Reins Explained – Types of English and Western Riding Reins

Reining in the knowledge on common types of reins for bridles and their differences.

Updated July 11, 2024
Horse tacked up in english bridle and saddle

Seat, legs, and hands are the three main aids a rider learns to use (and ideally in that order). A rider’s hands hold the reins, which allow for subtle communication, steering, and connection with your horse’s bit. This makes the choice of reins important, too, as there are many different types, styles, and materials, and your choice may help you feel more comfortable, provide consistent grip, and work towards a more harmonious connection with your horse in the saddle.

So, what’s the best kind of rein to use? Well, it depends on your preferences, discipline, and/or show requirements. Below, we’ve broken down some commonly used types of reins for bridles that you can try.

Types of English Riding Reins

Whether you’re on course in the hunter ring, getting ready to gallop on the cross-country course, or perfecting your dressage test, there are many options for English reins to choose from.

Laced Reins

laced reins for english bridles

Also known as braided reins, this style provides a consistent, comfortable grip for the rider. The laced pattern helps prevent the rider’s hand from slipping while in the saddle. A classic in hunter/jumper disciplines, these reins help create an elevated, show-ready look. This classic style can take additional care to ensure the braided areas remain clean.

Curb Reins

Plain, smooth, or curb reins are as implied—they are a single, long piece of leather with no additional adornment or patterning. While they can be used for a variety of circumstances, their most common purpose is as a secondary rein on double bridles or attached as the secondary rein to a Pelham or other leverage-style bits. Since the leather is cut in long, straight, and smooth pieces, these reins are easy to clean and care for.

Multi-Discipline Riding Reins

webbed reins for horse bridles

Many types of reins and design features can be useful to riders regardless of discipline.

Webbed Reins

Webbed reins are lighter weight than leather, being made from cotton webbing. They are sometimes woven with rubber stops to provide for better grip and are most often used in eventing, schooling, and trail riding. Many webbed reins have hand stops at intervals throughout to aid the rider in gripping and keeping even contact on both sides of the bit.

Rubber or Rubber-lined Reins

rubber riding reins for bridle

Rubber reins provide stippled (having many raised dots), solid rubber that may offer more traction to the rider. These reins are a staple for many cross-country riders, as they not only provide a more secure grip but also are weather-resistant and won’t easily slip when they are sweat-covered or wet from water obstacles. They are also suitable for those just beginning to ride, as they aren’t as easy to slip through the hands and are available in rainbow colors for ease of understanding hand placement.

Another option are rubber-lined reins which have rubber on one side of the rein with the other side being plain or braided leather. This combination rein offers a polished look with improved handling, and are also often used by western, endurance, and pleasure riders.


A favorite amongst endurance riders, biothane reins are made from synthetic material. Since long, multi-day rides will happen whether the sun is shining or it is pouring down rain, these make it possible to keep a comfortable, secure grip with their weather-resistant properties. These reins are also particularly durable with correct care.

Types of Western Riding Reins

There are a variety of western reins to pick from depending on your mount, whether you’re heading into the show pen, your discipline, and preferences.

Split Reins

split reins for western headstall

Split reins are the go-to for much of the western world. They are often crafted from two separate pieces of long, smooth leather that are not joined together. These reins are quite versatile and can be used when working with a green horse or a performance horse working on advanced maneuvers, like a spin or sliding stop. Split reins allow for more expert handling, giving an experienced rider the ability to shorten, lengthen, and utilize each rein individually as needed without affecting the opposite site of the horse’s mouth.

Romal Reins

Romal reins have their origins in the traditional Spanish Vaquero methods. Unlike western split reins, the romal style involves two reins that are separate at the bit but join together towards their ends to form a long piece. The rider can grip the end pieces as one or fold it over the horse’s neck near the horn. The reins are very lightly weighted at the bit end to enhance communication without interfering with the bit.

Roping Reins

Roping reins are used widely in the barrel, gaming, and roping world. They offer the rider both strength and security. These reins are made out of a single piece of material (nylon, leather, or cotton are common) and can easily be used one-handed. Though they may look similar to some styles of English reins, they’re often shorter to allow for easier management in times where a rider’s hands may be further up the horse’s neck.


