Grasping the Two-Rein

Learn how to handle the combination of the mecate and bridle reins that has enhanced horse training since the vaqueros developed it into an art form.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

It has been more than two years since AQHA added the two-rein rig as an option in working cow horse classes. AQHA Professional Horseman Jimmy Stickler of San Luis Obispo, California, has taken full advantage of the accoutrement.

“I’m very happy with being able to show in the two-rein and think it is a great addition,” Jimmy says. “I hope people use the option as a training technique.”

Jimmy has used the two-rein as a training tool for some time and finds the traditional horse training rig helps finish better bridle horses and ultimately produces horses that anyone, including amateurs, can show successfully.

A Shining Spark stallion came into Jimmy’s barn as a green 7-year-old. The flashy American Quarter Horse was fluent in the hackamore but at an age that required he be shown in the bridle. Jimmy originally predicted the horse would not be ready to show until summer, but by grabbing an extra set of reins, he was doing well in the show pen by March.

“I just put the two-rein on him and started riding,” Jimmy says. “The two-rein keeps horses steering and light in the face and gets them into the bridle so much faster. If the two-rein is tradition, I want to keep tradition going; it helps me tremendously.”

Like Drunken Sailors

Most of Jimmy’s young bridle horses are schooled in the two-rein on a daily basis. Call the two-rein old fashioned or a lost art, it is a serious part of his program.

The hackamore teaches a horse to respond to outside rein pressure and is a first step in neck reining. The two-rein is the buffer that transitions a horse from the hackamore into a solid bridle horse. Jimmy starts by using the mecate reins attached to a small hackamore more than his bridle reins on greener horses.

Horses that were not exceptional hackamore horses often excel with the addition of a bridle, according to Jimmy. The trainer starts off steering the horse in many directions around the working area at varying speeds, maneuvering him around like a “drunken sailor,” until he responds to outside rein pressure as a conditioned reflex.

Discover more about the art of vaquero horse training. Dive into the history of vaquero training by downloading AQHA’s Vaquero Horse Training Tips Report.

“Once you get a horse to start looking away from that outside rein, then life becomes really easy when it is time to go down the fence,” Jimmy says. “We don’t have to handle straight reiners as much as cow horses. But, when you’ve got to pick your hand up and go right and left in a hurry, you’ve got to have that response - the response the two-rein teaches.”

Jimmy uses an outside leg to help the horse look into the turn in the direction he is traveling. Looking away from outside pressure, he says, keeps the horse looking toward where he is headed, not where he has been.

“I move him around, making him look away from my outside leg,” Jimmy explains. “I’ll use both legs to keep the horse squeezed up and going forward while I’m collecting him with my hands. At the same time, I want him to simultaneously move away and look away from that outside pressure.”

“When I’m going down the fence, I use the outside leg, not the cow-side leg,” Jimmy adds. “Hopefully that is going to kick his hip in and make him look at that cow even more.”

Keeping his hands close to the center of his saddle horn is crucial to Jimmy. He tries not to pull his hand beyond his hip when riding one-handed in the two-rein, incorporating both reins and constantly making sure the horse doesn’t cock his head toward the outside rein. When a horse responds to inside pressure, his nose will tip to the outside, which is not acceptable.

“I have to think of the future,” Jimmy says of his training. “There is probably going to be a non-pro riding these horses at some point in time. I get them as broke as I can to simplify things for the horse and amateur later on. The best results come from getting them through the hackamore and the two-rein before they step up to the bridle - the traditional route.”

Rein in Success

Most of Jimmy’s amateur clients show in reining or cow-horse bridle classes, so they are riding one-handed all the time. Because most amateurs tend to contract an occasional case of brain freeze when showing, Jimmy believes their horses “darn sure better know their job and respond when something happens.” Riders, he says, can also benefit from practicing and showing in a two-rein rig.

“When you put that many reins in non-pro hands, they can get a little overwhelmed,” Jimmy says. “It takes some getting used to, so you have to ride in it every day and practice with it. Getting that feel for knowing if you need more or less bridle rein as compared to the mecate is the experience that comes from being familiar with the two-rein.”

Now that you can grasp the two-rein, take on other elements of vaquero horse training. Download AQHA’s Vaquero Horse Training Tips Report to learn more about the traditions of vaquero training.

One of Jimmy’s pet peeves is people who school and warm up in a snaffle, correction bit or similar, then throw the two-rein rig on and head into the show pen. They do the same in the hackamore classes, appearing not to realize they have left their horse clueless.

“I don’t know if I’m old-fashioned or I just want more control,” Jimmy says shaking his head. “I want to know that my horse is broke to whatever I have on his head; I want to know that he knows what it means and what to do with it.”

Riding off the bridle reins as the two-rein flaps in the breeze does not sync with tradition either. Jimmy tries to keep the mecate and bridle reins playing equal roles when schooling at home or showing. The horse just shows better when he is used to the feel, he says. There may be an infrequent exception when schooling.

“When I’m schooling, I try not to do much different than showing, because in the long run, my goal is to get horses broke so anybody can ride them,” Jimmy says. “But one thing about the two-rein - when you need a little help - is being able to reach down with your free hand and take hold of the mecate. It can help get a horse looking into where he’s going a little.

“I try to stay away from that as much as possible, but on a young horse, doing that does teach them to look away from the pressure, because the hackamore teaches them that. It is a much better fix than trying to pull them around with bridle reins; you don’t want to be using that direct rein. But using my other hand isn’t something I do often.”

Jimmy likes to have a goal with a planned course of action when training horses and non-pros, which he says, “is not rocket science,” but it does involve spending some time.

“The two-rein is a big weapon in our arsenal; we just need to take advantage of it,” Jimmy says. “There has been a generation that basically skipped that part of the training process, and I was darn sure guilty of that. We got so intent on hurrying to get them broke that we kind of forgot about the horse. People want results from their dollars. But, if you can talk owners into taking time and doing things right, they’re going to be a lot happier riding their horse.”