You have probably been told many times to ride your horse from your inside leg to the outside rein. But do you understand what it really means?

The rider’s inside leg creates bends and the power and push from the horse’s inside hind leg. The outside rein catches that energy, making it available to the rider to ask for lateral work, transitions, circles, and changes of direction.

Let’s clear up the concept of which is the “inside leg”. Many riders have been taught to define inside and outside by the location of the outside wall of the arena or schooling area fence.  There is even an old pony club saying “rise and fall with the leg on the wall” related to rising (or posting) trot so that you “rise” when the horse’s outside shoulder (leg) is forward. Following on with this definition, the rider’s inside leg is the one furthest from the wall.

Horse and rider in a correctly-aligned right bend ridden from inside (right) leg to outside (left) rein. (Anne Gage photo)

The reason for rising to the outside leg going forward is to help with the horse’s balance. This only works, however, when the horse has a true bend (i.e. is bent in the direction of travel – right bend on right rein; left bend on left rein). But how would inside and outside be defined when riding in an open space where there is nothing defining the outside of the area?

If we truly want to help with the horse’s balance, we need to define inside and outside based on the horse’s bend rather than the outside of the riding area. This definition is even more important when riding a horse on a circle, in a counterbend (bent opposite to the direction of travel), asking for transitions, or doing lateral work (e.g. leg yield, lateral work, etc.)

With this understanding of inside and outside based on the horse’s bend, it is the rider’s “inside” leg that creates and maintains the bend by asking the horse to move their rib cage away from the leg aid. The rider’s inside leg can also activate the horse’s inside hind leg to create impulsion or ask the horse to move laterally (as in a leg yield or sidepass).

How is it possible for the horse to understand which of those movements the rider is asking for from the inside leg aid? That’s where the outside aids – particularly the outside rein – comes in.

As the horse bends around (moves away from) the rider’s inside leg, the horse’s neck “fills up” the outside rein. The contact on the outside rein provides support and guidance:

  • controls the degree of the bend
  • prevents the horse from overbending through the neck and bulging through the outside shoulder
  • affects the energy created by the inside leg
  • rebalances the weight off the forehand (when applying half-halt)
  • adjusts the horse’s tempo and speed
  • adjusts the horse’s frame (lengthening or shortening).

Keys to Effectively Ride Inside Leg to Outside Rein

  1. Ideally your horse should be equally balanced between both reins and both legs and you should be able to use each leg and rein independently.
  2. Time the inside leg aid to work with the horse’s barrel as it naturally swings “out”. The barrel swings out of the way as each hind leg comes forward. So when you apply the leg aid in time with the swing of the barrel, the horse’s inside leg is off the ground and he can move away from your leg pressure.
  3. Without support on the outside rein, this horse has lost alignment, tipping his nose too far in, and is unbalanced through the turn. (Anne Gage photo)

    Keep your outside shoulder over your outside hip. Over-rotating the shoulders, bringing your outside shoulder forward, or taking back on the inside rein make you and your horse both crooked. The horse will overbend through his neck and bulge through his outside shoulder causing him to be unbalanced and unable to do what you are asking of him.

  4. Keep elastic contact on the inside rein, just enough to maintain the bend and prevent the horse from tipping his nose out. Avoid locking up your arm. Correct contact feels like holding someone’s hand – comfortable and just enough to feel the connection.
  5. Create the turn through corners or circles from the outside aids (rein and leg) not from the inside rein. Using the inside rein creates tension, imbalance, and resistance in the horse.
  6. Your outside leg may be either passive or active depending on the horse’s response and the desired movement. For example, in a lateral movement, the outside leg is passive to allow the horse to move over but becomes active to ask the horse for less lateral movement.
  7. Test your contact and feel on the outside rein by giving away your inside rein for a few steps on a circle. If your horse maintains the correct bend and continues on the correct line of the circle, then he is working correctly from your inside leg to your outside rein.

When your horse is working well from inside leg to outside, he is balanced, aligned and engaged with his hindquarters. Then turns, lateral work and transitions become easy.