Should I Use Side Reins for Lunging?

imageThere are a few equipment related things in the equestrian world that feel reaaaaaaaally mysterious to me. Probably because I have never used them! So instead of spooking at them like a pony, I will face them head on with my thumbs, tools, and human brain.

Side reins! Draw reins! German Martingales! Oh My!


Made this gif from the Official Pessoa Training Aid video found on youtube. Pretty horse!

Today, we are going to mostly focus on side reins and save the rest for another post, because I have no plans at all to use draw reins or German martingales or anything like that any time soon or possibly ever. But, it’s good to know about stuff! There’s nothing about horses that I don’t want to know about. I want to know all the things!!!!!!! (every time I say that, a potential friendship with a normal person probably dies….)

I  have been told that side reins are kind of “the next step,” and I am considering trying them out. However! “The next step” is the worst reason I’ve ever heard to do something. Naturally, I’ve been weighing my options (obsessively), and have sought approval from trainer-bestie. I would really love some feedback on how they’ve worked for other people. Basically everyone I respect says they’re great, but to not go overboard. I think I can handle that. I am kind of the world’s most conservative pony trainer. <— not an official title, just my hobby. 

This is probably going to end up being a before and after post, and I am really excited to let you know what I decide and/or how it goes!

chicken gif.gif

And here’s the weird chicken gif from

Some people seem really desperate to express to others how side reins are the devil. Horse in their “Why we don’t use side reins on horses” article even went as far as to use this (sort of creepy, sterile looking?) gif of chickens bobbing to deter horse people from using side reins.

The positive literature out there explains that side reins are used for building and warming up the topline, getting them to accept contact, and basically riding from the ground. That seems incredibly useful to me.

I like doing in person research the best. I inquired with a former fourth level dressage rider friend and asked for a lesson in side reins. She graciously offered to let me watch her horses be lunged in side reins and taught as she demonstrated. So wonderful of her!!! She explained to me how and why we use them and best of all described what I’m supposed to be looking for. Her horse looked soft, responsive, round, and mentally relaxed. She sent them over ground poles and asked for all gaits. She gave me some useful tips like how loose the side reins should be when you first put them on your horse, and what setting she uses for her horses that have been doing this for years. She also said some horses warm up their muscles better at he canter, and that sometimes she even lets her horses pick their own speed for the first 5-7 minutes of the lunge before she starts asking them for anything. I found that letting the horse stretch at the canter can be really helpful, actually! Although I’m sure it depends on the equine.


As a last precaution, I decided to call up my local tack store to get the scoop from a dedicated horse trainer who uses side reins all the time.

Here’s what she explained, and I don’t know this person, so I won’t quote them directly, but I will summarize for you, here:

Draw reins are lousy unless you use them with normal reins. Otherwise they just pull and pull and pull.

There’s a bunch of options out there like taking extra long reins and running them between your horse’s legs and over his back. Whoa!


Here’s what a pretty pony err, German Martingale looks like from

There’s a german martingale, which I honestly had sort of forgotten existed. And I am still confused about that one. She apparently uses hers a lot.

This lady lunges her horses in side reins every time before she gets on. sometimes 5 minutes, other times 30 minutes.


This is my super helpful drawing for you about different types of side reins. Enjoy! 😉

It doesn’t really matter if you use elastic, no elastic, or rubber donuts. You really can’t mess up side reins, according to her – SOCRE! One point for Gryffindor!

You never graduate a horse out of side reins. It’s just what you will use forever.

She did confirm that side reins help the horse keep its head low (she’s a western rider) and lift up its back. She said you really don’t want your horse running around all hollow – of course. And that it will help the horse with self carriage and contact.

And she also said that some horses are smarter than others so they’ll learn at different paces.


I forgot how cute this halter looked on Comfort! 

So all in all, I think it’s very safe for me to at least try out side reins and see what Comofrt and I think! I look forward to trying them out at least once and updating this post with my thoughts and findings!






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