How To Use Direct Reining To Turn Your Horse

Mother helping son with horse riding
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Learning to turn your horse is a basic skill that you will learn as you first learn to ride. There are two methods of reining commonly used; direct/plow reining and neck reining.

Direct reining, or plow (plough) reining means you hold one rein in each hand. The left-hand cues for a left turn and the right-hand uses the right rein to cue for a right turn. This method of reining is very basic. As you progress in your riding skills, you'll learn how to use the reins with more finesse, to guide your horse more precisely. To start, you'll learn how to cue your horse to do simple turns. Most English rider, drivers, and some Western riders will use direct reining.

What You Will Need

  • Your horse, saddled and bridled.
  • Thin riding gloves improve your grip on the reins.
  • Work in a flat obstacle free area at. Add obstacles as your skills improve. Try riding in circles, serpentines, and loops to learn to use your hand, seat and leg aids and keep your body in balance.

Here's How To Turn

  1. Hold one rein each hand. Your hands will be an inch or two forward of the saddle and several inches above, held so your fists are at a 30-degree angle. Your thumbs will be up, and the bight (buckle end) of the rein will be coming up out of the top of your hand. The left rein is held with the left hand and the right rein with the right hand.
  2. Cue the horse to walk forward using your leg and seat. Keep a gentle elastic contact between your hand and the horse’s mouth. The reins shouldn’t be taut or drooping. There should be a straight line from your elbow to the bit.
  3. To turn left, pull back with a gentle pressure on the rein in your left hand. Squeeze back rather than tug. As you actively cue with the left rein, continue contact on the right rein, as this controls the amount of bend your horse will take as he rounds a corner. The right rein, therefore, should neither be allowed to go slack nor held too tightly.​​
  4. At the same time, as you cue with the reins, apply pressure with your left leg onto the horse’s side so the horse is turning around your leg. Don’t lean as you turn, but stay straight in the saddle, with your weight on your inside hip bone.
  1. As the horse obeys the cue, stop the pressure of hand and leg.
  2. Keep a gentle contact with your horse’s mouth until the next time you ask it to stop or turn.
  3. To turn right use the right hand and leg to cue the horse in the same manner. Your right rein will now be the active rein, and you want the horse to bend around your right leg.

Tips For Better Turns:

  1. Use the minimum pressure on the bit required to cue the horse. Harsh pressure on the mouth can upset a horse and make it insensitive to your commands. Never pull or yank suddenly.
  2. Reins constantly need readjusting as you ride. Always keep gentle contact on the horse's mouth by shortening or lengthening them according to the horse's gaits. This means shortening your reins as you go faster, and lengthening as you slow up, to allow the horse’s neck to move naturally.

Learning to use the reins aids properly will take practice until it becomes completely automatic. Many people think that the reins alone cue the horse to turn, but this isn’t entirely true. Seat and legs also come into play. Use schooling figures and obstacles like rails and pylons to practice turning around with accuracy.