Draw reins should be a tool -- not a crutch or replacement for proper riding. If your horse is young or inexperienced, don’t consider using draw reins just yet. Wait until he can maintain his balance while carrying your weight steadily at all gaits -- walk, trot and canter – in straight lines and in circles. When trying draw reins for the first time, have a trainer or experienced rider help you.
What They Are
Draw reins are an extra pair of reins in addition to the reins that are attached to your horse’s bridle – never use them alone. They are two long reins buckled in the middle to form a continuous rein measuring 15 to 17 feet long. Manufacturers commonly post measurements per side, so a measurement of 8 feet translates to a total rein length of 16 feet. Each end will have a clip or closed-loop buckle that attaches to the saddle girth, either under the horse’s belly or on the sides of his stomach. You then run each rein through the bit ring on either side of the horse’s mouth. The two reins buckle in the middle like a standard English bridle rein. The draw reins should sit just under, or inside of, your regular reins.
Draw reins put pressure on your horse’s poll -- the top of his head just behind the ears -- as the reins make contact on the bars of his mouth when you pick them up in your hands. The “bars” is the space with no teeth where the bit sits. Your regular bridle already works in this manner; the draw reins are an additional reinforcement. A correct rider will push the horse forward with her seat, and as the horse feels the contact in his mouth from both sets of reins, he flexes or lowers his poll, which lowers his head and neck. This relaxes his entire body so he can use his back and hindquarters correctly to develop muscle.
Riding with Draw Reins
Use only a snaffle bit with draw reins. A snaffle bit has two or three joints in the middle. Warm up your horse’s muscles with light walk, trot and canter work using just your regular snaffle reins. Then, without releasing the snaffle reins, take a very light hold, or contact, on the draw reins. Ride your horse forward using pressure from your seat and leg. If he seems uncomfortable, release some of the draw rein pressure and then increase it in small increments so he gets used to it. As soon as your horse is relaxed with his head and neck lowered, release the pressure on the draw reins. Continue riding him forward to encourage him to maintain this position without the draw reins.
Using Caution with Draw Reins
It takes practice riding with two sets of reins so it may take several supervised rides before you can ride with draw reins alone. If your horse is not used to them, he can react violently to the unexpected pressure, causing him to buck or rear. Draw reins should be used to encourage -- not force -- your horse to lower his head. Don’t use them every day or you can sour your horse; they are meant to be a short-term, occasional training aid, for five to 10 minutes per ride. Some horses benefit from an occasional “refresher” ride with draw reins.
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.