And now I have Courage. He's a thinking rider's horse. The "normal" stuff doesn't work for him, but walking the road less traveled can have spectacular results. I would never, ever intentionally take two months off riding. I would never have purchased a weird-ass lunging contraption (or two!). I would never, ever think I'd be riding my horse in draw reins.
And here I am.
|yup there they are|
I've skirted around this issue, taken them off for pictures, and intentionally not said anything, because I'm 100% pro-horsemanship and 110% anti-shortcut, anti-gadget, and anti-training-your-horse-by-polling-ottb-connect-because-you're-too-stupid/vain/shortsighted-to-work-with-a-trainer.
Draw reins have been with us for a very long time and while abominable excuses for horsemanship have too, those fads tend to come and go.
Honestly, even talking about draw reins makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit--the potential for misuse or abuse is huge. The idea that someone could read this post and think "wow, she mocked my strategy of polling OTTB Connect for training ideas but then said something about draw reins so I'll get some" and would then run out and buy a set to throw on their woefully under-educated horse makes me physically ill.
So don't do that. I will publicly and privately eviscerate you. Consider that fair warning.
But I'm not dealing with your under-trained horse and under-educated riding. I'm dealing with my horse who has years of solid, thoughtful, educated training under his belt and yet still struggles with certain mechanics of how his body works. I'm working under the auspices of a professional trainer, who to my knowledge does not even own a set of draws and whom I have never seen use a gadget of any kind on any horse.
I'm talking about a long standing issue that I've addressed in every way under the sun with multiple professional trainers and none of them could touch it. I've spent years building Courage's trust and education to this point. I've spent months lunging him under saddle in what is basically fixed draw reins.
And in those months, I have seen Courage go from this:
|one kind of air time|
|a much better kind of air time|
I'm not talking about a quick fix here. Not at all. Courage was scoring around the 70s at training level at recognized shows. He hacks out. He toodles. He jumps (a little) and he's been in professional training for the better part of a year now. He was just not getting it in terms how how to use his body to push and go forward, especially in trot/canter transitions and especially as we asked him to move into first/second level work. We did lessons and pro rides and body work and talked to vets and covered all our bases there.
And then I quit riding and added the vienna reins lunging. It took months. Not a joke. Not an an exaggeration. I don't mean months of ripping around in mindless circles, either. Months of thoughtful, horse-first training in which I found different ways to present the information and explain to Courage what I wanted without ever getting angry and always being quick to reward the slightest try on his part.
|late nights and early mornings|
And now, I have a horse who probably 75% of the time on the lunge line, can give me a correct, balanced trot/canter transition in a calm manner. That's HUGE for us.
But now it's time to start back under saddle. I'm physically compromised and Courage is learning to transfer the information he's gleaned, but he's not confirmed and he can't be until he also understands with a rider.
I need the same effect that I get from the Vienna Reins, but I need it in a format that's safe to ride in. I need something I can release, but something that continues to explain to Courage that the balance he found on the lunge line is a balance he can use under saddle.
Draw reins it is.
They are a gadget. They are so easy to abuse. You can wreck a horse permanently SO FAST. Ever seen a panicked runaway with it's nose on it's chest and that horrible look of pain and fear in it's eyes? Even if you have a tolerant saint of a horse, you can create so much distress, as Lauren pointed out. You can make that. You don't want to. It's flat out cruel.
Draw reins are not something I pick up lightly and they are something that will go away as soon as is reasonably practicable. I've introduced them very slowly. Lots of walking and toodling and just letting him feel them without having them do anything.
Now we've added in trotting and he's going well. So well. Not gonna lie, he feels like a whole new horse. He's learning to give me the base of his neck, which is what I need to go forward from here.
Even with all the training Courage has had and the education we both have, using draw reins pretty well freaks me out. I don't need him hyperflexed. I don't want him behind the bit or dumped on his forehand or any number of other Very Bad Things that come from a device that give me this massive amount of leverage over a flighty prey animal.
|my first trot post-accident.|
And that's where it's at.
Theoretically, I hate gadgets. In practice, I'm using one and I'm very pleased with the results. That doesn't mean I recommend them and frankly, if you think they'll work for you, I think you're an idiot who needs a trainer and dear god please don't ruin your horse. Please.
