I have never really embraced gadgetry in riding.  I mean, other than the gadgets that I already put on my horse — you know, those metal and leather and wooden things I sit in and steer with.  But I always hope to work through any problems that I have in riding with better riding instead of some kind of contraption, be it leather or metal.wpid-wp-1439258382081.jpg
Ellie finds weekends exhausting

But lately, there’s just something Murray isn’t getting about cantering left.  We can canter right quite nicely, but to the left he doesn’t seem to understand what the canter is.  And yes, I know it has to do with weakness and imbalance, but I must also admit that there’s basically nothing I can do to convince him how he needs to rebalance.  When I try to encourage him to stretch over his back he goes from no contact to inverted pretzel at a seemingly arbitrarily determined point.  And since I know that his right hind is a little weaker, I try to encourage him to step that right hind under a little more and weight it, it’s like “oh, do you mean you want me to do anything else?!”  He’s just not having it.

Certainly I can make him do it, for extremely brief periods of time.  But then it stops being about cantering using one’s body or with a nice bend or using his topline, and starts being all about the fight.  And somehow, I feel like that pretty much defeats the purpose of the exercise — you know, instead of being relaxed and through and using himself, he’s tense and angry and fighting with me.

I want this video game. 100% goat edible packaging.

So last week I popped on some side reins for a little canter work.  And suddenly, there was no fight.  There was just beautiful, round, using-the-topline canter.  It was a bit addictive, actually.  Murray’s canter improved in quality by at least 100% (it went from 3.5 beats to a proper 3), he was using his whole body, and I didn’t have to yell at him about it.

I’m glad I went to the draw reins, because my mind was going to this super irritated and rather unfair place where I was angry at Murray for not doing what I was asking.  But I paused for a second and considered that, rather than not doing what I wanted, maybe Murray thought that he just couldn’t do what I was asking.  And honestly?  I think this is kinda the case.  Murray just really didn’t think he could do what I was asking (or didn’t understand, but considering that he can do it right that seems a little odd), and his mental block meant that he really, physically couldn’t do it.  And somehow, the draw reins took that psychological element out of it.

So I’m going to resort to some gadgetry for a little while.  Murray can’t build up the strength he needs to really carry himself going left when he’s fighting with me or pretending that he can’t do it, and strength is what we need here.  I don’t love it, but I accept that it’s a schooling tool and suits our needs for now.  Ideally, this will allow him to benefit from the exercises we’re doing more than he typically would, since he’s usually not using himself properly.  And once he’s strong enough, and understands the exercises well enough, that we don’t need them, off they will go.


18 thoughts on “gadgetry

  1. I’m not one to go around to people’s blogs and tell them how to ride/train their horses, so I’ll just say please please please be very careful with draw reins. Especially on a horse like Murray. Henry was draw reined before I got him and it’s taken me a year and a half just to get him anywhere near normal again… I still deal with fighting those demons every single ride. I know they can seem like an a-ha moment, but just be very careful. What draw reins do to the body isn’t proper gymnasticizing for the muscles and can make a tense horse tighten up even more. So much mental and physical damage can be done, and really quickly. Good luck!


  2. I second what Amanda says about draw reins. They can do more a lot harm than good very, very quickly. But it sounds like you aren’t really into gadgets, so I guess you wouldn’t be using draw reins every ride, anyway?


    • Definitely not every ride. I’m trying to be very careful and make sure Murray isn’t frustrated or angry about what we’re doing when I use them, so stick to pretty basic exercises. It’s hard to explain, but even with the draw reins loopy with no tension, Murray rounds himself much better. So what I’m really hoping for, now that I know he CAN do it, is that I can convince him to do it without them soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • But what are the hocks, stifle, and loin doing? What the front end is doing is the last concern. True roundness comes from behind – straightness and push creating elevation of the back muscles, lifting of the shoulder, and acceptance of contact, which then gets the horse “through” and rounding into your hand. Roundness created via draw rein is simply a frame, where the horse is being pulled down in the front end rather than vice versa.


      • Yeah that’s what I found so fascinating. Murray immediately lifted his back and while he wasn’t as forward and pushing as is ideal, he definitely was pushing from behind.


  3. I think side reins while longing can be very useful but I am not experienced enough with draw reins to comment. Denny Emerson has some great posts recently likening horses learning to carry themselves with humans learning weight training – its hard work and sometimes they act out because of it.


  4. It sounds like you’re taking a good approach toward using them- not all the time, and you recognize that they’re a tool, not a panacea. I totally understand that sometimes using something like draw reins or side reins when longeing can be super useful in helping the horse learn what it’s supposed to be doing with its body!


