The Five Rein Aids: Introduction

Few standard treatises on riding include more than a rudimentary treatment of snaffle* rein aids, and those that do attempt to explain them do so either incompletely or incorrectly. Most tend to break the rein aids down into two types - direct and indirect – and leave it at that. However, this is incomplete; there are, in fact, five distinct rein effects possible with a snaffle, and each has variations and combinations, making the possibilities of their use and the precision of their guidance endless, but also increasing the occurrence of misunderstanding and inadvertent misuse.

In addition, these rein effects are not used in isolation, and no one rein aid, when used properly, accomplishes a complete movement of the horse, but must be combined with other rein, seat and/or leg aids. Then, for more advanced work, the curb is sometimes added, which has its own unique effect to be used alone or in conjunction with these snaffle (bradoon) aids. As if that were not complicated enough, the hands are always auxiliary and subordinate to the seat and leg aids, serving only to clarify, direct, contain and/or focus the energies created by the action of the leg and seat.

However, seat and leg aids will be considered another time. For the moment, we will focus on the use of the hands alone. As mentioned above, there are five classical rein effects for use with a snaffle (or any other bit or portion of a bit that does not have curb action.) These rein aids differ markedly from the overly simplistic five proposed by the likes of modern American horsemen Gordon Wright, George Morris and their followers, whose equestrian notions have inexplicably dominated the American hunter/jumper culture in recent years. No doubt there will be those who feel neither of these well-known horsemen may be challenged on any matter of equitation, but I intend to do just that, and hope to demonstrate convincingly why the classical aids are superior to the currently fashionable but misguided misinterpretations of Morris and his followers.


The five classical rein aids are as follows:

  • Direct Rein – also known as the “opening” or “leading” rein

  • Indirect Rein – also known as a “neck” or “bearing” rein

  • Indirect Rein Behind the Withers –also, the “indirect rein of opposition behind the withers”

  • Indirect Rein in Front of the Withers –also, the “indirect rein of opposition in front of the withers”

  • Direct Rein of Opposition – the rein commonly, but incorrectly, thought of as the ordinary “direct rein”


Compare with the Wright /Morris five:

  • Direct Rein (this refers to the “direct rein of opposition,” which is quite different than a simple direct rein and not a substitute for it)

o Vibrating Hand (pulling the bit side to side)

o Lifting Hand (a series of jerks upward)

  • Indirect Rein (here Wright/Morris lump both fore and aft reins into one, when in practice they have two completely dissimilar effects and are therefore separate, unrelated aids)

  • Leading or Opening Rein (here, the direct rein is treated as two separate aids, the “leading” for green horses and the “opening” for trained horses)

  • Neck Rein (again, an indirect rein with no opposition, given a new, less precise name)

  • Pulley Rein (a drastic form of direct rein of opposition, and not, in fact, a rein aid at all, but an emergency brake or means of abusing a horse that has not been properly trained or is out of control.)

*Note: while the rein aids above are typically applied with a snaffle or bradoon, they are equally effective with cavessons, hackamores and other bitless bridles, with the exception of the mechanical hackamore, which works like a curb. These rein aids work by influencing the positioning and balance of the horse, and are not dependent upon any particular action on the mouth. However, the snaffle does offer a greater degree of subtlety in that it can affect several different parts of the mouth depending upon bit choice and position of the hand.

This post originally appeared on the blog Glenshee Equestrian Centre at:

jm elliotttraining, rein aids