Pulling on the inside rein is a common problem for many riders and generally has 2 causes:
Fear will be covered elsewhere but is often fear of losing control of the speed or the bend.
The inside rein can become the emotional security blanket just “in case” but can often develop into a physical habit.
The habit of riders hanging onto the inside rein often begins in the riding arena where the riders focus remains on turning or bending the horse rather than going straight for any period of time. In an effort to create or maintain the bend, the rider continues to hold the inside rein.
Many riders also get confused by well-meaning instructors giving complicated instructions regarding which leg to push with and which rein to use most. I always remember being told “if ever in doubt, ride forward and straight … two legs evenly into two hands” rather like railway carriages where the back end must follow directly in the tracks of the front end.
Just as a person would never run before they can walk, nor should they attempt to bend the horse before they can go straight. A dressage arena has 4 corners and 4 straight sides; the rider should learn to ride the straight sides and not just let the horse fall onto the outside track. By putting the same emphasis on the outside aids as the inside aids, we will teach the horse (and rider) to go straight, from both legs into both hands.
As well as locking or pulling on the inside rein, we often find compensations elsewhere in the riders position in an attempt to brace against the force of the inside rein
- The outside shoulder rotates forward
- The inside seat bone lifts and rotates forward
- The inside groin tightens as the heel lifts and the hamstring muscle tightens
All of this leads to a very tense and crooked rider who is attempting to create bend and suppleness in the horse. I would suggest that we shouldn’t expect anything from the horse that we can’t first expect from the rider…namely to be straight, balanced and relaxed. Too many riders not only create the problem in the first place but then punish the horse in an ill-fated attempt to correct the problem.
The end result is a downward spiral of crookedness and tension leading to displeasure and despair.
So here is how we correct the rider who is pulling on the inside rein:
- Address the fear
- Giving the rider exercises going forward and straight (possibly outside the arena) such as 4 straight sides and 4 distinct corners. Riding 1-2 metres in from the outside track is also useful
- Practice riding an accurate arena figure (eg. a circle) and keep the line while surrendering the inside rein for longer periods
- Practice sitting square, straight, even on both seat bones and swing the hips freely (see earlier exercises on sitting straight).