The Devil Is In The Side Reins

When I was a kid, my dad would take us up to my school’s baseball field, so he could practice throwing his curve ball. I stood in the batter’s box nervously waiting for him to pitch that curve ball from hell. I took every last nerve and ounce of courage for me to stay in that box while praying to every possible deity that the ball would curve and not hit me in the head or ribs. No offense to my dad, but he was no Clayton Kershaw. Sometimes I jumped out of the batter’s box and other times I stayed put facing that ball down until I either landed my bat on it or it whizzed by. (My dad’s curveball always did curve thank goodness!). This is what it’s like having horses at times…hoping that curve straightens out and goes over the plate rather than hits you head on.

At the beginning of summer, things began to go wrong with Dulce. Part of it was the death of Mojo. As I wrote in an earlier blog, he took it hard. Whenever we went on the trail he was fine, but if we went to the arena, which he used to love to do, he suddenly was miserable.

I am 100% sure he was trained in side reins. They are used quite a bit in horse racing and all horse disciplines due to the belief that it helps the horse get off the forehand and move their driving force to their hind end and gets the horse on the vertical. I listen to Simon Callahan on TVG praise their use quite a bit (for the record, I really like Callahan just disagree with him on this), and if you are in my presence, you hear me have a few words with him through the TV.

Imagine you are in a yoga class, and the instructor asks you to bend forward and touch your toes. Now imagine that the instructor puts his or her hand on your back after you get your hands down to your toes and says,”Okay, I’m going to keep you in this position for the next fifteen to thirty minutes, and I’m going to make you walk around like this.”

Horrified, you start to move around unable to get out of this position, and you notice that you are bringing your chin into your chest. The instructor praises you for your collection when in reality you are trying to figure out a way to escape the pain. At first you can walk on your legs, but your hamstrings and glutes begin to burn bad all the way down to your feet from the constant pull on all of the muscles and ligaments/tendons. What do you do to try and escape this? You lean on your hands trying to walk on them to give your legs a break.

This is basically the same thing that happens to a horse when they are in side/draw reins. Instead of trying to figure out why a horse won’t collect, they go to an easy solution; force them with the side reins. So what happens to the horse? First they move into an incorrect frame bending in a horribly painful way at the pole and in the neck to get behind the vertical to try and find some relief. You never want a horse behind the vertical. The nuchal and supraspinal ligament are constantly being pulled on. While this does cause the back to lift, the sacrum is incorrectly and painfully being pulled too far forward. The pelvis will tip and go flat causing a strong pull on the flexor muscles of the hindquarters. Thus, the hindquarters are pulled towards the back. This causes tension to build up in the ischium muscle, longissimus muscle of the back, and the gluteus medius.. The loin and the abdominal muscles are no longer able to raise the pelvis, thus the hindlegs can not step under. What this all means is that a correct and healthy collection for the horse is impossible to attain.

They then move on to their forehand putting a lot of stress on their chest and shoulder muscles causing the front legs to lose their ability to absorb shock. Why is that important? The muscles of the forelegs then lose their ability to bring the legs forward in a healthy way, and their tendons and ligaments can become injured or strained from the the inability to absorb the shock.

The world renowned equine physical therapist Helle Katrine Kleven writes in her book Physical Therapy for Horses:

“The cervical spine becomes kinked in a way that is physiologically unnatural, which causes tension and blockages in the small, deep muscles. This can cause irritation where the nerves leave the spinal column, as the incorrect positioning of the spine causes the spinal canal to become too narrow. Over time, this can lead to instability of the spine and/or calcifications on the ligaments as these are constantly overstretched. In addition, inflammation that eventually becomes calcification on the nuchal ligament can result.

“When the horse is ridden….nose behind the vertical, the rider is automatically locking the first cervical vertebra opposite the head. Therefore, a sideways longitudinal bend is no longer possible. The horse makes a compensatory movement, in that he turns his whole head between the 1st and 2nd cervical vertebrae when asked to turn.”

She goes on to say that the more the rider pulls and keeps the horse’s neck in hyperflexion, more of the vertebrae become locked, and the mobility of the horse’s spine is diminished.

Can you imagine how painful this is for a horse? There are some auxiliary reins like Vienna and Lauffer reins that can be helpful. I prefer in training to use none of these. I believe in working with the horse’s natural confirmation whatever that might be. That is just me.

Dulce and I were having great rides together on the trail and in the arena until one day I took him to the outdoor arena at the fairgrounds. That is the day that everything changed, and the curve ball hit me.

When I asked him to canter on a loose rein, he suddenly went into the stance of a horse in side reins. He nearly pulled me off of him and over his head his nose was so far down and behind the vertical along with being heavily on the forehand. I stopped him. Pet him. Talked to him. Walked him and when he was relaxed, asked again. He did it again. I thought I would try to ride him through it, but it got worse. He suddenly started to canter with his head sideways. We came to a stop. I got off, checked his bitless bridle. Everything was in the correct position. I hand walked him, longed him, and everything looked fine. I decided to try one more time.

We walked calmly, I gave his verbal cue, and again he went into a side rein stance, then the head went sideways, and he bucked. I got him to stop, hopped off, and this began a six month journey of healing for Dulce that I will begin to cover in the next two blogs, although he and I are still on it as we move back into training. It involves a lot of bodywork that I studied and took classes in and dentistry work all because of side reins that I am 100% sure he was trained in. Something happened that day that triggered him, and for the life of me I don’t know what.

Author: reenchantedOTTBS

I'm an artist, writer, and a lover of thoroughbreds. I was born and raised in horse racing, and now I wish to help rehome them, educate people about how fantastic they are, and show what they can do.

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