Words About Draw Reins

Training dressage horses is a slow, methodical process that happens on the horse’s timeline, not ours.  All the dressage masters agree the use of force in training a horse, especially a young horse, is not appropriate.  The use of force creates tension in the horse, and tension affects everything, especially the quality of the gaits.  What we want in dressage is a relaxed, loose horse that brings its full musculature to bear in each gait.

Klaus Balkenhol says: “If, for example, a young hourse suddenly and consistently evades upward with his head — provided that the saddle and bridle fit well and his teeth are in good shape — his back is overstressed.  The rider who begins to fight with this horse and keeps working him accoding to the motto, ‘I have to ride him through this!’ runs the risk of building up too much lactic acid in the muscles (one of the most common problems in young horse training, by the way). Instead of using force, the rider should take a break or even go back to a less challenging training step the horse may have already mastered.”  This quote is from the book Klaus Balkenhol, the Man and his Training Methods by Britta Schoffman.

Walter Zettl, in his book Dressage in Harmony, says, “In fact, the less one sees of the aids, the better the horse is reacting to them.  Crude, strong aids lead to harsher and harsher aids.  A horse ridden this way will become a fighter. Fighting should be avoided at all costs . . .One often hears it said that these horses are not suitable for upper-level dressage or jumping.  But these horses are actually the smart ones, because they refuse to be treated this way without fighting back.  They might have been very good horses, had they not been ruined by mistreatment.”

This bring us to the disccussion of draw reins.  Draw reins can be very damaging to a horse, both physically and mentally.

Veterinarian Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, on the use of draw reins: “The consequences of this crude exertion of force and tense, backwards-orientated riding are often resistance and unwillingness of the horse which may even go as far as rearing.” From the book: Classical Schooling with the Horse in Mind by Anja Beran (available at Amazon).  Dr. Heuschmann says, “My . . . vision [is] to spare as many horses as possible physical damage and mental torture with appropriate treatment and training.  As a veterinarian for horses and educated horse trainer, it became clear during my career that there is a direct link between classical equitation and the health of the horse.  Horses which are not trained in the way of classic principles almost unavoidably have to suffer from injuries to the legs (tendons and joints) and back.”  (Italics mine.) From the book:  Classical Schooling with the Horse in Mind by Anja Beran (available at Amazon).

Note that forcing a horse to lower its head or bring in its nose creates tension and is riding front – to – back (instead of back – to – front as the classical principles dictate) and it leads to resistance and an unwilling partner – directly conflicting with the “happy athlete through  harmonious education” in the USEF rule book:

1. The object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education.  As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with the rider.

From the book ‘Klaus Balkenhol, the Man and his Training Methods’ by Britta Schoffman: “Klaus Balkenhol categorically rejects the use of draw reins since they result in tight mouths and tense backs, and do nothing but pull the horse together with force. Klaus is convinced that, ‘The rider who uses draw reins in an attempt to ‘create contact’ is lying to himself. With them one creates nothing but artificial contact, and the horse only ‘appears’ to be supple at the poll.’ And there are other negative effects: tight mouths, tight necks, tense backs, and ‘defensive’ strength instead of elegance. ‘Once such problems have been created through incorrect riding,’ he goes on, ‘it’s very hard to eliminate them.” (Pages 62 – 63.) The entire book is a gem and describes Klaus’ philosophies. For example, Klaus says, “Even if training is heading in the wrong direction, initially, the horses will just keep on going. One must recognize and interpret their signals in time, and react accordingly.” For Balkenhol, such signals are unusual resistance, sudden alleged “stubborness”, nervousness, tension, grinding of teeth, tail swishing, ears constantly back (Page 32). This reminds us we must listen to the horse, and do what is best for the horse!

A good pictorial of horses ridden in draw reins and how it is not appropriate is at http://horsesforlife.com/DrawReinsPictogram.

Another great resource on draw reins and other gadgets is www.sustainabledressage.net and specifically http://www.sustainabledressage.net/tack/gadgets.php#drawreins.

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