If you ride western, you have a lot of different rein choices. Western riders choose the style of rein they use depending on the specific activity they ride in. Some reins will be easier for a beginner to handle, and the reins you use at home to enjoy your horse may not be the ones you’d want to use if you were competing. Those riders who show will have some specific rules to follow regarding the type of tack they can use, how it's used, and certain types of reins may not be suitable for some events. For example, reins designed for use in speed games may not be correct and can cause you not to be considered for placing in a pleasure or equitation class.
Your First Set of Reins
As a beginner, you will want reins that are easy to handle because for the first little while at least, you’ll probably be a bit awkward and not know exactly what to do with your hands. For this reason, closed reins, similar to English style reins may be the best. Traditional western reins are not attached at the end. But at the start, you might be better off with reins that are. This way, if you drop a rein, it won’t fall to the ground, but just drape over the horse’s neck or withers. Closed reins may be one long strap, usually about 8 feet long, or them may have a buckle in the middle, similar to an English style rein. Buckles or snaps may be used to attach them to the bit.
You probably don’t want reins that are too short, such as those used in barrel racing. Barrel reins are made of rope, nylon braid or webbing, and are quite short so there is minimum rein to handle and get tangled when you’re riding at speed. Barrel-riders hold their reins further up the horse’s neck then pleasure riders, so long reins just end up dangling. But short reins may make it more difficult for you to hold your hand in the right place for pleasure riding. If you ride a horse that can be direct reined, the shorter length might make it difficult to hold the reins comfortable.
Different Kinds of Closed Reins
Even with closed reins, there are lots of different choices. Western riders may like their reins to have a bit more weight than English riders do. Either round or flat braided or knotted leather is quite popular. The texture of these reins also helps a beginner rider keep their grip, so the reins don’t slide through their hands quite as easily. Many western riders like rope, webbing or other material that has a bit of weight, but is still comfortable in the rider’s hands.
Braided nylon and rope are also quite popular. Because they’re braided or twisted, they have a better weight than a flat biothane or nylon rain, and they are quite comfortable to hold. These reins can be bought in almost any color or combination of colors that appeal to you, and they are easy to maintain. Unlike leather reins that need regular cleaning and conditioning, a dunking in water every so often keeps them clean. They also don’t get slippery like leather does if you’re caught in the rain, and then get stiff and need reconditioning once they dry. Some rope reins are quite thick. Try holding reins in the tack store to see if they’re too much of a handful. Rope reins can be nicer in the winter time when leather or biothane reins can feel cold and stiff.
Many western riders like open-ended reins and the way they are held is a bit different than the way closed reins can be held. Once you are feeling confident, it’s worth trying them out. So much of riding is about ‘feel’, and you’ll develop a preference for the type of reins you like.