The concept of correct balance and posture sounds simple, however for some riders the benefits afforded by the influence of the outside rein are lost as the concepts appear to be counter intuitive.
I was fortunate that my early riding instruction came from Australia’s “Grand Master” Malcolm Barnes at the Oakwood Riding School in Narre Warren. I am blessed to have had his insights, as these lessons were presented in the most wonderfully colourful and expressive ways that painted “word pictures” that helped me to visualise the concepts and recognise correct feel.
Malcolm’s unique gift was his ability to identify if various problems were due to the horse’s inexperience or resistance, and his recommendations were insightful and effective. Green or educated, all horses responded positively as their understanding, balance and confidence was restored.
Malcolm frequently used a flexible dressage whip to show how the horse’s body should be shaped on curved lines and the lateral movements and he showed how the interaction of the reins, legs and seat shaped and contained the horse’s body, frequently referring to the juxtaposition of the “longitudinal” flexion” (roundness and collection, with the horse engaged hind legs and stepping forward and under the horse’s centre of gravity) and the “lateral flexion” (sideways bend and softness) which governs direction, precision, lightness and self-carriage.
The inside leg drives forward and the outside rein contains the energy and is the constant that gives the horse longitudinal support and security by setting and controlling the degree of roundness, engagement and collection. The inside rein affects the softness and bend in a way that keeps the horse supple and light.
The outside leg prevents the horse deviating or swinging out, perhaps as an over-reaction to the inside leg or some evasive resistance.
Malcolm Barnes was a “stickler” about the rider’s position and its impact on the horse’s posture and balance. “Riders have a responsibility to improve their posture and develop an independent and balanced seat!” The head should be upright not looking up or down, shoulders over hips and hips aligned with heels with a bend in the knee to absorb shock, which allows the oscillating hips to influence the seat.” he said.
As a quadruped the horse stands on 4 legs with a suspended body relying on the forward reach of the hind legs to support and balance each phase of movement. A balanced rider will use the reins to frame the horse and contain the energy that is transferred into engagement and lift.
The outside rein influence is better understood if the rider follows the outer circumference of the circle and only uses a soft vibrating inside rein to lighten the horse and indicate direction and bend. The outside rein also helps to keep the horse upright and straight.
An example of the outside rein influence can be found in bicycle riding. If only the inside handlebar is pulled to make a turn, the bike will over-rotate and the rider will need to stop or fall. To control the degree of turn, the inside hand indicates direction and the outside hand controls the degree of turn and keeps the bike stable and upright. A horse requires the same support from the outside hand to control the bend and influence the roundness and engagement.
The correct use of the outside rein allows the horse to work in self-carriage in a state we