I have been hearing “inside leg to outside rein” for as long as I have been taking weekly lessons (seven years, if you’re wondering). Honestly, probably more than half of my riding instructors have told me to try to push my horse from my inside leg to the outside rein, and mostly that came to me when I was a very, very green rider. I’m not sure any of those instructors could have explained to me what it meant or the real function of pushing a horse into the outside rein – sure, it’s a bit mean to demand that of my walk-trot instructors, but why were they saying it if they couldn’t explain it?!
I think I finally have an iota of understanding about what it means to ride from inside leg to outside rein, and I’m sure there’s so much more left to learn. But let me tell you how I’ve gotten this far.
I distinctly remember the first time I thought I understood inside leg to outside rein (and maybe I kindof did at that point?). I was in a lesson riding a Kruz, a percheron-cross with parrot mouth, so we always rode him in a hack. I was doing one more circle (or something like that) at the end of a lesson, and I rode a circle that didn’t rely on me puling the inside rein in something that probably wanted to be a square. What really happened, I suspect, is that I put my outside leg on for the first time in ever, and probably controlled Kruz’s shoulders a little with my outside rein. But it felt like magic!
After Kruz there were lesson horses and lease horses. I never tried doing dressage on Mighy, and honestly I’m glad. I was neither strong enough nor tactful enough to ever approach that. I do know that I had to prepare to turn early and prepare to turn often to get Mighty to turn when I wanted him to, and there was a lot of outside rein and leg associated with those turns. It was less about getting him to bend around my leg and more about getting that Cadillac of a body to make any kind of turns at ALL. Later, this would get me into trouble on sportier models, as I frequently accidentally spun us around far too quickly after fences.
Nobody even tried to suggest that I put my inside leg and outside rein on Quincy – there was so much he struggled to understand about dressage and unlocking his neck and back that pushing him into that contact would not have done anything. I’m not sure if I could do it if I tried today, but perhaps I could. But had they suggested it, it would have been something I followed by rote, instead of understanding why I was trying to do it.
I got little glimpses of what it meant to push a horse into the outside rein. This was often hampered by my perpetually open fingers, thus making the “outside rein” something of a non-thing. While I could feel the positive effects and knew it was The Way to correctness, I didn’t understand why or what exactly I was doing. I mean, sure, I guess I had figured out that I was pushing my horse out from the inside of the circle, and even into a steady rein that would help contain their energy. But other than that it seemed like more of a trick than a riding style or habit, because I didn’t have much exposure to it.
Enter Murray. Sweet, charming, always willing to give it a try…
Okay, so let’s talk about the real Murray. Until very, very recently, outside leg to inside rein was not on the menu for him. And therefore, it was not on the menu for me. But we’ve had a chance to play around with it a bit, on more than a few occasions, and I’m starting to understand.
Inside leg-outside rein is more than just a party trick. And it’s not even just something that gets your horse to soften and create the dressage “outline” that we all value so. At the very least it helps keep the bend, by giving your horse something to bend around (that inside leg), and a barrier to help them not go flying across the arena. Though I don’t like to keep my leg jammed on in general, it does help Murray find a balance that doesn’t rely on me holding him up. It means we can make real circles, instead of just approximations that have a lot of corners and vector changes.
More recently, Megan helped me understand that the inside leg-outside rein paradigm helps you encourage your horse’s body to bend without necessarily taking their feet off of the track of the circle. The idea is to have your horse’s ribcage pushed out further than their feet – which is not the shape my horse typically wants to achieve. And then the outside rein helps to encourage that outside front foot to come around the circle (it’s a longer track, after all, since it’s on the outside of a circle) and land ahead of the motion and keep the bend.
It’s all connected, you see.
So that’s a little nugget of learning that took me seven years, seven instructors, and three lease horses to figure out. Now, on to more learning!