What Are Reins? Types Of Reins & What They’re Used For


Reins are a piece of riding and driving equipment that has been around for centuries. Riding with reins whether a bit has been in place or not is used in every riding discipline on nearly every domesticated horse. What are reins though and what are they made of? And are there different types of reins?

What Are Reins?

Reins are two pieces of material that attach to either side of the bit in most cases. Reins are used for steering and directing horses when they are being ridden or driven. There are different kinds of reins for different kinds of sports as well and specific reins used for English and western riding. Reins can be made from a variety of materials including leather, plastic, faux leather, rubber, nylon, paracord, and more. Reins are one of the most important pieces of equipment you could ever have for a horse and riding can be extremely difficult without them.

Reins Found In Western Riding

In western riding there are many styles of reins made out of different materials. They include:

Barrel Reins

In barrel racing, there are specific kinds of reins recommended being used. Oftentimes these reins are made from paracord or woven fabric and can come in bright colors. The tack used in barrel racing is often flashy and decorated so colorful reins aren’t uncommon.

Barrel reins are hardly ever split. This is because of the fast pace of the sport. Often, competitors in this sport hold the saddle horn when riding to better anchor them in the saddle so they don’t have two hands on the reins. Having both hands on the reins doesn’t allow one of the reins to fall so split reins work in other disciplines and sports, but because riders may only have one hand holding the reins and they are moving so fast, it is safer to have the reins connected. The last thing you want to happen is to drop one of your reins and have your horse step on it at the gallop.

Split Reins

Split reins are exactly what they sound they are. Split reins are reins that are divided into two different pieces so the rider needs to hold them both.

Sometimes, split reins are tied together to prevent the rider from losing one of their reins. This is really only seen outside the show ring as a knot isn’t very professional in appearance.

Split reins are seen in cutting, reining, western pleasure, and other sports in the western field of riding. Sometimes, when a horse is in training and are using a bozal or hackamore, split reins are used so a rider can hold their hands further outward to encourage a horse to drop its head.

Decorated Reins

Decorated reins are most common in western pleasure competitions. Usually decorated reins are made from leather while silver beads, embellishments, and bands adorn the ends of the reins. Sometimes a horse’s rein decorations will match the decorations on a horse’s bridle.

Paracord or Nylon Reins

Paracord reins are reins made from woven parachute cords. These reins, because of their colorful appearance, are typically used for barrel racing or children’s riding. They are also sometimes used in other rodeo sports including pole bending, goat tying, and mounted shooting.

These reins are popular not only because of their fun and colorful appearance but also because they last a long time. Paracord reins don’t need to be conditioned and cleaned like leather reins making them a fun and low-maintenance choice for reins.

Reins Found In English Riding

There are a great variety of reins used in different English sports. These reins are never split and always connected to make one rein. English reins can be seen made of nylon, rubber, leather, or faux leather. The different types of English riding include:

Rubber Reins

Rubber reins are common reins to see in eventing, racing and jumping. This is because they offer extra grip and handholds to the rider and help keep the rider’s hands steady. Often, rubber reins are seen with little stopper-like bands spread out along the length of the rein. These also help in giving the rider grip and keep their hands from slipping on the reins.

Rubber reins come in two styles usually. One way that rubber reins come is that they are made of nylon and just coated in rubber and carry added stoppers. It is these reins that are more commonly seen in disciplines outside of racing.

In racing, reins might connect to the bit by leather or nylon, but the jockey holds the reins where the rein is almost entirely rubber. These reins will flex and even if the jockey is holding the horse back, the horse can still extend their head and move freely.

Laced Reins

Laced reins are by far my favorite style of English reins on the market. The reason for this is the lacing offers continuous grip to the rider and doesn’t let their fingers slide.

A laced rein is basically a smooth rein that has a bunch of little holes punched into it. It is then that a thin piece of material, usually leather, is laced through all the little holes in a braid-like pattern offering the rider extra grip.

These reins are one of the most common types of English reins out there and are seen in jumping, dressage, racing, eventing, cross country, English pleasure, and even flat saddle riding.

Double Reins

Double reins can be any of the types of English reins mentioned, only two sets of them are used. Double reins are seen in flat saddle riding, dressage, and English pleasure. Some jumping horses require another rein to be used as well to let the rider have more control over their mount.

Double reins are most commonly used with a Pelham bit or double bridle as these bits have more rings intended for reins.

Smooth Reins

Smooth reins are another common form of English reins, but they are also one of the harder to use. Smooth reins can come in any of the materials that English reins come in. The reason that smooth reins are harder to use is that the rider has no additional grips added to the rein to help keep their hand in place. Smooth reins often slip through the rider’s hands and make it harder to control a headstrong horse.

Reins that are used for driving a horse and steering a horse pulling a cart or carriage are almost always smooth. This makes for an easier passage through the different loops and rings that the reins go through and prevents snags from occurring.

Reins with Stoppers

Some English reins have stoppers up near the bit that can be slid up or down depending on what is required. These stoppers are used to keep a martingale or other training device that is added to the reins from slipping over the buckle attached to the bit or stuck elsewhere near the horse’s mouth. The stoppers are just there as a safety measure to keep the martingale from trapping the horse’s head down.

Hailey Johnson

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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