How to Put Reins on a Horse

If you want to be able to ride a horse, then knowing how to put on the reins is an essential skill that must be learned. Of course learning how to put reins on a horse is not a standard life skill that everyone needs to know, but it will help you to avoid embarrassment if a time comes when you do decide to take a ride down the trail.

Putting on the reins means being able to put on the bridle. This is the equipment you will be using to direct and lead the horse. There are leather or nylon straps that will go around the muzzle and head of the horse. You will also have the bit that the horse must accept into the mouth, which will sit behind the teeth. The reins will attach to the bit.

Here are the steps that you will want to follow.

#1a. Get the horse comfortable. 

An anxious horse is not going to accept the bit very well. You may need to tie the horse to a hitching post or keep them in their stable while beginning this process. Pet the horse for some added calm, being as confident as possible while you make your approach. If you’re nervous about putting reins on a horse, then the horse is going to be nervous about you. It helps to pet the horse on the muzzle as this will cause most horses to naturally lower their heads, making it easier to get the reins on. 

#1b. Inspect your equipment. 

Knowing how to put reins on a horse means being able to identify when your equipment is not suitable for use. Inspect the reins, the bridle, the bit, and any other equipment that you will be using. In leather reins, look for excessive cracking and fraying that indicate long-term wear. For nylon reins, look for fiber fraying, discoloration, and looseness within the material weave. Never use equipment that you feel could put you or the horse at a safety risk during a ride. 

#2. Put the bit into the mouth. 

The bit needs to be placed after the canine teeth in the horse’s mouth, but before the rear molars. This area is called “interdental space” and the bit will fit comfortably there. Encourage the horse to open its mouth by placing your thumb in this open space from the side of the mouth. Don’t worry – even if the horse tries to bite, there are no teeth there than can chomp you. Gently guide the bit over the front teeth, careful not to make contact with them, and allow the bit to sit where it is designed to work.

#3. Slide the bridle into place. 

Once you’ve successfully put the bit into its place, you’re ready to finish putting on the bridle. The crown of the bridle will slip up and over the head of the horse, going behind the ears. You should have a strap come across the forehead, just underneath the ears. If there is a harness on the horse, the bridle will go on top of it. Horses are very sensitive about their ears, so bring the bridle up and over them one ear at a time. You can fold the ears backward or forward for placement, but encourage ear movement gently.

A helpful tip: If you begin to slip the bridle up and over the ears and the horse is twitching the ears back and forth, this is generally an indication that the horse is either irritated with your actions or in distress for some reason. Before continuing, check to make sure the bit is placed properly and not bumping into any teeth. Check the tightness of the harness if it is on as well. If everything checks out, pet the horse on the muzzle once again to help establish some extra calmness before continuing.

 

#4. Attach the reins if they are not already in place. 

Once the bit is in place and the harness has been tightened, you’re ready to attach the reins. There are rings, holders, or other points of attachment that will be at the sides of the bit. Look for where the material of the bridle connects to the ends of the bit and then hook the reins into that spot. Then make one last check to make sure everything is in its proper place.

#5. Check on the tightness of the bridle. 

Horses respond to the pressure that you place on the bit through the reins. This is how you communicate to the horse that you want to speed up, slow down, or make a turn in a specific direction. There needs to be pressure placed at the point where the bit meets the harness with the reins, but you don’t want too much pressure. You can somewhat tell what the horse is experiencing by looking at home much mouth movement you receive with the bit in place.

A tighter bridle and bit is going to move upward in the interdental space, causing wrinkles near the mouth and muzzle. Look at the corner of the horse’s mouth. If there are no wrinkles in place, then the bit might be a little too loose. If you have more than two wrinkles there, then the bit might be a little too tight.

Tightness can equal discomfort. If the horse is twitchy, has more movement than normal, or you’re receiving a lot of ear action, then there’s a good chance that the bridle is not placed where the horse likes it. You may need to start over from step #1 to correct this situation.

#6. Finish getting the horse ready to ride. 

Now you’re ready to put on your saddle pad or blanket, the saddle itself, and whatever other equipment and tack that you might need for your ride. Loop the reins over the horn of the saddle once you have it in place so they don’t get dragged through the muck. Once everything is in place, you’re ready to hop into the saddle and enjoy a ride.

One more helpful tip: At this point, if your horse has been connected to a hitching post, you’ll want to disconnect. You can do this by removing the harness from underneath the bridle, though a better option is to leave the harness on and just remove the rope that connects the horse to the post.

Knowing how to put reins on a horse may be a fairly basic skill, but it is one that we all need to learn if we’re going to ride a horse. Follow these steps, be confident in your abilities, and you’ll be able to look like you’ve been doing this for years – even if it is your first time.