Holding the 2 Rein

Holding the 2 Rein

I get a lot of questions about how to hold the 2-rein outfit. There are a few different ways, so I’m going to go over each.

The great thing about the year spent in the 2 rein (during which you can also show your horse straight up in the bridle) is that’s it’s legal to put your fingers between the reins! I used to show my horses in both the 2 rein class and the open bridle on the same day so I could school in one and show in the other. 

Here’s a photo of the easiest way. In this, you hold everything together in one hand. However, when you do this, you don’t take advantage of using your fingers between the reins. 

This one is my favorite. You put one finger between each of the 4 reins and then turn your thumb up. 

Some folks like to have the romal reins come up through their palm from the bottom up as if you were straight up in the bridle and the mecate reins would be held going from top to bottom. 

Here’s a photo of putting your fingers in a position to help guide your horse as needed. 

It’s a lot to manage, but hopefully, this is helpful!


Two exercises to help spin

Two exercises to help spin

Here are 2 of my favorite ways to tune up a spin other than the fence drill that I’ve posted before.

The first is to build cadence and increase speed.

Start with a bridled up trot in a small circle. Drive your horses hindquarters up underneath them as far as you can. When you have a good cadence on a small circle, softly close your outside rein on his neck and press him with your outside leg. Try to keep the same rhythm, speed and cadence.

I have a metronome in my head going “step-step-step” while I trot and then try to keep that same beat while I spin.

Then come right back up onto the same circle briskly trotting with no loss of cadence.

Then you’re ready go into the spin again for a few beats, then come up trotting. Do this several times then give your horse a rest.

It’s pretty hard work for them, so build into it gradually. Sorry the videos are so short, but I can’t seem to be able to send them from my phone if they’re any longer. I’m open to some techy suggestions though!


The second exercise helps get a horse’s head lower and positions him with a very rounded back and little resistance in the face, he can step around more easily and with more speed and accuracy, 

Bridle him up and drive his hindquarters up underneath him. Spread your hands wide and low evenly on either side of his neck staying forward in your saddle. Hold your reins pretty tight, trapping him, and keeping him relatively straight with just a little bit of nose tipped to the inside of the spin, start bumping him with your outside leg.

That’s really the only cue you’ll use to start the spin. Keep increasing the intensity of your leg bumping until he starts to turn.

Let him catch a rhythm for a few steps, then step right back out on the circle and walk or jog for a bit in the small circle, then try again.  

This exercise usually takes a couple of days to see improvement as your forcing him to turn with his body in a much more collected frame.

It will shorten his wheelbase and get his head dropped down along with less resistance in his face, should make for a cleaner, steppier spin.


Are You Excited or Scared?

Are You Excited or Scared?

Sometimes the feelings of being scared and excited can elicit the same physical response in our bodies.

When new challenges and opportunities show up in our riding lives, we may think we are feeling scared when what we really feel is excited. We might not have been taught how to welcome the thrill of a new opportunity, so we back off, feeling anxiety instead of awakening our courage to take on a new challenge.

The butterflies in our stomach or a rapidly beating heart are not necessarily a sign that we are afraid. Those very same feelings can be translated into excitement, curiosity, and passion.

There is nothing wrong with being afraid as long as we do not let it stop us from doing the things that excite us.

Most of us assume that brave people are fearless, but the truth is that they are simply more comfortable with fear because they face it on a regular basis. The more we do this, the more we feel excitement in the face of challenges rather than anxiety. The more we cultivate our ability to move forward instead of backing off, the more we trust ourselves to be able to handle the new opportunity, whether it’s going to a show, riding a colt for the first time or going down the fence.

When we feel our fear, we can remind ourselves that maybe we are actually excited. We can assure ourselves that this opportunity has come our way because we are meant to take it.

Framing things just a little differently can shift our mental state from one of resistance to one of openness. We can practice this new way of seeing things by saying aloud: I am really excited showing this horse for the first time! I am excited to go down the fence! Or, I am excited to have the opportunity to do something I have never done before.

As we do this, we will feel our energy shift from fear, which paralyzes, to excitement, which helps us direct that energy into growing and learning. Soon you’ll find yourself saying, “I can’t wait to go in the show pen and show my horse!”

Try it!


One layer at a time

One layer at a time

Training a horse is like painting a car.

You’ve probably seen one of those incredible “show car” paint jobs – where the smooth, rich color looks as if it’s 10 feet deep.

Here’s how that’s done:

After the foundation is perfect, with all the blemishes filled with lead and sanded smooth, the painter applies a primer, which he also sands until it’s perfectly smooth.


Then comes the first color coat. After that’s dry, the painter will sand it until it’s almost entirely gone; just a few molecules of color remain.

Then he applies the second color coat, lets it dry, and sands it until just a blush of color remains.

He’ll do this 20 or more times, building up the color just a few molecules at a time, over a period of many days, until it’s as clear and as deep as an alpine lake.

Well-broke horses are made the same way.


The “Whoa Back”

The “Whoa Back”

In this exercise, you stop your horse, ask him to further soften to your hands, then back him up several times in succession in response to “whoa.” In this way, the idea that “whoa” means no forward motion is reinforced, plus he learns to get off the bit the moment you slowly take the slack out of the reins, and to be backing before the reins come tight, without raising his head or locking his jaw. 

Below my horse is showing a lot of resistance at first, then he starts to soften and engage his whole body. It should feel effortless.

You’re teaching all this through the repeated backing-up instead of repeated stopping. As a result, this is a terrific exercise for improving your horse’s stop without putting a lot of extra wear and tear on his hocks. It’s also something you can go back to when you begin to add speed if your horse starts to brace, as the Whoa-Back is a great way to soften him up. 

Here’s how: Start this exercise at an easy lope. Before you ask for the stop, make sure your horse isn’t just “motoring on”; in other words, he should have “at least one ear on you” (meaning he’s paying you some of his attention). Also, make sure he’s traveling straight and “in the box”—not leaning to one side or the other, or pushing on the reins.     

Then, sit down, and say “Whoa.” When your horse stops, back him off your hands a little more assertively than you have up to this point. To do this, hold your hands softly but firmly at belt level with enough pressure on them to keep him from going forward as you bump with both your legs to get him to come off the bit (i.e., you want him to rock back, pick his shoulders up, keep his head down, and stay soft in your hands). If he resists coming off the bit, up the ante by bumping more insistently with both legs in neutral position until he does, but not pulling harder. 

Once he softens, back him up briskly and steadily until he feels as if he’s “getting back” (moving his feet more quickly) instead of just backing up. When he does, release all pressure and let him stand quietly for a moment. Then, without going forward, say “Whoa” again, take the slack out of the reins, and make him “get back” again. At this point, it’s important not to pull more or harder to get him to resume backing up; use your legs as necessary to drive him into the “wall” made by your hands, which then cause him to go back.

When he’s backing up as if he’s going somewhere (other than to a funeral, that is), let him stop and rest again. Keep going like this—backing, then resting—all the way across the arena if need be to get him responding willingly and lightly. Then pick up the lope and start again from the beginning. 

Once he’s responding willingly at an easy lope, begin to speed him up. Be sure as you do, however, that you also increase his collection by using your legs in neutral position to push him into the bridle. He needs to drive from behind, rather than just “colt lope” on his front end. If he pulls the reins right out of your hands when you ask him to stop, he’s falling onto his front end—the result of not enough collection.

He’ll start to read your body better and softly be backing before all the slack comes out of your reins. It will feel effortless and resistant free. That’s a good time to go take a trail ride and try it out under different circumstances.

Let me know how it works for you!