and rein position from the side.
Imagine stretching a piece of elastic from the horse's mouth to the rider's elbow. The bit, reins, rider's hand, wrist and elbow should form a nearly perfect straight line that tightens or loosens like a piece of elastic. The elbow opens and closes like a hinge at the trot, and may flex slightly during the canter to maintain a quiet, steady pressure on the reins.
When holding single reins, the rein should pass between the ring finger and the pinky or little finger. The rein then passes up and under the palm at the base of the fingers, and emerges between the thumb and index finger. Pinch the rein between the thumb and index finger so that the rein is held steady. It should lie flat against the index finger. The fingers should remain closed.
Wrist and Hand Position
The wrists should be relaxed and held straight out from the arm without bending in or out. The wrists should never bend so much that the knuckles are facing the horse's ears. The hands are held a few inches above the horse's withers and approximately four inches apart when riding in the three-point position on the flat. When riding in the two-point position or jumping, the hands move up to the horse's neck to about the midway point. You should keep a firm grasp on the reins while also grabbing mane for support when riding in two-point or jumping a fence.
Rein length depends on the gait and activity. During normal riding and training, the reins should be held so that there is a straight line without much slack in them between the bit and the hand. Excess rein traditionally is draped to the inside when riding in an arena or ring, but can be draped to either side when riding on trail. During jumping activities, as your hands move up to the horse's mane and crest, the reins form a little loop. When you return to your three-point seat, the reins go back to their normal straight-line position.
Jeanne Grunert has been a writer since 1990. Covering business, marketing, gardening and health topics, her work has appeared in the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, "Horse Illustrated" and many national publications. Grunert earned her Master of Arts in writing from Queens College and a Master of Science in direct and interactive marketing from New York University.