The Indirect Rein of Opposition in Front of the Wither

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I thought I would discuss the Indirect Rein of Opposition in Front of the Wither next. I had planned on discussing this rein aid last, as it is the most difficult to use correctly and also the most problematic for less-experienced riders and green or unbalanced horses. However, I’ve decided to discuss it now, as it shares some similarities with the more basic Indirect Rein and they are often considered to be the same, though they are two very distinct rein aids. Because the technical name of this rein aid is a mouthful, I will refer to it in future as “the Indirect Rein in Front.”

The Indirect Rein in Front is a rein of opposition, which means that it creates its effect by opposing forward impulsion. How much it opposes is up to the rider, but it is important to understand that reins of opposition have a blocking and somewhat collecting effect on the horse, and should be used conscientiously.

To use this rein, the rider simply brings the hand toward the horse’s opposite shoulder, careful not to cross the mane and, remaining in front of the wither, offers resistance. This temporary resistance blocks the horse’s impulsion on that side while the outside shoulder becomes the outlet for that blocked energy. As the horse gives to the resisting hand, its bend will displace the outside shoulder to the side and slightly toward the rear (unlike the Indirect Rein, which displaces the outside shoulder out and forward) while the hindquarters move to the inside and slightly forward, causing the horse to rotate around its center.

While the hand must move in the direction of the opposite shoulder, it is easy to go too far or to be tempted to pull the rein in this direction, which are both things to be avoided when using this rein. A good reference point for the rider is to imagine drawing a line from the outside corner of the horse’s mouth to the rider’s bellybutton, or straight through to the top of the horse’s tail and fixing the hand there; this will help prevent too much angle in the rein or worse, crossing the mane (which is not to be done under ANY circumstance with this rein!!!) The important aspect of this rein is that the hand, which normally operates over or slightly behind the wither, remains in front of the wither throughout the aid, which is necessary to focus the effect of the rein specifically on the opposite shoulder, where the horse’s balance must be directed. It may be necessary to shorten the rein before applying this aid to ensure the hand remains in front of the wither.

This resistance of the hand means simply fixing the hand momentarily and closing the fingers until there is a response, and does not imply backward traction on the rein in any way; to pull backward on the rein would make too strong an aid which could unbalance the horse severely. As a general rule, I do not advocate pulling back on reins to give aids anyway, but in this case it is never acceptable; this is an incredibly powerful rein aid, and it has the ability to easily disrupt the horse’s balance if used incorrectly or inconsiderately. To pull backward with the hand in this position would force the horse to bend his head and neck unnaturally backward and to the side, creating a jackknifing effect, while simultaneously making it impossible for him to move forward, instead forcing him to stagger sideways and backward to maintain his balance–or fight back and possibly rear/flip over. Not only does one risk injuring the horse and one’s self this way, but even if nothing catastrophic occurs, the horse may lose confidence in himself, his ability to balance with a rider on his back, and – perhaps worst of all – will lose trust in the rider.

While the basic Indirect Rein displaces the outside shoulder forward and out, the Indirect Rein in Front pushes the shoulder out and toward the rear while bringing the hindquarters forward and to the inside, which has a slight collecting effect on the horse.

An obvious application of this rein is in asking for a turn about the center, as this is the natural effect of the rein when used on its own. Because this rein has such a powerful role in moving the horse’s shoulders, it can be used to various degrees in just about any exercise where the rider needs to adjust the position of the shoulders. But it can also be especially useful in turn on the haunches, shoulder-in, initiating renvers, etc..

This is perhaps the most subtle of reins, and should be used to make small corrections and indications only. Use it as sparingly as possible, for the shortest duration possible, and avoid using it suddenly, harshly or at speed.

Used with the Direct Rein:
Like the Indirect Rein, this rein is also compatible with a modified outside Direct Rein. Both reins used together will direct the horse’s balance into his outside shoulder. Just as important, this modified outside Direct Rein is not a rein of opposition and therefore will not block the horse on the outside; instead the opening of the rein allows an outlet for the energy being diverted by the inside hand; here the supporting outside rein catches the impulsion coming into the outside shoulder and regulates its position, which in turn can help regulate the degree of bend and the amount of inward shift from the hindquarter.

