The Indirect Rein

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Like the Direct Rein, the Indirect Rein, also known as a Neck Rein or Bearing Rein, is a simple unilateral action of the hand, making it a basic yet effective aid for horses and riders of all levels; it is called an “indirect” aid in that it produces an effect on the side opposite from which it is used. Also like the Direct Rein, this rein will affect the horse’s lateral flexion, but has little or no direct effect on the horse’s longitudinal flexion, and will not produce collection.

As its aliases imply, this rein aid bears against the horse’s neck while also applying a slight pressure on the corner of the horse’s mouth on the same side.

This has the effect of bending the horse slightly to the side on which the rein is being used while simultaneously displacing the horse’s balance to the outside shoulder, so that the horse is inclined to move forward and outward with its opposite shoulder, away from the pressure of the rein. In other words, the Indirect Rein produces various degrees of counter-bending and loading of the outside shoulder.

When using this aid it is crucial that, as the inside hand moves toward the neck and flexes the horse away from the direction of travel, the outside hand must also give, either by moving forward or by opening outward into a “modified” Direct Rein.

It is used in any movement requiring counter-bending such as the turn on the forehand or haunches, etc., or for straightening a crooked horse momentarily.

It is also a partner rein for the Direct Rein, and both can be used to great effect in various combinations. Both of these rein aids are compatible in that, when used in the same direction, they displace the horse’s balance to the same shoulder, and therefore do not send contradictory messages or disturb the horse’s natural balance – something to keep in mind whenever applying two-handed rein aids; both rein aids should complement one another in directing the horse’s balance to one quarter at a time.*

In variation, these reins can be used as supporting aids to one another by modifying one so that it does not produce any significant amount of lateral flexion that might counteract the dominant aid; the desired direction of bend determines which rein aid will predominate. For example, when the Indirect rein is the predominant aid, the Direct rein can be a useful supporting aid, opening to encourage the horse to move into the "space" offered by the gentle leading of the outside rein. Here, the horse is counter-bent and moving away from the rein pressure on the inside neck, while the modified Direct Rein works on the outside to help regulate the amount of bend and support the horse’s movement to the outside. The Direct Rein as outside rein here is so slight that it will not produce any bending from the horse, but will support the general direction of movement.

Likewise, a modified version of the Indirect Rein can be also be employed as an outside supporting rein to the Direct Rein; in this case, the inside Direct Rein is the prevalent aid while the modified Indirect Rein applies a slight pressure on the outside of the horse’s neck. Doing so encourages the horse to move into the Direct Rein aid while maintaining a regulating contact on the outside of the mouth. Of course, it is important to remember that pressure on the outside corner of the horse’s mouth is kept to a minimum to avoid the horse bending in that direction or clashing the aids.

In addition, if one must ride with both reins in one hand, direct and indirect reins will automatically be applied while steering.

When employing an Indirect Rein, the predominant pressure should always be on the neck, and the rider needs to remain conscious of any undue pressure being applied to the corner of the mouth, as this will negate the effect of this particular aid and it will instead become an Indirect Rein of Opposition in Front of the Wither, which is a very different and much stronger aid than the basic Indirect Rein.

Ideally, the hand should not cross the mane while applying this aid, though slight crossing is sometimes unavoidable depending on rein length and hand height, among other things; the important thing to remember is not to apply pressure to the mouth if the hand must cross slightly, as this unbalances the horse severely and can even knock the horse over.

*a rider never wants to direct a horse’s balance into two different quarters at the same time with any combination of rein, leg or weight aids; the only time it is acceptable to apply contradictory rein aids is when asking for halt or rein-back, where with two simultaneous“direct reins of opposition” each rein directs the horse’s balance into its respective hindquarter – but more on that in coming articles...


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 of Opposition in Front of the Wither

The Direct Rein of Opposition

The Indirect Rein of Opposition Behind the Wither


Going Bitless


  1. Thanks for this informative post. It makes clear exactly what rein aids are for and not for. Again great post and easy to understand.

  2. thanks - i'm having trouble viewing the illustrations though... any suggestions?

  3. I'm not having any trouble viewing them on my computer. I just click on the picture and they come up full page size. It's great!

  4. oh, good! i think my firewall is blocking them. i'll try another computer. thanks :-)

  5. I just wanted to say I'm glad you're still writing this series. I know you're probably busy in real life (aren't we all!) but it's such a treat when a new post from you pops up in my blog reader.

    I'm learning a lot; I just don't know enough to intelligently comment yet ;)

  6. hi funder - thanks for stopping in - i have been insanely busy, but i'm trying to find the time to post and to read other blogs!

    i'm glad you are enjoying this series. i was afraid it might seem too basic a topic, though i am trying to give a synthesis of all the different aspects of rein aids so they make more sense as a whole, even to people who have been using them successfully for ages. i've never seen all of the this information put together in one place before, so i hope it's useful.

    and please don't feel like you don't have anything intelligent to add! riding is an art more than a science, and we're ALL learning as we go, as any HONEST rider will admit, so everyone's experience is perfectly valid. and please let me know if something i'm saying isn't making sense or contradicts what you've learned - i have a bad habit of babbling senselessly about random things and assuming everyone else knows how to translate that into a coherent thought ;-)

  7. Great post, great illustrations!

    The thing I like most about the indirect rein is that it always tells me immediately when my reins are too long. :)

    Which is fairly frequent, so I've been focusing on keeping my arms in a very consistent and stable position. And as you can imagine, lots of good stuff happens when I do that.

    I'm still like the Gumby doll - put one thing in place and something else goes askew... but eventually I will get all these parts to work together w/o an instructor telling me what to do every 5 seconds!

  8. billie - i know what you mean about rein length! i am one of those people who tends to ride long, which leads me to the bad habit of crossing the mane when using the one of the indirect reins (though i've learned my lesson about the i.r. of opposition in front of the wither!) i've gotten better about it, but it's one of the things i have to be aware of at all times. and of course the harder you focus on one thing, the more the other things suffer - once i fix my reins, something else will go out of whack, setting off a chain reaction (like i'll shorten my reins, but then i'll want to lean forward and grip with my knees, etc.) so much to think about!

  9. This has got to be the best explaination of rein usage that I've ever seen- very clear and makes complete sense. The funny thing, I've been doing this all along (albiet impefectly) but I'd never realized the theory behind it.

    For me, my left hand loves to "help out" by wandering accross the horse's neck- I'm constantly having to check myself. It also helps if you have a horse that is willing to bend his neck for you (I guess that's one reason for all those suppling exercises! :-)). Keep it up!

  10. adam - thanks! glad you're finding it helpful :-)

  11. I congratulate, it is simply magnificent idea


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