Monday, January 8, 2018

Riding One Handed in a Snaffle Bit

Suzanne wrote to ask about my friends, ".............. who are more experienced riders than me all ride one handed and tell me that I need to learn how to ride with one hand as opposed to two hands on the rein. I am using a snaffle bit and I am also told that I need to get a different bit so I can ride one handed. So my questions are where to go (what bit) from riding with two hands on a regular snaffle bit? By the way I use a loop reins and I really don't want to use separated reins. Thanks for any suggestions. Blessings, Suzanne." Linda and Abel also wrote in with much of the same question - where to go after a horse moves well off a direct rein.

That's a good question Suzanne. While the snaffle bit is really designed to be ridden with two hands I would not necessarily say that you can't ride one handed in this and depending on what you are doing, say trail riding, you may even now be riding one handed some or most of the time. In fact, it's going to be necessary to ride one handed in a snaffle bit at times when you need your other hand free such as opening a gate, scratching your ear, pulling your hat down on your head, and checking your phone as everyone seems to be doing these days. Another reason to be able to ride one handed, which became apparent to me recently, is that you may have an injured arm. After I started this reply, I was helping brand cattle and we had a mechanical problem with the squeeze chute which required a partial disassembly to release the over 1,000 pound bred back Red Angus momma. A miscommunication between me (out in front of the chute, heading to a gate to get a tool) and the person operating the squeeze chute led to the release of the side panel. She had been in the chute for 20 minutes and was mad as hell (which, let me assure you, is an understatement). When she cleared the chute, I was the nearest target. Getting repeatedly slammed into the corner of a pen, bruised me up on the ribs and back some, but re-aggravated an old injury to my left arm and elbow, which made riding one handed in a hackamore necessary the next few days.  Sure glad my hackamore horse work okay on neck reins and leg cues.   

I have heard the perception that riding with two hands is for beginners (in fact some people derisively call it plow reining) and riding one handed shows a more experienced, capable rider, but this is simply not true. It's how you use your hands, not the fact that you are using both of them. In fact, if you are roping a calf and tying off, the thought may cross your mind that it would be nice to have three hands.

Even with one piece loop reins and a snaffle bit, you can get your horse to neck rein. The bit becomes much less to do with neck reining as the horse learns to turn his head and neck from the pressure or weight of the rein on his neck. Horse hair reins, which have a prickly feeling so the horse can learn that feel early on in neck reining training, are traditionally used. But your leather or rope reins will work. I ride in a parachute cord mecate which is like what you are calling loop reins - others call them roper reins. The mecate is a continuous rein, normally 22 feet in length although I have used slightly shorter one. The mecate reins begin on the right side of the snaffle bit, usually connected to the bit by a slobber strap, then looping over the horse's neck then running through the left side of the snaffle bit or bosal (again through a slobber strap) and using the excess portion of the mecate to be a lead rope that can be tied to the saddle or tucked into your belt for a quick release, giving the rider a lead rope when they dismount. You can see the slobber strap and how a mecate is rigged in the photos below.

Some rider's don't want the excess rope of the mecate so an 8 or 9 foot loop or roping rein is attached via slobber straps to the snaffle bit. Works the same for the rider, you just don't have a lead rope if you dismount nor the excess rope to worry about.

Anyway, you can ride with a direct rein one handed in the snaffle bit or bosal. The thing to watch out for is not to activate or make the in-active rein taunt otherwise the horse will perceive conflicting signals. This would be evident as the horse slows his momentum or stops and his head normally comes up seeking a release from the pressure. Once you are comfortable manipulating the reins with one hand to use a direct rein, you can start getting him sacked out on neck reining.

Most horses can understand the ask of neck reining within short order and get functional at it quickly. The place to start is to place the rein on his neck (it has to be loose and not in contact with his mouth or nose if you are riding in a bosal), then ask for a change of direction, a tip of his head with the direct rein. In  Figure 1 above I am placing the outside rein (the rein opposite of the direction you are turning) on the neck. Again the rein is slack enough so it doesn't pull on the snaffle bit. If I think it will help a horse, I'll actually have my fingers pushing the rein on the neck.

In figure 2, I am exaggerating a direct rein in the direction I want to turn. You can see the horse's left front foot moved a little to the right feeling the neck rein. In Figure 3 below, the horse stepped to the inside with his right front and the photo shows the left front stepping across. At this point in introducing neck reining, I am not using any leg pressure or cues. So again the sequence is the neck rein, then direct rein. Be sure to release both when the horse shows some understanding (a weight transfer or better yet a step to the inside - the direction you want to turn). Give him a pause, then build on that.

In the beginning, don't be too concerned about having your hand with the neck rein across the horse's neck - but do be watchful that you are not using the neck rein to pull the head over because it will unbalance you to some degree, and if you do this, you will likely make that neck rein taunt and give the horse a confusing signal. So you are likely going to exaggerate to make the signal clear, then you can refine your signals as you go.

Once you and your horse are good with this, both standing still and at the walk and trot, then you can add a leg cue to re-enforce the neck rein. You will find that it will increase the promptness or sharpness of the turn of direction. You need to be able to control your horse's front end, barrel and back end with your legs anyway, so this will be a tool you will practically always use. Use your outside leg - the same leg as the neck rein - to apply pressure with your calf or toe to the horse's barrel at the front cinch or just forward of that, ....just like you would if you were asking your horse to move his front end over, or continuously moving his front end over for a turn on the hocks.

Now you should be able to start using the reins one handed with the neck rein and the leg cue in support, to move him in the opposite direction.

I ride two handed with a loop in the reins held by one hand (in my left hand in Figure 4 below), and the other hand holding the rein on the other side. If I want to switch to one hand, I bring one hand to the other transferring control of both sides of the rein to one hand (see the arrow in Figure 4) and dropping the loop. Then I have control of the reins in a single hand (Figure 5).

Many of the best horseman will ride mecate reins one handed always with a loop in the reins to hold the excess. I'm not one of them, so I pretty much have to hold the reins one handed, as described and shown above, to keep myself out of trouble. Just by sitting on the horse and not moving, you can manipulate the reins back and forth, figuring out what works for you, and getting handy at it. So really, my advice is just get on your horse, practice manipulating the reins and transferring control from two hands to one hand and back; then experiment with a neck rein - remember the neck rein then direct direct in that order - exaggerate in the beginning and reward the slightest understanding shown by the horse with a release and pause; progress next by using the outside leg with the neck rein; then I think you'll b able to ride on handed using the neck rein and leg cue to turn your horse.

If you plan on working gates, it will pay off to be able to use a leg cue to move the horse's back end, disengaging the back end.  You are likely doing this now.  Controlling all parts of the horse, and being able to do that one step at a time will help you position up on a gate and be safe about it.  And lastly, before anyone leaves a comment about it below - I don't think I'm as fat as the photo tends to relate, but then again I sure do like my ice cream.  Good luck, safe journey.   

No comments:

Post a Comment