As riders, we all know that feeling; when the horse is on the bit, lowers their head, and uses their body properly. It’s an amazing feeling; your horse has the proper contact, and you are one. However, getting that proper contact can be challenging for some horses and riders. That’s where draw reins come in.

What are Draw Reins?

Draw reins are training equipment that encourage the horse to lower their head and collect themselves in the proper frame while encouraging straightness. Draw reins are usually used with a snaffle bit and single reins. Each rein attaches to the snaffle rings at one end, and the other attaches to the girth. Several types of draw reins exist, including leather, pulley, and rope. In English disciplines, they are called draw reins, but if you ride Western, they are commonly known as running reins. Draw reins are only used while riding (unlike side reins used during lunging) and should be used during flat work.

Draw reins have a storied history, as they were invented by the first Duke of Newcastle, William Cavendish. Cavendish, commonly known as the father of dressage, wanted to bring the classical discipline to England. To achieve the perfect frame, he created draw reins, which he would pass through the rings of a cavesson and use for lateral bending. Of course, there is no way to know whether or not the draw reins we use today are exactly like the ones used when they were first created.

Reasons to Use Draw Reins

Using draw reins can be controversial, but when used properly, can be a great tool in training. Remember, draw reins should not be used all the time and should not be used to force a horse's head down or into position. The goal is to give the horse an idea about how they should feel contact and suppleness, not force them into the position.

Draw reins are great for young horses who are just learning contact or horses that are inconsistent with contact. The goal is to show them exactly how to step under themselves and maintain contact. They are especially effective for sensitive riders, who have soft hands and a strong seat and leg. It can also be a great way to improve the communication between yourself and your horse.

Draw reins are also helpful so you can focus more on your leg pressure and signals. Because you're not having to worry about keeping the horse in the frame, you can focus on your lower body. This way, when the draw reins are off, you will have a better connection with your seat and leg pressure to maintain contact and communication. That being said, draw reins should not be used by inexperienced riders.

How to Put on Draw Reins

How to Put on Draw Reins

Place the draw reins across your horse's neck. Then, run the draw rain from outside the bit through the ring of the snaffle and back to the girth. You can either attach the draw reins to the center of the girth between the horse’s legs or attach the draw rein to the girth at the side just below the saddle flap. Pick up your main reins and the draw reins and begin training.

To ensure your horse's comfort, ensure that the draw reins are not tight or force the horse’s head down before you ride. They should not be tight on the snaffle ring, tight against the chest, or rubbed against their sides. Beware of them being too loose as well…if your horse spooks, you don't want to get tangled up in them either.

How to Use Draw Reins

It is imperative that draw reins are used under the supervision of an experienced trainer. Your trainer can help you release and take up pressure as needed and let you know if your horse is leaning too much on the draw reins. Draw reins are used much like the main rein. You will use it to encourage the horse to drop their head and start stretching forward and down. At the same time, it is crucial to use leg and seat to drive the horse forward. As soon as the horse starts stretching forward and down, release pressure from the draw rein. When the horse begins to lift his head again and lose contact, add the pressure from the draw rein again until the horse drops his head and maintains contact again. Do this for short amounts of time while riding. Never jerk the reins back; slowly increase the pressure with a gentle hand to maintain contact again.

How to Hold Draw Reins

To hold draw reins, you need to have one in each hand along with your main rein. Sit tall in the saddle and maintain light contact with the horse's mouth. Do not pull, and do not grab hard! Keep your hands low, And on each side of the horse's neck. Remember to maintain the line between your shoulder, elbow, knee, and heel.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Draw Reins

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Draw Reins

Draw reins are often debated; whether in the dressage ring or on the trail. Some have accused these reins of being cruel and promoting Rolkur, a practice now banned in dressage. But any training tool can be cruel if not used properly. To make sure you use draw reins effectively and humanely, avoid these common mistakes:

  • Improper Knowledge: Never just buy some draw reins and use them. Study their use, read about them, and ONLY use them under the guidance of an experienced trainer who can teach you how to use them correctly. Using draw reins without the supervision of an experienced trainer or instructor can lead to misunderstandings and misuse. It's crucial to seek professional guidance when introducing draw reins to your training regimen.

  • Too Tight: Applying excessive tension on the draw reins can cause discomfort or pain to the horse, leading to resistance and potential behavioral issues. Always use gentle and gradual pressure.

  • Riding Behind the Vertical: The horse should maintain a natural head carriage with a slight vertical flexion at the poll. Over-flexing can cause the horse to lose balance and impede forward movement.

  • Constant Pressure: The goal should be to encourage the horse to seek contact and maintain self-carriage. Constant pressure can dull the horse to the aids and hinder its responsiveness.

  • Using Draw Reins as a Crutch: Draw reins should be a training aid and not a long-term solution. The ultimate goal is to develop the horse's natural balance and self-carriage.

  • Neglecting Forward Movement: Focusing solely on head position and neglecting forward impulsion is a mistake. The horse should move forward actively and engage its hindquarters while maintaining contact with the bit through the draw reins.

  • Wrong Bit: Choosing the wrong bit can exacerbate problems when using draw reins. The most common bit while using draw reins is the snaffle. If you want to use a different bit, consult with your trainer first.

  • Not Adjusting to the Horse's Level: Draw reins should be adjusted according to the horse's level of training and responsiveness. Beginners should use longer reins, while more advanced riders may use shorter ones.

  • Ignoring Your Horse's Comfort: Draw reins can put pressure on the horse's mouth and create discomfort if not used correctly. Regularly check for signs of discomfort, and adjust or discontinue use if necessary.

Draw reins can be an effective tool for helping your horse achieve proper contact when used correctly. Remember that draw reins should be a temporary training aid to address specific issues or improve the horse's understanding of the aids. They should be used judiciously and to develop a well-rounded and responsive horse. Draw reins are best used by riders with soft hands and ones who want to work on their seat, to increase their level of leg aid. If you are new to draw reins, seek guidance from a qualified trainer who can help you use draw reins effectively and responsibly.