Free Lesson - Effective Light Rein Aids and the Wish Bone Game

The Wish Bone Game: wishboneI want to share my memories about the Wish Bone Game that most of us in the United States have played on Thanksgiving. This game has many lessons to help guide you in how to use light rein aids. The game is played by making a wish on the furcula bone of a turkey, which is commonly called the wish bone. The game is played with two people. Each person takes one end of the wish bone, at the tip, and makes a wish.  Then when both players are ready they then pull it apart. The one that gets the bigger half of the bone has their wish come true.

Here is a video to show you the wish bone game:


I have no recollection of the wishes that I made over the years, but I do remember how I evolved in my attitude towards playing the game. At first when I played the game I thought that wining was determined by fate. So I just pulled. Therefore, I played no part in the results; just like how we first learned to use the reins when we ask a horse to stop, in the beginning we just pull.

Then as I grew older I started helping fate along in my favor by the way I held the wish bone in relationship to my partner. I think this is a normal process that we all have experienced. Bit my bit I learned how to win at this game. As time went on it became harder to win because my partners caught on to the fact that it was a leverage game too. Then the game turned into a tug of war, causing us to dance around the kitchen trying to work the leverage in our favor by not pulling and going with our opponent when we could feel the bone was not going to break off to our advantage. Then when we could feel the bone was going to break to our advantage we could surprise our opponent by pulling faster than our opponent could give to our pull. When the game took too long to win bully behavior took place and this is where I stopped playing the game.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with riding a horse, or you may already see where I am going with this. What I am about to share is meant to help a newbe rider that is looking for more information about how to use their reins more effectively. Once you have gotten familiar with riding you are ready to use your reins with more consideration.

How to Start:

Practice developing light rein aids on a willing, well trained horse that is relaxed in a controlled environment. You will start your practice with loose reins, one in each hand. Become aware of your whole body when you ride. This will help your horse to feel you through the reins even on a loose rein. Imagine closing your eyes how your whole body would come to life and try to feel your horse's presence and where he might go next and when he feels relaxed or excited.

images-1When your body comes alive in this way your horse has a better ability to feel a connection with you through the reins. This is how you always want to sit a horse. Because humans are tactile we will naturally communicate with a horse through the reins, with our hands rather than our seat, and engaging our whole body to be a communication aid. This is what we need to overcome. When we ride, our mind needs to communicate with our horse silently about what we are conveying to him through our reins. Bringing your attention to your breathing will keep you focused on the feel and the connection you want to gain.

It is important to have the same amount of awareness as you would in the kitchen pulling on a wish bone. Playing this game, your full attention is on your mission, not on anything that you are going to do later.  You are fully focused in the moment and your body is fully engaged.

Try this Exercise:

Imagine sitting in a chair with your feet on the floor and pushing your chair back using your feet and tighten your core while you are doing this. Notice how your knees begin to open, then sit tall taking a stable upright position. Use this kind of isometric image to gradually strengthen your core when you have shortened the rein to make a turn. You should feel a difference in the response of your horse from this approach. You do not want your aids to create resistance in your horse. Your aids should move the horse as if you are one. Shortening the rein before asking for the turn ensures that your horse will listen to the light aid. Making a shorter rein before asking your horse to turn prepares the horse to listen to the turning rein. When your horse starts the turn go back to the slack rein that you had when your horse was walking straight.

Understanding the Feel and how to Create the Connection through the Reins:

imagesWhen I use to watch my Dad ride he never pulled on the reins, horses just went where he wanted them to go. He rode a horse like a horse was his dance partner. My Dad told me that when you use a turning rein be sure to release it to a light feel the moment the horse decides to turn, rather than continuing to keep the rein short to hold the head in the direction of the turn.  This is because a horse will eventually go up against a held rein. When my Dad gave me horse training advice he always made sure that I was looking for it. The information he shared was short and loving, just like a warm hug. He never checked in on me to see how I was doing and I loved that. He gave me the same freedom to perform that he gave to his horses. I felt he honored my dignity. He always bragged on me.

The other thing he told me is to make sure that you and your horse could feel each other through the reins before asking for a turn.

I want to talk about this feel a bit more. You want that feel to be like the feel you have just before the wish bone breaks. This is when the horse's neck gives to the rein.

Another Exercise to Try:

This exercse should help you with the feel of the reins. Put a one or two pound boulder or book on the floor in front of a door, beneath the door knob, tie a string to the door knob and stand in front of the door, about three feet, and hold the string. Shorten up on the string until it begins to influence the door to move. This is how long your rein should be before asking for a turn. This gives you an understanding of the feel that you want to have with your horse. In this connection between you and your horse, your horse is aware of you through your reins. When the contact is right your horse will soften his neck and drop into the contact. It will take some practice. Try first standing still.

Most of us have experienced a helping hand crossing a stream on an unsteady river rock. This is the support that you are offering to your horse starting into a turn.

Now that you know what kind of Feel you want, this is how to Apply this Feeling from the Saddle:

Like in the wish bone game you create leverage from your seat to your hand. You start from your seat. You strengthen your core to influence your horse's awareness of the reins. Your arms are relaxed and take a passive role. If you just pulled with your arms your horse will not respond positively. What is better is to bring your hands to your core and as your core stiffens and your body lengthens upward it creates a fulcrum effect. As your core stiffens it influences the horse’s awareness of the connection he is sharing with you through the reins. When your horse responds you relax your core, matching your horse's response.

Try this: hold two reins, one in each hand with someone, then try to pull that person forward as you are facing each other using only your arms. What you will find is that the person is a bit unwilling to move.  However, if you lean back and back up allowing your arms to relax, the person will naturally come along with you. This way you do not use the muscles in your arms to influence your horse, but rather your seat. Your arms are like loose ropes.

When your seat can not be moved by the horse’s influence on the rein, your horse will listen to a turning rein. If you find that you are using your arm muscles to communicate with your horse, it means that your reins are not short enough.

Asking for the Turn:

When you want your horse to turn, you turn his head in the direction that you want him to go and then let him have his head to make the turn so that you do not impair his forward movement. If he comes off the course on the turn, repeat the turn request of the reins and maintain your horse's rhythm.  This is the wish bone approach for the evolution of the rider from "yee haw" and pulling to the next step.

I would love to hear your stories about your evolution of making a wish on Thanksgiving on a wish bone and also a follow up on how this article may have helped you in some way. Your input helps me choose my next topic for the blog. If you want more guidance let me know how I could help you in the comments below.

Happy Holidays and have a great weekend!  Keep a sharp look out for new horse and human sightings and may the spirit of the bond be with you.



Here is a video showing you the length of the rein for proper contact on a turning rein.  It also shows the proper releasing of the rein on a turn riding bit-less: