How you steer with your reins affects a horse’s body position and movement. Practice guiding your horse with a simple training exercise from Texas horseman Trey Pool.

riding reining horse in a circle
Trey Pool guides his horse to the left by picking his hand up and to the left.

When Texas trainer Trey Pool steers his horses to the left or right, he makes sure to lift the reins up and toward the shoulder, rather than moving his hands wide and low.

“I want the horse’s shoulders to come up and follow the direction of my hand,” says Pool, who has a reining horse operation in Weatherford. “The horse’s shoulders should emulate your hand. If my hand comes up and over to the right, their shoulders should go up and right.”

He says a horse’s body falls out of position when riders drag their hands too far right or left and out, versus up.

“If I go down and out, which is what a lot of people do, the first thing that happens is their nose gets tipped to the outside because they’re inadvertently pulling on the off rein. I’m also going to drag the shoulder down toward the ground. Then, you’ve put all the weight on the inside front leg when you actually want the weight on the hocks.”

top view sitting in saddle with reins
Pool says to avoid steering wide and downward (shown), as it allows a horse to drop its shoulder.

He says the reason riders have a tendency to steer outwards is based on how our bodies are built.

“If you ride left-handed,” he says, “you have twice as much range of motion with your left hand.” Pool demonstrates by extending his left arm all the way to the left. Then he swings his arm across his body to the right. “You have twice as far you can rein to the left as you can to the right.”

By drawing your hands toward either shoulder, depending on the direction you want to go, Pool says your cues become more consistent.

The Switch

“Most people steer more correctly when steering across their body,” he says. To highlight and remedy the problem in one step, Pool makes his riders switch which hand they use to hold the reins.

“I switch hands myself,” he says. “Monday, Wednesday and Friday I’ll ride with one hand, and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday I’ll use the other.”

steering a horse riding
Steering too far to the side tips a horse’s nose to the outside by pulling on the off rein.

Pool says the exercise is simple. Just switch which hand you hold the reins with and ride.

“When you switch hands, the side you’re weaker on will get better,” he says, even though it might feel awkward at first. “We’re right handed and left handed, so when we switch hands, it makes us more aware of how we’re steering and allows the horse to pick up its shoulder. It’s not a permanent fix. You still have to practice and become even and consistent with your hands. But it’s a good tool to help you realize if you’re causing the problem or if it’s the horse.”

TREY POOL worked for National Reining Horse Association Professional Scott McCutcheon, and was an assistant training position with cutting horse trainer Mark “Blue” Lavender. Later he became the resident trainer for famed breeder and owner Jerry Kimmel and rode for 11 years before opening his own business.

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