Maybe I'm just naive, but I think that all these gadgets came about because they were useful to someone. I think there's a time and place for all of it -- but they KEY is to realize that each horse is an individual and they need an individualized training plan.ReplyDelete
Definitely. I really think these would have been a disaster if I slapped them on earlier, because Courage needed to work through his panic-status when he felt trapped and making him more trapped would have been a very bad thing. Only now that life makes sense to him are they actually a good idea.Delete
And obviously, he's a pretty specific horse. lol.
Agreed. There's a time and place. No judgement. When they are abused, that's when I take issue. And over fences, I don't likey draw reins over jumps, scary!Delete
Courage looks fantastic. I'm really glad that something good came out of you being grounded for so long.ReplyDelete
I think lunging is a pretty inefficient way to train in general and this is definitely not my preferred method, but it's what we had, so it's what we used.Delete
There's a time and a place for everything. Half of your pics I see slack in the draws, so you're doing fine. I throw draws on Theo sometimes when he's having a 'I GIRAFFE ONLY' day, it's a tool in the toolbox. It's when you use it as a short cut and know nothing else that it becomes a 'gadget'. Give yourself the credit of using it as a tool to translate something to Courage as opposed to jamming him into a frame.ReplyDelete
Exactly. I ride him off the snaffle and the draws are just to remove a certain range of responses now that he understands what his body can do. They aren't permanent or primary.Delete
I love this post. Gadgets are such a touchy subject all the way around. I tend to normally stay far, far away from gadgets and often advise others to do the same. But every now and again, I see a gadget work for someone, and it helps to remind me that, they were created for a purpose, and sometimes there is a time and place for certain people to use them.ReplyDelete
Glad to see this little breakthrough for you and Courage!!
One of my friends works with a dressage trainer who is extremely well respected (articles about him in Dressage Today etc.) and is a judge. He NEVER uses gadgets but he had my friend ride in draw reins for a few months with her pony. Then they went to a double bridle, and now she's riding him in a snaffle. Some horses just don't make progress with the "normal" route and I think really good and thinking horseman and trainers will use what's needed and appropriate at the time and then change it as soon as possible :) Courage is looking fantastic!ReplyDelete
Yeah regardless of method I'm thrilled with how he's developing. :-)Delete
You're like the rich, white Trump supporter who suddenly had to go on welfare, realized it was a government assistance program, and saw the error of his/her ways!!! <3 (Okay, sorry to bring more politics into this.)ReplyDelete
I appreciate your perspective, as always. Thinking >>>> polling OTTB connect. And I actually do use a bearing rein when I lunge Murray! Since I want nothing but the highest, most inverted head set out of my horse! But actually to stop him from getting his head so low that he's not pushing up through his wither, so 99.9999999% of the time it is so loose he literally doesn't touch the thing.
Haha yeah I threw bearing rein in there and then realized it was a driving implement and I know nothing about it. Also had no idea you could lunge in one. Send me pics?Delete
I certainly shall, once we get back to using them (I usually have to work up to them, though if we're in regular work I can lunge in them every time).Delete
I was super anti gadget as well. but sometimes... the appropriate use of gadgets is necessary. My last TB mount LOVED draw reins and I just gave up hating them because they made my life so much easier.ReplyDelete
good on you for backtracking on yourself, for the good of the pony. probably one of the hardest things we have to do.
He does make me question the how and why of literally everything we do. Easy is overrated I guess.Delete
Time and place for everything. And Courage is looking awesome, so clearly now is the time. And it sounds like the time will not be permanent. Cosmo has gone in draw reins on occasion in the past and we are currently working in a german martingale to help funnel all his forward energy. (WHAT? Since when does Cosmo have too much forward energy?) Hopefully, we'll be out of them soon. Or not, since it keeps raining and thus slowing down all forward progress and increasing the amount of forward energy.ReplyDelete
It's amazing how much they change. :-)Delete
i think the only thing i hate in horse training are hard and fast rules that don't account for the nuanced and subtle difference from one individual horse or set of circumstances to another.ReplyDelete
i don't really believe in "RULES" in horse training, so much as i believe in "guidelines." and honestly, i kinda specifically *don't* believe that it's as easy to "ruin" a horse as we may be led to think.
