The How And Why Of Bridging The Reins

When teaching my beginner jump student one day, her horse was becoming a bit strong over fences. Though she was sufficiently capable of handling him, she was slightly concerned as she suffered muscle weakness in one arm from an old injury. That weakness sometimes prevented her from maintaining consistent contact on both reins when she grew fatigued.

It was then that I recalled a technique that my old jumper trainer had taught me when I was a junior rider retraining an ex-racehorse–bridging my reins. Bridging my reins had then become a subconscious effort whenever I was on a spooky horse or a strong mount that pulled over fences. By bridging my reins, I had greater security and consistent contact. My hands didn’t grow harder, but they had a backup now. And the technique allowed me to maintain greater control over the position of the horse.

To bridge your reins, you hold them as you would normally but then turn your hands slightly to face thumbs briefly as you adjust your reins to the bridge. As the rein passes through your thumb and finger, it now goes across your horse’s neck to the other hand, where it also goes through your thumb and finger. Doing so on both reins now allows for a bridge. Then return your hands to the normal position while maintaining the bridge.

Bridging the reins gives the rider a bit more security with horses that try to pull the reins from their hands. A common technique used by those riding very forward cross country, bridging the reins also helps riders who have the bad habit of opening their fingers and allowing the reins to slip through their fingers or who are often losing contact for whatever reason. It helps the rider regain the contact without too much fuss and does not restrict the horse. It also helps riders consistently maintain contact when they are learning how to judge contact and when to fix it. Additionally, bridging the rein helps beginner riders maintain awareness of where one hand is in relation to the other; the technique assists in keeping the correct spacing between hands as well as keeping them from being held too high.

Riders who fuss too much with their reins can benefit from the technique as well as fussy horses who are affected by inconsistent contact.

Reins can also be bridged to just one hand so that you can ride single handedly over jumps. Doing so helps the rider maintain her own balance and helps keep her from leaning on the horse’s neck. It also helps in exercises for building independent aids, such as jumping with one hand out to the side. To bridge the reins to the single hand, hold the outside rein normally as you would, then place your inside rein over the top of the outside.

Bridging the reins is a good technique to try when you need more security or when you need to work on maintaining your hands as independent aids.