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no-graze reins for pony

From: Denise

Hi Jessica:

I have a young student learning to ride a green pony. Not ideal, I know, but the client is set on keeping the pony. The pony will occasionally try to pull (or push) the reins down and they come out of her grasp. If we are unable to work through it, I put on "no graze reins" and upon his attempt to pull (push) the reins down and out of her hands, he is stopped.

He is regularly given opportunities to stretch and relax his neck in an attempt to decrease his NEED for his nose on the ground. I think this is how it started, but once he realized he had control and could start walking towards his paddock, he now tries it for that reason.

She is learning quite quickly how to ride him without them, however, I am much more comfortable putting these reins on for part of or all of our lesson, depending on if he needs them. Some days he does, some days he doesn't. Do you think these reins are o.k.? I have never seen them before and don't want to use something that may inadvertently make the problem worse somehow. I don't like him getting away with unacceptable behaviors and these reins prevent me from getting on him and enable her to gain confidence by riding him all by herself and finishing her lessons. I ride him regularly on different days of the week and he is fine.

Thanks in advance for your comments. Denise :-)

Hi Denise! You're right, a green pony and a green rider are not a good combination, but since you seem to be stuck with them, I certainly understand why you want to do everything you can to help them get along. Since you're riding the pony too, your job is to keep his education at least one step ahead of his owner's, so that she can expect him to respond to the signals you teach her to give. It sounds to me as if you're doing this.

"No-graze" reins are very useful on the trail and in other situations - including this one - where the aim is to keep the rider from having to fight to yank a pony's head up when it has managed to get its nose all the way down to the grass. Even the sweetest, best-trained pony will occasionally be overcome by temptation, and will try to snatch a bite or two of grass, and as all riders know, it takes much more strength and effort to bring a pony's head up again than it does to keep it from dropping all the way to the ground in the first place.

"No-graze" reins, adjusted correctly, can help a great deal. "Adjusted correctly" means that the reins are fastened to the saddle dees and run up the horse's neck, through the browband and over the cheekpieces to the bit, with enough length provided to allow the pony to reach almost but not quite all the way to the ground. "No-graze" reins (also called "anti-grazing reins" or "grass reins") will act automatically: The pony can move its head and neck freely and comfortably at all gaits, and can reach forward and down easily, but if it should plunge its head toward the ground, it will not be able to reach the grass.

As you so wisely point out, this is a temporary measure: Your student won't need them forever. As she becomes a more proficient and sensitive rider, she will eventually learn how to feel her pony get ready to plunge its head to the ground, and will be able to close her hands tightly and sit deeply into the saddle. At that point, she won't need the "no-graze" reins, because she'll be able to stop the pony's action before it begins. But for now, she doesn't have the balance or the timing that would allow her to do this, and the "no-graze" reins can do it for her, thus preventing her from getting into a tug-of-war with her pony. This is a Good Thing. At this point in her riding, the "no-graze" reins will be much kinder than her own hands, because (a) whenever the pony plunges its head to the ground, it will meet the bit before it gets there, and (b) the pony will be able to get relief by lifting its head a few inches from the ground, and it will be able to get relief INSTANTLY, because there will be nobody PULLING on the reins.

Of all the gadgets available to young riders, this is, I think, one of the most useful, as it prevents them from getting in the habit of yanking and jerking at their ponies' mouths when those ponies reach for grass. "No-graze" reins can make the difference between a pleasant trail-ride and one that's miserable for both pony and child.

You sound like a good and sensible instructor, and I'm glad that you want to know about the equipment you use. Too many instructors just reach for any piece of equipment that will serve their immediate needs, without thinking about the long-term effect it will have on the horse or the rider, and without stopping to wonder whether they are dealing with the actual problem, or merely covering up a symptom. In the case of your little rider and her pony, the problem is twofold. First, both are green - but you are doing your best to change that. ;-) Second, ponies' necks are much stronger than little girls' arms and hands, and since the rider doesn't yet know how to prevent unwanted actions on the part of her pony, it's kinder to both of them to let the "no-graze" reins act quickly and clearly to tell the pony "No, you can't do that". This way, the pony won't get pulled about, and the rider won't get in the habit of pulling, and both can focus on the skills you are trying to teach them. Eventually you'll be able to put the reins away - at least until the rider's little sister wants to learn to ride the pony, and then it will be entirely appropriate to bring the "no-graze" reins out again. ;-)


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