Reins on Halter vs. Bridle

I had a great inquiry from a reader about creating staff guideline for when to progress a student from having the reins clipped to the halter to having the reins on the bridle. We do not have such guidelines at our barn, but here is an example I just made up that might be appropriate.

Example Guidelines for Reins on Halter vs. Bridle

All riders should ride with the reins on the halter until they meet the requirements to progress to reins on the bridle. This is to protect our lesson horse’s mouths from harsh and untrained hands.

Requirements for riding with the reins on the bridle:

  1. Demonstrates the ability to pick up the reins softly, not pulling or jerking.
  2. Demonstrates correct arm posture.
    • Correct arm posture should be defined:
    • Wrists lie in a straight line with the upper arm, thumbs on top.
    • Arms hanging loosely at sides, relaxed in their shoulders, elbows and wrists.
  3. Demonstrates soft steady hands as the result of a balanced seat.
    • Soft steady hands should be defined:
    • Hands maintain soft contact with the halter through the reins and follows the horse’s motion by opening and closing the joints.
    • Hands do not jerk or pull on reins.
  4. Demonstrates correct use of direct, indirect, and open rein.
  5. Demonstrates ability to use rein aids by giving or taking the reins with the pinkie and ring finger.
  6. Demonstrates the ability to correctly adjust the reins.


You may also want to include:

  • A measurement for the above – 100% of the time?
  • Whether the requirements must be met at the walk, or at both the walk and trot.
  • Required equipment for riding with reins on the halter and bridle.
    • Example: When reins are on the halter, horses must still wear a bridle to signal they are working, and provide the option to progress to the bridle.
    • Example: When reins are on the halter, horses must wear a rope halter underneath to which the leader is attached, so the signals from the leader and rider are separated and less confusing to the horse.
    • Example: When reins are on the halter, horses may wear only a halter and no bridle, to keep from excessive bridling (which may aggravate horses).
    • I have seen it done all these ways at different barns!

Definition of soft hands from this article by Meredith Manor

For more info about how to develop steady hands, see this article by Meredith Manor!

Please comment!

Do you have related guidelines or some standard in your head? If so, please leave a comment so we all can learn, and help this reader out!

Also, I’ve love to hear what your halter/bridle equipment policy is!

Thank you!!


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

6 thoughts on “Reins on Halter vs. Bridle

  1. Love this blog!!
    We have a policy that reins are not used on a halter. A halter is not considered a piece of equipment that is used to control a horse by a rider. There is case law that supports this stance. Instead, we use sidepulls..I know, very similar…but it could make a big difference if you should find yourself in a legal situation..
    Keep up the awesome work!! What a great resource you have created for instructors!!

  2. We like to use a halter with reins attached until good position and rider balance are achieved.
    Love your articles. Please keep them coming !

  3. We start with a halter with reins, as they progress to good balance, soft hands and control of the reins, we unclip the halter and they ride with their leader walking beside them and the horse. The next step is the bitless bridle as they become more independent and are starting the sitting trot. The last step for us is using the bit when they are working on the posting trot. We have one rider that graduated from our program and is our “ponypal” that works our horses and is volunteering.

  4. Thanks all for your comments! I want to add that an instructor at my barn pointed out that if the rider has really heavy hands or flaps the reins a lot, to put the clip on reins up on the top rings of the halter (on the jaw) instead of down by the nose which can aggravate and confuse the horse more.

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