Eh well it's definitely that easy to ruin C. I unfortunately have actual evidence on that one. :-/ the good news is that this far, I've been able to successfully bring him back too.Delete
see, i wouldn't call that "ruined" tho. maybe it's arguing semantics, but i'd say the term "ruin" has a degree of permanence to it. to me, at least, set backs (even major ones) do not equal ruin. there's almost always a path forward.Delete
anyway i'm in agreement with the assertion of your post above and think Courage is doing really well with your approach! he's arguably doing much better than he would be in many alternate scenarios.
i just get twitchy at the prevalence of strong language surrounding "ruining" horses. bc... well... i honestly haven't met many horses who are well and truly ruined (synonym: destroyed). i sometimes think that language (an example from above is the "Very Bad Things" of dumping onto the forehand and hyperflexion) can often do a disservice to riders (like us!) who are honestly trying to just do a good job and help our horses, but might be scared off of trying new things lest we fuck it all up beyond repair.
fun fact (bc apparently i haven't spammed you enough yet today lol, sorry!!) - but i was pretty sure i wrote a post about the above sentiments before, and it turned out to be almost exactly a year ago now haha. so.... i guess i've been twitchy for a little while....Delete
I could have clarified more--Courage' evasion of choice is bolting with his head straight in the air, which is not my favorite but could be worse. Imho, if I draw reins him to death and he learned to bolt with his nose on his chest, that would be way, way worse and much more difficult to reverse.Delete
I think different horses have different margins for error. So while I 100% agree with your post in that it is a good idea to try and play with harder things just to see what happens, I also believe that there are certain things and situations that have no possible positive outcome for my particular horse and since the range of people who are willing to deal with his problems is also very small. It's important to me to make very careful choices for him so that if something happens to me, he still has a fighting chance with someone else.
If that makes any sense.
If there's anything else that horses should teach us, it's that every horse is unique and no one-size-fits-all training method works for everyone. Courage is so lucky to have you as his 'person', because you're willing to explore all kinds of options to help him be the best he can be!ReplyDelete
I find that the more I know, the less I'm willing to say to other people because the more there is I realize I don't know at all.Delete
Also I have no idea how anyone ever writes a training book. Lol.
I'm totally on board with you on this subject! And gaddamn does C look fabulous. The past few months have been fascinating to follow - such a dramatic change. You're motivating me to spend more time lunging my beasts than I have been. Spoiler alert: it's helping them.ReplyDelete
Wish it wasn't. I'm bored out of my skull by tiny circles and perfect transitions right now.Delete
Just to be clear to the world, I never said that the universe shouldn't use draw reins... I said I shouldn't ;). If it works for you and your horse, than it works for you and your horse!ReplyDelete
They have a place, to be sure.Delete
Draw reins are a big reason Pig took so long to learn about real dressage contact, and a big reason I had to be very careful about introducing the double bridle.ReplyDelete
That said, I was very tempted to use them during a period where Pig locked me out of the base of his neck and his lower back. Eventually we did work through it in other ways, but that doesn't mean draw reins would not have been a valid approach.
All training is about showing the animal what you want them to do in the clearest and most sympathetic language you can. For some that requires gadgets (it certainly did for my dogs! Haha!) and for others that requires the barest of whispers.
Our horses are individual. Good trainers know that. You can't approach training with rigid rules.
I think of Pig as "potential future Courage" and that's why draw reins worried me so much--done wrong, I will create more problems than I fix. Now to work on being past Austen. Ha! Wish me luck.Delete
BUT HAVE YOU CHECKED HIS TEETH?!?!?!?ReplyDelete
I think the results speak for themselves. I have an "if you want to do it better than me, you are more than welcome to get on and do it yourself" policy with armchair critics (Pearl is nowhere near as sensitive in that way as C, and I don't think one ride would ruin her). So far no takers :P I rode her in a pelham all last winter and still put it on for tuneups, and oh hey whaddaya know, now she listens to slow-down aids off my seat because I was able to back it up in a way she understands and responds to.
You know your horse, you are working with a trainer, and you know it is in both your and horse's best interests to not use a tool that you think would lead to setbacks, so let the haters hate and I will fight them (I had two glasses of wine sorry)
Woo woo wine time!Delete
PS It's definitely a lyme+kissing spines combo.
I hate gadgets. But I can respect someone who talks about TOOLS smartly. (I consider side reins and Vienna reins tools) Or even gadgets. Education is so important but I think it is clear you've done your research, your not going at it alone. People who use gadgets bc it looks cool or makes their house hot, or even look hot are ridiculous. However that isn't you. Not that you need any ones approval.ReplyDelete
If you take off the equipment and it made a difference, it is a tool. If you take it off and life goes back to how it was, it is bandaid gadget.
Hope courage is getting better and better!