  5. I’m with you 100%: I’d much rather fix a horse’s issues (or try to figure them out) with better riding – by myself OR my trainer – than constantly rely on gadgets and gizmos. (Great, now I have “gadgets and gizmos a plenty” from the Little Mermaid stuck in my head). I’ve used draw reins exactly 2 times in my life, and I’ve ridden a TON of horses in the 12+ years I’ve been riding. With that said, I am not anti-gadget when it’s appropriate, which it seems to be here. And I like that you’re only planning to use them for a short time and not make them the be-all, end-all of your relationship with Murray. I’m sure you’ll be careful and tactful when using them, and hopefully the canter will improve immensely!


  6. megan from A Enter Spooking commented about training tools in a way that really resonated (for context, i asked about using a martingale while schooling dressage):
    “Here’s what I do with artificial aids that are illegal in the show ring: ride in it one day, then ride the next day without it. If the horse is better the following day without it, it works and you should use it on occasion/regularly to fix the problem, riding enough without it to not become dependent on it. If the horse is worse the day following the martingale, it’s a bandaid and you shouldn’t use it at all. ”

    tho perhaps she’ll comment here herself with a different/better/more current perspective — haha i don’t presume to speak for anybody and have zero experience with draw reins. all i know is that this tidbit has stuck with me and seems to make a lot of logical sense. good luck!


    • That is a super way to approach this. And actually, I kinda had done this without having read it from Megan. My ride today was definitely better than on Friday pre-gadget. So we will see.


    • Emma I was just thinking about that comment I made and was reading all these anti draw reins posts (which I totally understand!) and was getting all huffy about them.

      That’s my rule- if an artificial aid helps the next day, use it. Yes use it with caution just like you’d use a bit or a pair of spurs. I’ve seen horses go incredibly correctly who have been ridden in draw reins regularly and I’ve seen horses go incredibly incorrectly who have never been ridden in draw reins.

      So I don’t agree that draw reins create a false frame simply by using them. Like by using them you are automatically creating this awful thing (honestly, I feel like there are situations where I would rather fix a false frame and not have, say a horse trying to murder me or smack me in the face with his head). If you ride front to back using any aids- different bits, how the hands work, how the seat works- you’ll get a false frame. If you ride back to front with any aids- bits, hands, seat, legs, draw reins, etc- you’ll get the horse working from behind. There are proper ways to use draw reins, just like there are proper ways to use a bit to get a horse on the bit.

      This is a case I could see that draw reins would help. Just knowing Murray’s personality type and how much you’ve struggled with him in some of this stuff, he’s definitely a good candidate. I would think that with him, it creates this problem (if he goes inverted, he hits draw reins) that you both can work through together as a team. Rather than you putting the pressure on, telling him he HAS to go in a certain way which may make him say NO to you, you’re both working together to deal with this outside pressure of the draw reins. He says “oh no I can’t do this” and you say “let me help.” And meanwhile, you’re working to ride him correctly from behind as you always are.

      I’ve seen it really work with horses like him. I had one in training- he was put in draw reins every day for 1 week, then for a week or two it was only in warm up + cantering, then just at the canter. Now the kid is scoring in the 70s at First level on a horse who literally would not go on the bit without a massive fight last year.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I was terrified of draw reins forever because of all the anti-draw rein opinions out there. After two successful professionals I take lessons with suggested I consider them at two different times I gave them some thought. They both told me that while they should never be relied on as a regular thing, they do have their time and place when used correctly. I have used them a couple times and they did make a difference. I felt the horse lift their back and they were very light in in the bridle. I have used them extremely sparingly but I have the same idea you do, they might just be the little trick to help show the horse they CAN. I think you will be fine with your plan of action, and obviously you aren’t engaging them the entire ride, which is another big mistake people make with them. They go out and have them engaged the entire ride, not giving the horse a break. How would you like to be stretched and held into a new position with no rest? Not cool.


  8. I am no pro but I just feel like forcing their head in a position isn’t the right way to teach proper balance. When working with my horse, even when frustrated, I try to think how I’d like to learn. Having my head restrained and forced down into a position with leather straps would not be my number 1 choice. My horse was a train wreck at the canter and with patience and years of hard work (gadget-free) and mostly importantly, proper instruction from a solid dressage coach, he much more balanced and solidly gets 8s on his canter work and transitions. When I was a working student, the coach always said that draw reins were a crutch and not an aid, so just be super careful which it sounds like you are doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is a really good point, and definitely underlines the fact that I need to get to the bottom of Murray’s canter issues with my dressage trainer before they will be truly solved. Although, regarding Murray’s learning style, it’s probably more along the lines of “NEVARRRRRRRRR TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!!!!!!!!!” so I’m not sure how well that would work out…. 😉


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