Used as an outside rein:
One of this rein’s best uses is in a modified form used to bring the shoulders inward in order to straighten the horse (think of the horse who likes to put his shoulder to the wall and travel crooked along the rail) when an ordinary Indirect Rein might not be strong enough or might spoil the horse’s engagement/collection. Here, the rider does not aim to create bend, but only to slightly move the shoulder in line with the hindquarters - or in the case of, say, shoulder-in, to bring them off the rail where the inside hand and leg can pick up the aids – while maintaining a bend in the direction of travel. Here, the Direct Rein works as usual on the inside, while the outside hand moves toward the center in front of the wither and either simply maintains contact to close that “door” or gives a slight pulsed resisting aid and release.

As discussed above, there is a lot of potential for misuse with this rein. The dangers of unbalancing the horse by pulling backward have already been covered. The only offense not yet discussed is crossing the mane. While crossing the mane with a rein is always incorrect, it is nowhere more heinous a crime than when executing an Indirect Rein of Opposition in Front of the Wither. If you have ever watched films where horses are forcibly made to flip over or lie down, look closely and you will see this rein aid being used across the neck. Used strongly enough across the mane, this rein will knock a horse over – a horse’s head is his balancing pole, and when it is forcibly pulled in this direction, he has no choice but to fall. Any rider who would do this intentionally or out of carelessness puts the horse at risk and does not deserve his horse’s trust or respect – he does not deserve to ride at all.

This is a useful, versatile and efficient rein, but great care must be taken when using it not to abuse it. It is most valuable when used subtly and in small doses to correct slight deficiencies in straightness or to move the shoulder by small increments. When in doubt, as with all matters of equitation, start slow and be conservative when trying this rein. You can’t go wrong if you rely on feel, compassion and common sense.


Other Posts in this Series:

Holding the Reins

The Turning Seat

Inside vs. Outside: The Weight Debate


The Five Rein Aids: Introduction

The Direct Rein

The Indirect Rein

The Direct Rein of Opposition

The Indirect Rein of Opposition Behind the Wither


Going Bitless


  1. I really like this series. I'm finding it very informative and helpful. The diagrams are a great help too. I've been know to cross the withers with one rein or another and I know it's wrong, so this is helpful to me it will make me think more about where my hands are and what they are doing with the reins. Another thing I like about this series is the explanation of what each rein actually directs the horse to do. Thanks, I'll be looking forward to more on rein aids in the future.

  2. thanks ghm. i'm glad you are enjoying the series. i know it is review for a lot of people, but hope maybe it will be useful to have all this info in one place. a lot of people use rein aids every day without ever really knowing exactly what they do or how they work...

    i have had a bad habit of crossing the withers too, especially since i tend to let my reins get long. it's a constant battle :-\

    for me it always helps to know WHY a rule is there before i can commit to following it, and once you know what crossing the neck can do and why we're taught not to, it seems less abstract....

  3. Au contraire, it isn't review for me! I remember learning indiret rein in high school but since then it's all I can do to keep my hands more or less in front of me. I am also finding this an interesting series, thanks so much.

  4. Oh, thank you for this one esp. The only time I ever use this right now is turn on the haunches and in the corners to get the Big Bay focused when he drifts into the corners, and used sparingly, as you suggest, it does seem to engage him in just the right way along that next straight line of arena.

    Sometimes I actually hone in and ride from corner to corner, doing this at each one, and it's one of the best ways I've found to get both he and I moving more crisply and cleanly, if that makes sense.

    I've used it with shoulder-in too.

    It's really nice to read here exactly what the aids do in terms of shifting the horse's body and energy. That's been a big missing piece for me.

  5. stacey - thanks! i'm glad you are finding it interesting!

    billie - this is one of my favorite reins, though i used it for years without realizing it had an official name :-\ it does have a lot of great uses... as you mention, it is a great rein for riding corners, especially if you have a horse who likes to cut turns or if you are trying to square the corners.

  6. Hope you're up for an award, stop by and pick it up when you get the chance.

  7. an award for me? thanks GHM! i'll be right over :-)

  8. jme, I've just given you the butterfly award - if you'd like to pick it up, come on over and do so. Either way, thanks for the light you bring to something I love!

  9. oooh, love the series!
    "You can’t go wrong if you rely on feel, compassion and common sense."

    Thank you!


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