Updated: May 20, 2021
The inside leg to outside rein connection is a concept that is talked about hugely on social media. My god do you hear it mentioned a lot. I put it under the ‘magic’ category of terms which are talked about a lot on test sheets but rarely do we talk about how to actually get it or what it feels like to have it. A bit like ‘throughness’ or ‘connection’ or ‘engagement’. A lot of riders know their horse might need these things because the judge has put it on a test sheet a hundred times or their trainer has said it in conversation but achieving it can seem like trying to find the holy grail of dressage. It’s like a magical element that can make the difference between 60% and 70% but it seems unachievable, almost impossible to understand or achieve.
What's the problem?
If you were like me, when you learnt to ride you were taught the basic idea that if you wanted to turn left, you pulled with the left rein and if you wanted to turn right, you pulled with the right rein. I know now that this isn’t everyone’s experience and it massively depends on the coaches you had in the early days of your riding career but if you were taught like me, then problems start to occur when you start riding dressage tests, especially when we start thinking about accuracy, straightness, circles, corners and lateral movements!
Now ideally, on every circle and corner we want the horses whole body to bend around the circle with their head and neck following their direction of movement. But when we use just the inside rein to pull the horse we end up with a massive amount of neck bend and nearly 0 body bend. It looks on the ground like the horses neck is trying to do an 8m circle but the horses body is trying to go in a straight line.
In these posts, i am going to use photos of me as examples of both good and bad practice. Everyone will have issues they are working on with their riding and for me, the inside leg to outside rein, is something i always have to remind myself of - so i have plenty of example photos for you!
If you look at the image below, you can see that my inside rein is very distinctively pulling back, and i am giving my outside rein. The horse's neck looks like its aiming for a 10m circle but the horses body looks like it is aiming to go in a straight line. The result, you can see, is the horse falling through the outside shoulder and, i can tell you that the next movement was across the diagonal to V and (because he was falling through the shoulder) i massively overshot the line and ended up aiming for K instead.
What about when we start riding 15m or 10m circles? Generally, this will be the point where the rider notices the problem. The rider realises that they cannot control the size or shape of the circle and will feel like the horse is falling through the outside shoulder or falling in on their inside creating a feeling they are going round a circle like a motorbike leaning into a corner.
How can the inside leg to outside rein connection fix this?
We introduce the inside leg to outside rein concept.
So instead of using the rein to turn the horse we use the inside leg to create the bend. By using the inside leg this means that you are then able to create a whole body bend where the horse bends in their back and rib cage as well as their neck. This makes the horse lift their inside shoulder rather than dropping it and motorbiking round the corner. If you find your horse still falls onto the shoulder or keeps trying to make the circle smaller then you apply more inside leg. This makes your horse lift their inside shoulder and step sideways.
If we just used our inside leg we’d end up with a leg yield because we’d be creating a bend and a step away from our inside leg, our horse would keep stepping sideways until they met a wall or arena fence that would stop them. It’s the outside rein that stops the horse falling out through the outside shoulder and drifting to the track. Think of your outside rein as being an invisible wall. Your horse can’t push through that wall so he follows it round like a horse would follow the fence or the track.
It’s a great exercise when you ride a circle to imagine you have a wall on the outside of you. It subconsciously encourages you to use more outside rein and therefore stops your horse falling out and making the circle too big.
Here is another image. Same horse. Same Rider. But look at the hands. They are parallel. I am not using the inside rein to pull the horse round but his neck is still bent around the corner. This is because you can see my inside leg is on and i am creating a whole body bend rather than just a neck bend. I am using my outside rein to stop him falling to the outside and instead he is travelling forward and around the bend. The result is the horse looks like his whole body is going in the direction he's going and i am in full control over his body and direction of movement.
Horse drops inside shoulder and motorbikes around corners/tries to make the circle smaller = more inside leg.
Horse leans on outside shoulder and tries to drift to the outside and make the circle bigger = more outside rein.
What does the 'connection' part mean of 'inside leg to outside rein connection'
If you have the right amount of inside leg to create a bend in the body and a lift in the inside shoulder. And you have the right amount of outside rein to stop your horse falling out through the shoulder and drifting to the track. Then you have what we call inside leg to outside rein connection. Where your inside leg is creating the energy and your outside rein is catching that energy and stopping it from disappearing out the side door.
Why is it so important?
I understand that a lot of you might be thinking, to be honest, I use my hand to circle but I still get okay marks and it works for me. The reason why the inside leg to outside rein connection is so important in a dressage horses training is because it gives you far more control over your horses body so you are able to influence and control the size and shape of a circle and your horses positioning in corners, lateral movements, straight lines - basically everything!
In your wider training it makes the horse bend in his whole body, not just his neck which results in a horse that is supple through their whole body not just their neck. It also helps a horse to be more balanced and in better self carriage because they are holding themselves up rather than leaning on the rein. It strengthens the horse because they have to use their hind end to balance themselves and push themselves around the circle rather than being on the forehand or leaning on a shoulder. Also, when a horse comes to learn the lateral movements the idea of bending around the inside leg and stepping sideways away from the inside leg is what we use to teach a horse leg yield and shoulder in. The same as when you are riding a circle, if you find your horse falls or runs through the outside shoulder then you take up more outside rein, if you find that their hindquarters get left behind or they don’t bend enough or move sideways enough then you add more inside leg. A horse that already has a good inside leg to outside rein connection will find leg yields and shoulder ins so much easier to learn.
Convinced? Click here to read about an exercise that will teach you and your horse the inside leg to outside rein connection.
Jess Katy Active 23m ago