What are side pull reins?
Side pulls are simply the reins used. The reins are attached to the rings on either side of the horse’s mouth. When both reins are pulled, pressure is put on the horse’s nose, lining up to stop or turn. Pulling on one rein tells the horse to turn its head in that direction—pulling the left rein tells the horse to turn left, and the right rein tells the horse to turn right. The simplest side pull looks and feels like a halter. In fact, many of us have used the “side pull” method of attaching lead ropes to the loops on either side of the nose strap of the sling.
Side pulls have different names. They might be called cavesson bridle, Indian hackamore, or Lindell. Many are named after their creators, such as Dr. Cook’s Reins.
Side pull reins are available in many different designs. Some may be made entirely of leather, while others are made of rope. On some side pulls, the nose pads can be very stiff straps (or several layers) of leather. There may be synthetic or metallic threads inside the leather for added stability. Some side-pull nose pads are made with one or two stiff noose cords. Pulling the knot on the bridge of the nose sideways increases the pressure when pulling on the reins. The wider the bridge of the nose, the less pressure, while the thinner bridge can increase the pressure. You’ll also find English and Western side pulls.
How do side pulls work?
Steering is usually straight on the reins, although you can do the neck reins with a side pull. When the reins are pulled back, pressure is placed on the bridge of the horse’s nose. When a rein is pulled, the horse’s nose/head is pulled in the direction of the rein. Depending on how they are designed, some side pulls may put pressure on the ballot or under the chin. Usually, you don’t get much contact while you ride.
Why use side pulls?
Many trainers start young horses by side pulling. This allows the horse to learn directional signals without exerting pressure on the sensitive mouth. Horses that are a little uncomfortable to carry handle side pulls well. Horses with dental problems, jaw deformities, or other facial injuries may be more comfortable than side pulling.
Horses whose riders are clumsy and cause pain and numbness in the horse’s mouth may respond well to side pulls if the rider learns to use the hands gently. Riders on the horse’s nose may find that the horse also becomes insensitive to the bridle that is out of position. Many behaviors (such as shaking your head, shaking, hesitating, and rooting) stop when you use a side pull.
Using a side pull on the trail makes it easier for the horse to snack and drink. There is no place for frostbite horses’ mouths in winter. School horses for riders with shaky hands may enjoy riding in side pulls.
How should the side pull work?
Side pulls fit like regular reins. The brow strap should be long (wide) enough that when you pull the reins to turn, the cheek portion of the reins doesn’t pull into the horse’s eye on the other side. The nose pads on the reins should fit about four fingers from the top of the horse’s mouth. You’ll want it to be tall enough that it doesn’t rest on the cartilage of the nose or the end of the nasal bone itself. The higher the position, the gentler the movement. If you need more “wow,” try adjusting the bridge of your nose so that it sits lower. The chin strap should be fastened so that the horse can still open its mouth comfortably, but not away, so it is dangling. We prefer the lightweight leather reins. If you purchase a specific type of pull, such as a Dr. Cook or Diane Thompson pull, you will get detailed rein installation instructions.
Other Types of Headless Reins
There are other types of headless reins, such as hackamores and bosals.