Horse Training in the Two-Rein

This rig eases a horse into a spade bit and ensures that he is comfortable.

Traditionally, working cow horses are first trained in a hackamore, then a two-rein and are considered finished horse when they are “in the bridle.” In the two-rein, the horse is ridden with the hackamore, but under the hackamore is a full bridle with a curb bit, usually a spade or half-breed. As the horse gains experience, the reins to the hackamore are used less and those to the bridle more.

It’s a time-honored way of doing things, and AQHA Professional Horseman Benny Guitron of Merced, California, says that horses must learn to be supple, light and responsive in the hackamore. He makes sure his horses excel in the hackamore while being ridden one-handed before he introduces them to the bridle via the two-rein.

“The best mount you’ll ever ride is the finished bridle horse,” Benny says. “If you’re going to follow the traditional way of bridling and training a horse – going from the hackamore to two-rein to the open bridle horse – you start off two-handed. Before you get ready to start bridling a hackamore horse, he needs to understand what is being asked of him one-handed.”

Once the future bridle horse has been fitted comfortably into a two-rein rig, he is ready to continue training toward a career as a spade-bit veteran.

Sweeten the Pot

Before mounting, Benny spends time “reading the horse” as he walks him around. He is watching and listening for the horse to begin playing with the bit and rolling the cricket, signs the horse is comfortable with the new headgear.

“If I don’t perceive this horse starting to accept the bridle and playing with his tongue, moving it up and down, then I might put a little honey on the bridle,” Benny says. “I’ve also wrapped the bars (of the bit) with a little gauze and put some spices – anything to cause the horse to use his mouth. You need the horse to play with the bit before you start doing too much with him, or he might never learn to get comfortable with it.”

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Benny avoids leading the horse by the bridle reins because it can cause the bit to flip up, creating a sore mouth. Instead, he runs the reins evenly through the gullet of the saddle and secures them with a half hitch at a reasonable length. The tail of the mecate is tied to the saddle, unless he is leading the horse. These early precautions are important, according to Benny.

“The start is so important, because it is the foundation that you’re going to build from,” he says. “A horse is young once and is old the rest of his life. The bridle is probably going to be the last piece of equipment you’ll use on him. He has to respect it, but make him like it.”

Mount Up

In the early stages of riding with the two-rein, Benny keeps a tad more tension on the hackamore than the bridle. If the horse will give the nose enough to place his head perpendicular to the ground, Benny says, those earlier one-handed lessons will be recalled, and he’ll respond to a neck rein.

“It takes consistency, time and patience to make things work,” Benny offers, walking his horse in a circle. “Pretty soon, you can see the corner of his eye, which is plenty of lateral movement, as long as he is moving off that outside rein.

“If he doesn’t respond,” Benny adds, “I might move my hand up a little farther (up the neck toward the poll), using that hair rope to tickle the side of his neck, and make him fall away. When I get a little response, I quit.”

Benny might not progress faster than a walk at first, but he meanders around like a snake, with no particular pattern. As the horse is becoming slowly acquainted with the

two-rein, he is learning to consistently fall away from pressure on his neck. If a horse were trained to a pattern, Benny says, he’d get bored and not really be trained, only broke to a routine.

In the early days of schooling in the two-rein, Benny keeps the chin strap fairly loose and rides more off the hackamore than the bit. As the horse adapts to the bridle, Benny can tighten the curb for a quicker response and depend on his reins more while keeping the hackamore as a backup. He will not ask the horse to do daily maneuvers until the mouth is primed.

“Once the horse is comfortable, playing with the bit, he’s telling me he’s ready to go to work,” Benny says. “It doesn’t hurt to go slow; there is always mañana.”

Should a horse act tense or confused, Benny won’t bit him up in a stall, because “he learns to lay into pressure, causing his mouth to go numb to his feet.”

He explains: “If his feet are moving, he’ll have a very light mouth.

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“Checking him up tight, putting his face down in an uncomfortable position, gets a horse’s neck muscles sore. Then he acquaints giving to pressure with pain. If it hurts, why would he give?”

Over time, if a horse starts lugging into the bridle, Benny might revert back to schooling solely off the hackamore – one-handed, of course, so it relates to the two-rein. He might remind the horse to pay attention and listen to the hand with a little tug now and again, but never steady pressure.

“The two-rein is an aid to preserve the mouth so you don’t get in the habit of riding around with a rein in each hand, hauling on the horse’s mouth, making him give by being severe with your hands,” Benny says. “Teach him to come off your hands because they are light, so you can pull and get a response from the head.”

All the little considerations are one reason it takes so much time to finish a bridle horse, Benny says. Spend time observing and listening to the horse – make sure he is comfortable with his two-rein set up. Keep him respecting pressure. All those little things add up to big things in the end.

“Our forefathers made it possible for us to continue upgrading our livestock, and we’ve bred such a great horse, such a great athlete,” Benny says of the American Quarter Horse. “It’s important we give these horses the opportunity they deserve. They are smart, sensitive, and it viagra really doesn’t take that much – just give them the time.”

Benny appreciates the perfect bridle horse as the ultimate, “the end all,” the end game.