Styles Of Horse Reins And How To Use Them

September 29, 2022
Horse Reins

Many riders agree that riding a horse can be fun but does require skill and practice. Reins are not the only method to aid in rider and horse communication, but it is the most important. The different styles of horse reins are diverse and allow choices to suit rider preferences. In addition, it can be very challenging to master the small details and techniques striving for cue perfection. 

The five typical style types of horse reins are – Closed, Split, Romal, Draw, and Roping reins. Although the styles of horse reins are unique in many ways, each design relates to specific methods of use to optimally perfect the steering and control of the horse. 

You cannot always blame the horse when it is challenging to communicate your intentions. In many instances, it can be the bridle or, more specifically, the rein. Therefore, it may be a good idea to look closely at your rein style and revise if you use it correctly. So what different styles of horse reins are there? In addition, and most importantly, how do you use them?

Different Styles Of Horse Reins And How They Work

You and your horse should be comfortable even if you’re taking a quick ride in the countryside. However, the rider’s ability to effectively convey even the most basic instructions to the horse depends on the usefulness and efficiency of the rein. Correct rein usage includes how to hold it and how long it should be.

In general, moving at a casual pace, the horse needs more free rein to provide space to move. However, speeding up requires you to shorten the horse rein so that you can collect your horse and provide a more directed guide. Also, ensure the horse’s bridle is long enough to enable the horse to reach down, for example, to drink water comfortably. Let us look at a few rein styles, and their best practice uses. 

The Closed Or Loop Rein

Closed or loop reins have one or two pieces joined at the ends. This rein style is trendy in Europe, and rodeo event riders also prefer them. However, many romal rein riders use closed reins as a romal rein is an extension of the closed or loop rein. The main benefit of closed reins is that they prevent the rider from dropping them.

  • Hold the rein with one hand
  • Make a bite adjustment by taking up the play on the rein with your other hand
  • Make your hand adjustment by holding firm with one hand
  • Then pull the rein from a lower position on the one side back up by sliding it through your gripping hand
  • For the opposite hand adjustment, pull the other side of the rein from a lower position back up 

The Split Rein

Split reins are used more commonly in Western Horsemanship competitions and are long and versatile. Split reins ensure that the horse’s feet do not get tangled in looped reins and are generally longer than closed reins. Also, they allow minor alterations to either of them and make one-hand direction possible.

  • You can lengthen or shorten split reins
  • Split reins allow you to hold them independently
  • You can still ride one-handed with split reins
  • Use your index finger between the two reins to hold both the reins in one hand
  • Lay one rein on either side of the horse’s neck and cross them over each other
  • Ensure that the tail of the rein lies on the same side as the rein hand
  • Ensure that the bottom of the bridle lies on the side of the horse’s neck to avoid steering interference

The Romal Reins

Romal reins are extensions of braided material attached to closed reins to ensure minimal movement from the rider’s hand. In addition, romal reins provide more detailed cues through the bit to the horse and reveal more quality of both the rider and the horse. They are popular and originated on cattle farms.

  • Hold the rein in a verticle fist
  • Allow the horse rein to come up through the bottom of the fist against the palm of your hand
  • The end of the rein needs to come back out of the top and over the thumb
  • Point the thumb upwards at an angle of about 45 degrees horizontal
  • With your free hand, you can carry the end of the rein while leaning it against your leg to provide more stability in the saddle

The Draw Rein

Generally, around 16 feet long, draw reins have a buckle in the center and end loop around the horse’s girth on both sides. The typical usage of draw reins is for flatwork. However, if a rider decides to use them for jumping, the draw rein should run through a neck strap. This technique is essential to stay out of reach of the horse’s legs.

  • The ends of the loop should be between the elbow and the bottom of the saddle flap
  • Draw reins go through the bit rings from the saddle girth and then back towards the hands of the rider
  • Use the regular snaffle rein on the horse’s bridle together with the draw reins
  • Draw reins do not have decent stopping power
  • Hold both sets of reins, similar to holding a double bridle
  • Draw reins help to tell your horse to lower his head back down
  • Do not force the horse’s head down and maintain an even loose grip on the draw rein

Roping or Gaming reins are shorter than a regular romal and split rein. Therefore, they are ideal for trail riding, western speed events, and rodeos. They are attached to the bit and loop around the neck of the horse. The length of roping reins depends on your liking or the event.

  • Wrap the rein around the first three fingers
  • Do not loop the horse rein around the thumb or pinky
  • Close your hand and form a loose fist while your thumbs point upwards and face each other

The Basic Method For Bridging Your Rein

The most common way to shorten an English rein is to bridge them. For example, use the right hand to trim the left rein and vice versa. First, ensure that the horse rein comes from the bit; then, move through the finger and pinky finger through the hand. After that, out over your index finger.

When shortening the left rein, reach over using your right index finger and thumb to hold the left rein. Then slide it toward the bit with the left hand. Proceed with the same method by using the left hand to shorten the right rein.

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When bridging, hold your hands in the same position with the exact distance between them. Then, slowly shorten and adjust each rein an inch at a time, enabling the reins to feed through your fingers while keeping your hands closed around them. This technique loosens the reins and makes them more comfortable for you as a rider.

Riding A Horse With An Active Hand

Calling it an active hand does not generally mean dynamic movement. It means the rider can willingly adjust the reins. Correctly changing your reins is essential, and maintaining a direct rein feel between the horse’s mouth and the rider’s hands is necessary. The correct adjustment when it comes to the length of the rein is crucial.

The Ideal Length For A Horse Rein

Typically, extend your arm towards the horse’s head while on the horse. The straight line from your elbow to the horse’s mouth should be a good rein length indicator. When the rein is too long, it may cause your hands to be either too low or too high. Perfect length reins help stabilize and keep leverage, effectiveness, and guidance.

Trail horses are more comfortable with a 9-foot rein. However, horses with a much longer neck prefer a 10-foot horse rein. The standard reins are around 9 feet long, but they can vary in size for adults and children. Pony reins are usually much shorter at about 48 inches. In addition, rein lengths are specific to rider-horse combinations and can be shorter or longer to fit.

Is It Possible To Ride A Horse Without A Rein?

Yes, it is possible to ride a horse without a rein. Reins are just one cue method to transfer your intentions down to them. When a horse is leg cue trained, it will happily accept that direction. In addition, saddle weight distribution can be a successful cue method to perform several moves without reins. 

When an experienced horse and rider, the reins are merely something to hold on to and elaborate the rider’s intentions to the horse. Riders can use their balance as cues; for example, moving forward signals the horse to go faster, and moving your body back signals a slower pace.

In addition, turning consists of a combination of balance and leg cue aids. Using multiple steering methods simultaneously shows experience, and you can always find a teacher to help you master horse riding without reins. 


Domesticated horses accept that they need to take riding instructions from the rider. Reins are an instruction method to guide them in directions, speed up, or slow down during the ride. Regardless of the rein style, they are all communication tools to add support and comfort to horse riding. In addition, the different rein styles have unique ways of gripping and uses.


I'm Bo, the owner of Smarter Horse. Helping horses be smarter by educating their people.  To find out more about me, click here

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