One of the most important tools for any rider to have is proper rein management. Across all riding disciplines, if your rein management is not good, both you and your horse will struggle unnecessarily.

Note: When it comes to head gear, there’s a lot of confusion about what you should use. Grab my free video on Snaffles, Hackamores and Bits where I break it all down.

FREE Webinar: How To Build Confidence In Both Yourself And Your Horse. Click here to see available dates & times.

Let me start with an example…

When you’re trotting your horse along and he goes into a lope, and your reins have 6 inches of slack, it will be impossible to gather them up in a timely manner to get him slowed down. Your timing will be severely hindered.

The Purpose Of Rein Management

With proper rein management, your reins would only have an inch or two of slack so that when you need to apply pressure, you can quickly accomplish it. If your horse starts trying to push through your reins, you can firm up immediately to put a wall up in front of him with a light feel and then, if necessary, get a little firmer to make it difficult on him to push through. Without proper rein management, you won’t be able to do that in a timely manner.

The Worst Of The Worst

One of the best examples of poor rein management would be someone riding around with constant pressure on the reins. If a horse is ridden with a tight rein all the time, there is no room to increase the pressure to slow him down without jerking his lips off. Even with a young colt, you should never hang on his face. Have just a little slack so that a slight movement of your hands would create light contact. 

If you have a horse that tosses his head, learn how to fix that here: Head Tossing


It doesn’t matter if you are riding in a traditional hackamore, a snaffle, or any other bit. It would all be the same.

Proper Rein Management For Turns

If I’m walking my horse around with a rein in each hand and I wanted to turn to the right, I would slide my right hand down the right rein and apply a light outward pressure. If he doesn’t respond, I can quickly slide my right hand further down the rein, put a little life in that rein, and increase the outward pressure until he comes around. Of course when he does turn, the pressure immediately goes away. Use your outside rein to prevent over bending.

Rein Management For Stopping

When you come in with rein pressure to stop your horse, gather up your reins and present a light feel. If your horse pushes through that feel, you can take a firm hold to convey, ‘Hey, get off of it. Get off of it. Don’t push on me’. Then the second that you feel him quit pushing, you give the rein back to him as a reward. Make that feel really good. 

A Pushy Horse

Anytime somebody has a horse that’s pushy on a bit, or pushy on their hands, or pushy in the bridle (it’s all the same thing), this basically just means the horse ignores the pressure and keeps on going. 

Why Do Horses Get Pushy?

The reason that horses get pushy is usually because of two things:

1. The rider’s timing is off. The horse yields to the pressure and the rider fails to provide any relief. Horses learn more from the release of the pressure than they do from the pressure itself. When you practice proper rein management, and you should, work on improving the timing of your release.

Practice your timing. See if you can feel what the horse is doing. Pay attention to how the reins feel when they barely contact the horse’s face. Practice knowing when each of the horse’s feet take a step as you ride around. Become more aware of all that’s going on because, when you’re riding a horse, there is always something happening. 

2. The rider keeps too much constant contact on the horse’s face and the horse learns to ‘wear’ that amount of pressure. Then it takes more and more pressure to get a response. This creates a horse that people refer to as ‘hard-mouthed’. 

Rein Management For Backing

Before you ask your horse to back up, gather the inch or two of slack that should already be in your reins, and begin to apply some back pressure. Also, sit down deeper in your saddle seat and apply the necessary amount of pressure needed until he takes a step back. When he does take a step back, be sure to release the rein pressure and reward him. Give him 15 seconds to just stand there and process what just happened in his brain.

Then come in there and ask for another step or two. Once he understands when you are asking him to back up, only then would you ask him to back faster and smoother until it feels like you are simply presenting the idea to back up, and he is just carrying you backwards. Believe me, it’s a pretty great feeling. All that is accomplished by using proper rein management. 

One-Handed Riding

If you want to ride one-handed, you can leave your hand stationary and bend your wrist to the right or left to increase pressure on each rein for a turn. If you bend your wrist to the right to tighten the left rein, then you can bring an outside leg in and start getting some pretty nice one-handed turns.

The same goes for backing. With proper rein management, you can start your horse backing and then bend your wrist to tighten one rein to have him back a circle. That’s when things get pretty fun.

I highly encourage you to practice your rein management. Spend some time shortening and loosening, bringing your left hand down the left rein, then bring it back to neutral. Do the same with your right hand. Proper rein management requires knowledge plus some actual practice handling the reins to get proficient at it. It is certainly worth the effort because it will improve a horse’s attitude, personality, riding, stopping, turning, confidence, and his mindset

Don’t underestimate the importance of being able to manage your reins smoothly and quickly. Once you get really good at it, you’ll begin to see a lot of positive changes happening in your horse.

For more instruction about properly using your reins and legs, visit the Reins and Legs blog.

Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship, and for the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. His knowledge comes from real life experience using traditional Buckaroo horsemanship to train horses and fix problems. He is now taking all of this knowledge and experience and sharing it with horse owners through his blog, his Insider list, and his Buckaroo Crew. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.