Reins for Every Occasion

by Annie Penfield
Captain Lightfoot at Southern Pines Horse Trails
Captain Lightfoot at Southern Pines Horse Trails

"Can I give you some advice?' Asked former Olympian Bobby Costello. I found this a strange request because he had been giving me instruction for an hour.

And why was he hesitant to suggest something? He had already told me to sing as I approached the Liverpool. Advice I don't think he expected me to follow and I did, with a loud la-la-la and an unchanging rhythm, we jumped my first Liverpool—and Bobby removing his hat and rubbing the side of his head with a little bewilderment. But now he falters.

"Of course," I respond. I mean that's what I am here for, but why is he asking permission now? A range of possibilities surge through my adrenalin-addled post-lesson brain: Should I move down in divisions? Do a week of longe lessons without stirrups? Take more lessons? Do yoga?

"Getter thicker reins," he says.

"Reins?" I respond.

"They will give you more leverage. This horse is strong."

Reins. It's a Thursday and the next day we leave for Sporting Days Horse Trails in Aiken, SC for my first event of the season. This being March 2nd and I being normally in an indoor in Vermont, reins seemed a minor consideration. Last week I was in a small indoor riding over rails on the ground to establish rhythm, today I was working to sit back and slide my reins as I jumped into the water jump, and tomorrow I would be walking the cross-country course.

In my tack shop I have reins for all occasions: rubber-lined, braided, laced, web, rainbow, stops, pebble-grip, smooth rubber, small pimple, large pimple, smooth. Reins for every taste. Soft reins or stiff reins. Pony reins and extra long reins. Reins with stops to be sure reins length is even. Reins long enough to knot for cross-country to easily retrieve. Reins for any event but my event was in two days.

The reins I have are ½" rubber web reins. They are very flexible and grippy. I chose them because he does lean into my hand and pull and these help me keep a tight grip so he can't strip the reins through my fingers. Last season I rode in canvas reins with stops, but I swapped them out during UNH downpour last fall.

I like grip. When my horse sees the fence, he often surges. He is why I took up pilates and learned it was not just strength of arm that stops a horse but a whole body movement to rebalance. If reins can help, I was going to go straight to the mobile unit upon arrival.

And I did. I bought the fattest rein possible. One inch in width, they felt like asphalt shingles in my hands: wide and stiff and cumbersome. It felt different but with that first handle, but I could not say bad, just different.

First outing of the season, my horse ricochets around the course. His eye takes in every jump, rock, and puddle, and his movement is unfocused. There was a very large corner fence off a right hand turn, two coops in a broken line, and a bright red log two strides before the water; there was a lot to see and challenges requiring precision. I was nervous. It was pouring rain.

Once riding I was not thinking about giant reins in hand, I was thinking about the responsiveness of my horse. Reins are a matter of feel: the connection to the mouth, the stability in hand, the grip to hold, the ability to slide and gather back up, and the leverage. And it is personal choice and as with all pieces of tack, some items are better suited to the job than others. The re-consideration of my reins allowed me to discover this nuance. And since that first fresh outing of the season, I have hung on to them through the heat-infused event at Hitching Post in May and then the downpour show jump round at GMHA in June. A rein for all weathers.

My horse handily jumped clean and fast around Sporting Days and I had a great time on course. My biggest scare was that I lost my credit card. This discovered at the gas station on the drive home. When I called the credit card company they said the last charge was in Aiken. I checked the pocket of my raincoat still hanging in the trailer. There was my credit card.

Thicker reins: worth every penny.

Some Rein Choices:

  • Nunn Finer Soft Grip Reins
  • KL Select Pebble Grip
  • KL Select Rubber lined rein (my dressage rein)
  • Collegiate rubber-lined reins (an economical choice)

Check out our recent Facebook Live discussion all about reins!