Draw reins have been used in horse training and riding for decades. Ever wondered why showjumpers need draw reins as part of their tack? Can you jump in draw reins?
Draw Reins or running reins are used by showjumpers as a training aid when riding on the flat to encourage the horse to work in a round frame and correct development of the muscles.
When show jumpers ride in draw reins carefully and correctly, they can be a useful training tool. So let’s take a look at everything you need to know about draw rains and showjumping.
What are draw reins?
“Draw reins,” or more commonly known as “running reins,” are used in English riding disciplines and are most commonly used as a training aid in schooling your horse under saddle, and to encourage the horse to work in a “round” frame.
Draw reins are basically extra-long reins that are fitted through the rider’s hand, through the bit rings, and then down to the girth. Running reins are designed to be used in conjunction with the everyday snaffle reins.
What is the purpose of draw reins?
What exactly is the purpose of these extra-long reins, and why do showjumpers need them?
Draw reins are used for schooling a horse on the flat.
The most common uses for using draw reins are as a training aid to:
- Encouraging the horse to drop its head and work in a round frame
- Encouraging the horse to accept the rider’s contact
- Assists in correct muscle development (i.e., Topline)
- Increase suppleness in the horse’s back
- Encourage the horse to work from their hindquarters
Some riders, although not all will admit it, will use draw reins on strong or sometimes dangerous horses. Young horses, especially, are unpredictable, and a horse can’t get it head up completely to bolt flat out.
I have an OTTB that likes to hollow out his back and piss off completely. When I use the running rein, I have a bit more leverage to where I can keep his head, and I can pull the running rein tighter if need be.
Draw reins are not designed to be emergency breaks, but they definitely can help when you are in a scary or out of control situation with your horse. Drew reins can also help with horses that are excitable or nervous, but they should never be used as a form of punishment but rather to assist the rider in training the horse.
Running reins are also good to use when you are dealing with a horse that rears. It does not stop them from rearing, but you can keep their heads low enough when they do.
Unless your horse has nothing medically wrong, some horses tend to toss their heads around a bit (especially with jumping), and using running reins can help steady the head a bit.
When you ride in a running rein, you will find that the horse is less resistant and not fighting your contact as much and, therefore, not throwing his head around so much.
This is one of the reasons you sometimes see showjumpers jump in running reins. Once the head tossing improves, the draw reins can be removed when jumping.
When should you use draw reins?
Draw reins can be used once your horse has established the basics of moving off your leg, turning, and basic upward and downward transitions. I would not recommend using draw reins on a horse you have just broken in or on one still learning these basics.
Just like people, horses take time to build their strength and muscles. Your horse should be strong enough to carry his head in a round frame for an extended period before introducing the running rein.
Make sure your horse is ready for the draw rein. If, for example, your horse can only keep his head in the right frame for a few seconds, then he might not be strong enough for the draw rein and might need a few more weeks of training.
Can you jump your horse in draw reins?
In short, yes, although they are not designed to be jumped with, showjumpers do sometimes jump in draw reins. Remember, the horse will need to be able to lift his head before the jump.
Horses should not be forced to jump with their heads at their knees. They should be allowed the freedom of the head and necks to get over the jump. Jumping in running reins should only be used by experienced riders with a soft hand.
Sometimes you see showjumpers run the running reins through the neck strap or martingale to keep them out of the way from the horse’s legs when jumping.
Jumping in running reins is safer when the jumps are small, and you are training over some small jumps for pace and control. However, I would recommend taking them off when jumping tracks or when the fences get a bit bigger.
Can you ride with draw reins in a show jumping competition?
No, as mentioned throughout this post, draw reins are used as a training aid and are not allowed in any show jumping competitions. In fact, they are pretty much banned in all competition riding across all disciplines.
Correct and incorrect way of using draw reins
As with most things, there are correct and incorrect ways of doing things. Beginner riders should not use draw reins, nor should they be used as a way to punish the horse or as a ‘quick fix” to something that will take time.
Correct way of using Draw Reins
Draw reins are there to assist your horse, and you do not want them to become dependent on them. It is a good idea not to use the draw rein on your horse every time you ride. Use them for a few days in a row, then take them off and see if your horse can hold his frame without them.
Your draw rein should never be tighter than your normal reins. Start with them loose and tighten them as you go along and then loosen them towards the end of your schooling session again. You want to guide them to the right position softly and loosen or back off with the draw rein when they “give” or soften off.
Reward your horse when he is doing it correctly so they can learn with positive reinforcement.
Incorrect way of using Draw Reins
Riding with a draw rein should never be used to haul in the horse’s neck and crank his head into his chest. They should also never be used to punish the horse. Draw reins have the potential to create just as many problems as you’re trying to fix and can do more harm than good if not used correctly.
Improper use of the draw rein can cause your horse to over-bend and sore in the back and neck. They can become shorter in their strides, and stiff on the forehand and behind the leg, and not travel forward over their backs. This usually happens when the running rein is made too tight without the rider releasing to the horse softening off.
Riders also need to have a strong supporting leg when training with running reins.
I have also seen people ride in only running reins without a primary rein attached to the bit! This is incorrect and should be avoided.
How to hold Draw reins?
There are a few different ways to hold draw reins. The best is to find a way that works best for you to be able to adjust the rein easily when needed.
I grew up holding my running reins between the ring and middle finger; that way, I can feel on which rein I have more pressure on.
Another way is when the snaffle rein is held as normal, and the running rein is held underneath the little finger and across the palm that is held in place on top of the snaffle rein by the rider’s thumb.
In conclusion and just to recap, draw reins, or running reins, are used by showjumpers as a training aid when riding on the flat to encourage the horse to work in a round frame and correct development of the muscles.
Draw reigns should also be used correctly, as they have the potential to create just as many problems as you’re trying to fix, and can do more harm than good if not used correctly.
Other posts in this series to check out:
Can You Show Jump in a Hackamore?
Can You Jump in a Bitless Bridle?