Q: What is the best way to shorten my reins after allowing my horse to stretch?
Asked by Kath Harrison
A stretch is often a surprisingly difficult movement for a horse to perform. In order to stretch and regather well, a horse must be truly in balance. If your horse struggles to balance or accept the bit normally, then transitioning back from a stretch to a normal frame is likely to be messy. This will only improve with further training to improve your horse’s balance and establish a steady contact.
If your horse is generally balanced and has a good understanding of the contact, then it is worth examining how exactly you are doing the exercise.
Step 1: Loosen your grip on the reins, allowing your horse to move the bit and pull the reins through your loosened fingers. Your inside hand can be slightly away from the withers to encourage the bend, but your outside hand must stay at the base of the neck. Your inside leg will then be needed to maintain the energy throughout the stretch.
Step 2: Once the reins have been moved through your fingers you should adopt a loose contact. You just need to be able to feel your horse’s mouth throughout the stretch, you don’t need to influence it. A total loss of contact in a stretch will, however, make it difficult to come back to a normal frame as the change will be too dramatic.
Step 3: To practice allowing your horse to come up into a normal frame, try the following method. Put both of your reins in one hand and, while keeping a feel on the horse’s mouth with the hand, slide the other hand up the rein until it is at the desired length. This helps the contact to remain steady so that your horse can respond appropriately.
Many horses will love to stretch, even if their balance and contact are not perfect, so a stretch is something that is certainly worth perfecting!
Beware: Do not place your hands too wide during the stretch. This shows that you are ultimately having to pull the horse into the stretch, or that you released too much of the rein contact. If you find yourself doing this, then you need to relook at your stretch technique, and why your horse is not keen to stretch.