Elastic-type rein additions are new to the lineup of gadgets to help us ride better. These products are designed to protect the horse from a poor rider’s hands and to give a rider a new feeling of feedback from the horse, helping the rider establish proper contact. Also, these products are said to help horses that are having difficulty accepting the bit and softening.
We tested three types to find out what differences they make when we ride and what differences there were among three brands: Rein Aids (Kim Keppick, LLC), Soft Corrections (Snap-Backs) and Soft Hands (Miller’s). Note: All of these products are rein additions, not actual reins themselves.
We tried these products on a wide variety of horses with riders from English disciplines at different levels. We jumped, did flatwork and rode cross-country in them and noted the riders’ reactions.
Beginner riders seemed to be more confident about taking a solid contact with these products. Instructors agreed that these products helped protect the horse’s mouth.
As a teaching aid, these products can help a beginner or intermediate rider who finds it difficult to understand “feel.” The devices allow these riders to get a new perception of the concept, and we found they did make the light bulb go on for some green riders when other teaching techniques had failed.
For training green horses, these devices are indeed gentler on the horse’s mouth and well accepted. However, our trainers caution that a really smart green horse can figure out how to decide when a give happens — instead of allowing a rider to choose when to soften the pressure on the reins.
Despite these devices seeming to have little give, our advanced riders on trained horses felt they interfered somewhat with their ability to obtain a soft, quiet feel of the horse’s mouth on their own. We did find these devices quite useful when longeing, especially with side reins that needed more give.
The Rein-Aid ($36) is made from brown or black leather and elastic with a ring on one end that the normal rein fastens to and a buckle on the other to fasten to the bit. It looks traditional and lengthens the rein by eight inches. The leather “loop” outside piece prevents the elastic from stretching too far and also helps protect the rider if the elastic has worn and breaks during a ride.
Rein-Aid felt solid, almost stiff, when we rode. We noted barely any give, and it produced little interference with the regular feel of the rein. Our riders especially liked these when they needed to lengthen their reins on a large horse. With use, the Rein-Aid did soften somewhat, as with other elastic devices.
Soft Corrections ($19.95) are made from stiff bungee-cord elastic. They have a swivel snap that connects to the bit and a ring for the rein. They’re colorful and are available in red, blue or black.
Soft Corrections were the stiffest of the three products we tested. Even adjusted normally, we found they had little give. (You can use Soft Corrections fastened straight, snapped to the bit and the rein for a softer feel, or you can double it, snapping it back to itself for a stronger feel. We only used them in the straight or normal position.) Soft Corrections did soften with use.
A few horses didn’t like the swivel snap, possibly due to its weight on the bit. Our test riders also blamed the swivel snap, saying it sometimes detracted from their feel. That same swivel snap, however, makes Soft Corrections versatile. They can also be used for longeing, tieing, cross-ties, trailer ties, driving and more, but we only tested them for this article as a rein addition.
Soft Hands ($12.95) are made from thin, black, rubber strapping with “W” shaped metal attachments on each end to slide onto the regular reins. A rein with Soft Hands was light and springy, although the extra weight at the end of the rein does provide a different feel. It can get a rider’s attention on his hands to change a habit in a non-traditional manner. One intermediate-level rider said Soft Hands gave him a real sense of the softness he had been trying to achieve but couldn’t. When he went back to regular reins, he had a new sensation to attempt to feel.
Soft Hands were easiest to stretch but the most difficult to place. You can become confused as to which goes where when you attach them to your reins.
We’re basically anti-gadget, rarely choosing a device over proper training or instruction. However, like with martingales or side reins, there are places where these gadgets may be the just right tool.
We find them a good choice for beginner riders, notoriously heavy-handed riders, or those struggling to understand what a soft feel of the horse means. We’d first reach for Soft Hands since it produced what we found to be the closest normal feel, with the give we are looking for, at a modest $12.95.
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• Rein-Aid, 800/773-4885
• Soft Corrections (Snap Backs), 888/933-2545
• Soft Hands (Miller’s), 800/526-6310