Draw reins are a training tool that are used in both Western and English disciplines as a leverage device. They are considered an “artificial” training aid as it is something that goes beyond the natural aids (what is traditionally known as the leg, hand, seat and voice).
In both disciplines, draw reins can help with horses that toss their heads, move with their head in the air and do not engage their back muscles. But, draw reins, if used incorrectly, can cause a horse to shorten his stride, become sore, over-bend and try to avoid contact with the bit. As a tool, draw reins are not a method to simply “force” a horse’s head down or make a horse flex in an exaggerated manner. A training aid while under saddle, draw reins should not be used when lunging. They also should not be used every day, but rather serve as a re-schooling aid or used in short increments.
Draw reins are leather or nylon straps buckled in the center with clips or loop ends that fasten to the girth either between the two front legs or on the sides of the horse’s stomach. The straps are then drawn through the bit rings and serve as another set of reins for the rider. The rider holds the two sets of reins as a double bridle with the main reins (direct rein) on the outside and draw reins on the inside.
Due to the severity of the effect in inexperienced hands, draw reins can be a controversial topic, but knowing their intended purpose helps in deciding if it may be right for you and your horse.
How They Work
A pulley system of sorts, draw reins exert pressure on the horse’s poll. As horse and rider go forward, the horse will experiences contact in the mouth from both sets of reins (the draw reins act as reinforcement to the regular reins). This contact causes the horse to flex at his poll which, in turn, brings the head and neck down. It takes a good feel and educated eye to know when your horse is over-flexing and not at the ideal bend for good head, neck and back carriage and muscle use. But once you have a good feel for proper carriage, it can make all the difference in your horse’s fitness and performance.
It is recommended to use a snaffle bit when using draw reins. During your warmup, avoid using the draw reins so that your horse has ample time to stretch and relax into the work. Once you take a light contact with the draw reins, ride forward and adjust your contact accordingly. If your horse relaxes and lowers his head and neck, continue your forward ride and encourage this frame.
It will take practice riding with draw reins and it is recommended to have trainer assistance. Remember that this tool is meant to encourage proper carriage and not serve as a quick fix. Talk with your trainer about the pros and cons of using draw reins on your horse.