Another great question! What type of reins should you use? There are many factors involved in determining the best answer, including the type of riding you do, your skill level, the kind of bit you use and the level of training in your horse. Comfort in your hands is also an important consideration, how effective the reins are in giving you a clear line of communication to the horse through your hands and a good “feel” of the horse’s mouth.
It took me several years to design my rope reins—starting with finding the perfect rope and ending with making them more functional and easier to use than other reins. I have also designed into them an ideal length, a center marker that helps the rider keep the reins even and a quick-connect to the bit that delivers a good feel.
A long single-loop rope (or horse hair) rein is best for riding in a snaffle; when you are riding two-handed. Iit should be 9 or 10 feet in length so that your horse can walk in a relaxed and level frame on a loose rein. The single loop rope rein is easy to use because it is easy to shorten and lengthen your reins—something you need to do constantly as you ride. Too short a length in the rein will cause you to be in the horse’s face too much and he’ll never relax—that can lead to an agitated and nervous horse.
The Mecate (meh-cah-tay) rein is a single loop rope (or horse hair) rein, tied from a 22 foot rope, with a long enough tail left over at one end to be used as a lead rope. It can be handy if you are on and off your horse a lot and ground tying him or leading him around. But the extra rope can be cumbersome to the rider and has to be either tied up to the horn or looped in a belt loop as you ride.
If you ever ask the horse to ground tie with a single loop rein, either you leave the reins up over the horn or use a Mecate rein, with the loop of reins secured on the horn and the lead part—the Mecate—laying on the ground. You can’t leave the loop down on the ground—it’s too easy for the horse to step through it and get in a wreck.
The rope should be heavy, supple and comfortable in your hands—not too stiff, not too thick or abrasive. I have chosen the high-quality marine rope that is used in my reins because it is soft and shapes nicely to your hand. It is the same high-quality marine rope as used in my training leads and has a really nice feel in your hands. It is 5/8th inch diameter, which I find is good for most people—even people like me with small hands.
Reins, whether leather or rope, should attach to the bit easily with not metal to metal connection—a metal connector is handy to the rider but creates an obnoxious clinking to the horse and does not give the rider a proper feel of the horse’s mouth. The rein should be weighted at the bit and it should swing freely, so the horse can feel the slightest lift and drop in the rein. For this reason, I am not a huge fan of slobber straps and I prefer the corded quick-connect that is designed into my reins instead.
You’ll always want your reins to be heavy, no matter what kind they are. The weight gives you a better feel in your hands and a steadier feel of your horse’s mouth. Think about which is easier to balance on your finger, a feather or a penny? Also keep in mind that the higher quality the leather is, the more it weighs. That’s why you want harness leather split reins—the heavier the better. Cheap reins and cheap saddles are much lighter than their higher quality cousins.
Split reins and Rommel reins are the two best options in leather reins for one-handed riding in a curb bit. Once you put both reins in one hand, the rope is way too bulky. Split reins require the most skill to handle, but they give you the most flexibility in how you ride—you can ride one-handed with the legal split rein hold (one finger between the reins) or one-handed with a trainer’s hold (four finger between crossed reins) or two-handed (one rein in each hand).
The Rommel rein is traditional for the “bridle horse” (the finished Western performance horse) and is more popular on the west coast. It is a shorter single loop leather or rawhide braided rein with a tail (the Rommel) on the end. You hold the end of the loop in your left hand, like an ice cream cone (no fingers between the reins) and the tail in your right hand.
The Rommel rein is easier to shorten and lengthen than the split rein and the tail makes a nice spanker when needed (and gives you something to hold on to with your free hand). But you have less ability to correct your horse and work the reins independently, than with the split rein. That is why the Rommel rein is considered to be for a more finished horse than the split reins. And it is also easier for a novice rider than the split reins.
So, as you can see, not all reins are created equally—and there’s a lot to factor into what is best for you. I use my rope reins on my snaffle bridles and harness leather split reins on my curb bits, but each rider is a little different in his/her needs. I hope this info helps you make an informed decision when it comes to finding the right reins for you!
If you liked this article, Julie suggests the following products to help you continue the work with your horse (or call 800-225-8827 for ordering help):
GPR, vol. 4, Canter with Confidence: http://shop.juliegoodnight.com/shop/trgpr4canterwithconfidence.html
GPR, vol. 5, Refinement and Collection: http://www.shop.juliegoodnight.com/shop/trgpr5refinementcollection.html
Goodnight’s Complete Rider Package: http://www.shop.juliegoodnight.com/shop/packagecompleterider.html