Draw reins have their place, so long as they are used correctly. Trouble is, so many *do* *not* *know* how to use them correctly.ReplyDelete
I've used them on very few horses and always with very good reason. One was a young 17.3hh WB gelding who had taken to throwing his head and bolting on outrides. Little 140pound me and owner had no chance of holding that. So he was ridden with loose draw reins for several rides. Loose as in he would only hit them if he really threw his head. He hit them twice (in total, not in rides) and stopped the behaviour.
Another is a higher grade showjumper who is a bundle of anxiety and can literally go one way with his head, another with his shoulders, a third with his trunk and a fourth with his hindquarters and still look good doing it. The draw reins are noticeably looser than my normal reins. He just needs that little subtle reminder to keep his brain in his head and his hind following his front.
First on bearing reins, yes they are still in use, mostly in the typical breed show type driving classes. They are also in use in ground driving and long line work. They are called an overcheck or sidecheck instead. The American Driving Society or ADS prohibits their use at all in any of their sanctioned events. My one harness has an overcheck and it is a total PITA because it isn't removeable and getting the forelock in between the overcheck, the browband and blinkers can be a b*tch most days. I put a snap on it to allow for easy attachment and also give it a little more length. About the only use it has is to keep my pony from grazing, if we happen to be working in a grass field.ReplyDelete
That all being said, draw reins can be good and bad, just like a lot of ot other things. Whips and crops can be used or abused. Driving requires carrying a whip at all times, in your hand. It isn't meant to whip and wale on the horse to make them move. I am very reserved and judicious with my use of the whip, however I have seen many people driving minis that use their whip (in what is my opinion) way too much.
When something becomes a crutch, as in you rely on it every single day, every single ride, then it is definitely more of a gadget. Otherwise, if you use it to correct something and 'lose it' in the far reaches of a tack trunk- then its a tool.
Sometimes you get further ahead by staying Off the horse. Go back to your ground work, fix the horse, let them figure things out, then get back on. It makes a big difference as you have found out.
I love love LOVE this post! I used to scoff at gadgets all the time. I think the most of a gadget I used was a flash or running martingale back in the day but it was because that was what I was told to use to keep my horse's mouth shut and head down. I didn't know better. 20 years later, I've learned a lot and jump off the gadget bridge for a long time... Then recently played with Vienna reins for B. We've already established softness and more than our basic groundwork so I've thrown them on a few times while lunging over the last 3 weeks and he'll actually put his head down when I'm attaching them like, "Oh yay! My new toy!" It's like a hand to hold for him during a 15-minute winter warm up lunge and he feels like butter in my hands when I get on afterwards. But it's all how you use them for sure. Even the most simple snaffle bit can be a dangerous piece of equipment.ReplyDelete
Courage definitely challenges my preconceptions at every level. It's an interesting ride with him.Delete
Very interesting post, and agreed that gadgets in the hands of a knowledgeable rider and horse combination can be invaluable tools for training. My endurance mentor/BO at the last barn I boarded at advocated the use of a running martingale with my mare when we started training on the trail. It sits in my tack trunk now but it's there if needed.ReplyDelete
I guess they exist for a reason. It's just a lot of extra straps to tote around.Delete
I am totally gadget-agnostic, and have used many of them to good effect. Some things work for some horses; some things don't. I'm only ever going to roll my eyes if its not done thoughtfully and with attention to the horse's demeanor and outlook.ReplyDelete
I do have one small correction which is that bearing reins are still very much in use! The problem in Black Beauty was with the over-tightening of them, and in not releasing them while going uphill. Here's the surprisingly good Wikipedia article on them: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overcheck
Gee whiz. Here I thought I picked something so obscure that no one would be able to disagree with me on it even if I was wrong. I'll edit.Delete
I'm not anti gadget. I use draw reins when I need to. If they're being used correctly and for a purpose, I think they're 100% useful.ReplyDelete
They're not for a beginner to use. But they definitely have their place. I'm excited that Courage is getting that feel he's developed on the lunge with you on him! Keep up the good work!
I love how you wrote this article because it's so clear in the progression and how you arrived at that specific conclusion. I very recently rode a very small horse who was trained in draw reins and saw firsthand how that has affected him, even now. I can't say horses feel comfortable at the gallop with their noses tucked into their chest and it took him a bit of coaxing to persuade him out of the positionReplyDelete
I know I don't feel comfortable galloping a horse with it's nose on it's chest. Or over my head. Equally not fun.Delete
I love your opening analogy.ReplyDelete