If your horse is running away with you, a pulley rein—where you brace one hand in his crest and pull back strongly with the other—is THE emergency stopping aid to stop a horse from bolting. But if you reserve the pulley rein for emergencies, you're missing out on one of the most effective riding tools for slowing (also known as "rating") or turning on course.
It's not necessarily a rein aid you're going to use very often, but when your horse gets too strong and fast in jumpers, a well-timed pulley rein is far more effective and less "combative" than hanging or seesawing. In fact, a pulley rein, done subtly, can even be a handy aid in hunters. I've certainly used it on a too-fresh hunter when I've come off a line and thought, "Wow! I have to slow down," but I don't want to lean back or pull left and right … which doesn't work anyway. I very discreetly tuck one hand down, give a good pull on the other rein to tone it down a bit, and as soon as I have a response, I let go and no one's the wiser.
Not All Pulley Reins Are Equal
There are subtle but important differences in the timing and technique for emergency stopping, slowing down and turning. In this article, I'll explain those differences and dig into the when, why and how of all three versions.
There is one BIG similarity, however. The mechanical advantage of a pulley rein depends on you remaining in two-point, light in your seat with a slightly closed hip angle. You would think just the opposite—that you'd be stronger and more effective sitting down on your pockets and leaning back. But a pulley rein is all about leverage, and that depends on real depth in your heel and a hip angle closed just enough to increase the downward push of the hand you're bracing in your horse's crest. Even though you're in two-point, he can't pull you out of the tack and he can't pull your arms forward until you've stopped him or rated his speed back down to what you want.
Got it? Great! Let's begin with …
The Emergency Stopping Aid
When to use it: Self-explanatory! Whether you're in the ring or on the trail, your horse takes off at a dead run.
Quick tip: The effectiveness and safety of this pulley rein—in which you turn or pull your horse to the outside—depends on quickly identifying where the outside is. In the arena, the outside is the rail, which you can use as a secondary physical barrier to help slow or stop him. On the trail, the outside is the direction away from slippery or dangerous footing, a roadway with cars rushing by or the edge of a cliff or steep hill—anything you want to avoid when your horse is even slightly out of control.
How to do it: Stay or get into two-point with your weight deep in your heels and a slightly closed hip angle. Plant the knuckles of your inside hand in your horse's crest just forward of the withers. Curl your hand by slightly cocking your wrist inward toward your forearm until you apply enough steady pressure on the rein to brace against it.
Now bring your outside hand back and up to between the middle and top of your rib cage to pull your horse's head slightly to the outside. Keep your horse's neck fairly straight, and only tip his nose to the outside. If you turn his neck too much, he may lose his balance and stumble or even fall. Maintain the firm contact on the inside rein and the up-and-back pull on the outside rein until he slows and stops.
The Slowing-Down Aid
When to use it: Anytime you're on course and your horse starts to get so strong or fast that you lose control over direction and speed, and so he's likely to put in a bad or dangerous jumping effort.
Quick tip: If you're like most people, you are stronger and more dexterous with one hand than the other. For this aid, the inside and outside of the emergency stop are less important than the hand with which you are most comfortable and proficient.
How to do it: Again, stay in two-point with your weight deep in your heels and a slightly closed hip angle. Plant your weaker, say, in this case, left hand in your horse's crest forward of the withers so you can lean against the rein and brace yourself. With your stronger right hand, pull back in a fairly direct rein action—not so much of the back-and-up movement in the emergency stop, especially in the hunters, where you want to keep it discreet and no higher than your hip.
You don't want absolutely equal pressure on both reins, but something pretty close to equal pressure so you keep your horse's head straight in front of him and don't pull it to the right. You don't want him to pull you out of the saddle and accelerate, but you DO want to continue on your chosen track and not turn.
As soon as you feel your horse slow down to the pace you want, soften the contact on both reins to reward him and tell him to not break gait or stop. How much to lighten? That's a judgment call depending on your horse's general tendency to lean or stay soft.