The mecate is often used in the schooling of a young horse. This style is made of one long rein that attaches to a bosal (typically a rawhide hackamore in the shape of an upside-down teardrop) in one long loop around the horse’s neck, with extra length left to tie around the saddle horn for use as a lead rope when needed. This style is typically made of braided horsehair. Horseman’s reins are often referred to as mecate reins.

Horseman’s Reins

Used in conjunction with slobber straps, these types of reins are made from high-quality boating or marine yacht material. They are often used for horses in training as they are heavier, but the slobber straps allow for a lighter touch on the bit. Plus, the rein’s excess length can double as a lead rope.

Rein Accessories and Training Tools

Draw Reins or Running Reins

A contentiously debated training tool, draw reins are an artificial aid that puts more pressure on the horse’s mouth to “draw” the horse’s head into position (come into “frame”). Draw reins are typically paired with a snaffle and attach at the girth, through the horse’s bit, and follow the line of traditional reins back to the rider’s hands.

Care must be taken when determining the appropriate amount of tension and circumstances when they’re used. Further, it's important to work with a trainer who fully understands the purpose of this training tool as they may not be a beneficial aid for every horse or unique situation.

Side Reins

A horse in side reins attached to a surcingle

Most often used during lunge line or long reining work, these reins attach to the saddle or a surcingle and help with balance and encourage straightness or an inside bend, depending on how they’re used. Side reins may also include elastic ovals or “donuts” that allow for more give in the rein. Side reins can be attached to a saddle or surcingle on one end and to the horse’s bit on the other end.

As with draw reins, care must be taken when determining the appropriate fit and use.

Driving Reins or Lines

Smooth and long, these reins are meant for carriage horses. Not to be confused with ground driving reins, which are often longer and are intended for instruction when the handler is on the ground.


rubber rein stoppers
  • Safety rein or extender: These handy straps attach the saddle to the reins. Whether in the arena or out and about, they provide security by “catching” the rein if it drops from the rider’s hands.
  • Rubber rein stoppers or donuts: These pieces of rubber are used with running and standing martingales. Rein stoppers are pieces of rubber that prevent a running martingale from becoming stuck next to the bit. Rubber donuts stops the neck collar of the martingale getting caught between the horse’s front legs or
  • Neck strap: A neck strap is a piece of tack, similar to a martingale, that sits at the base of a horse’s neck, typically with a handle for the rider to hold onto as needed. They help give the rider a bit of extra security as something to hold while in the saddle. Neck straps often come in handy for young or inexperienced riders learning balance and hand placement, or for experienced riders with fresh or unpredictable horses. This training tool is becoming more popular with professional riders across disciplines, as well as in liberty and natural horsemanship.

Tips and Questions to Help You Find the Best Reins

  • Consider the context of your ride; are you in an arena? On the trail? On a cross-country course? Will the reins get wet? Will your horse need to perform collected or other advanced movements?
  • If possible, borrow a pair of reins from a friend at the barn or your trainer to check what length you should purchase. When your horse is bridled, put the reins on and see where they come to. Do they drape too far down? Are they tight and high on your horse’s neck? Are you able to comfortably hold the reins without too much slack or pressure when at rest? Answering these questions can help determine the type of material and length needed.

    • English reins typically run from 48” for Ponies, 54” for Standard size, to 60” for Oversize.
    • Roping/barrel reins often run from 72” to 96”.
    • Trail reins can vary from 96” to 120”.
  • As with any piece of tack, if you are showing, check with your local rule book for the appropriate type and length of reins allowed.
  • Inspect and clean your reins regularly. If they’re synthetic, you can often clean them with an appropriate cleaner and fresh water (or even hose them down, depending upon the material). Head over to our Leather Care Guide for best practices on leather reins.

Now that you know the type of reins to look for, start shopping! If you’re still not quite sure where to start, reach out to our Customer Care Team to help find the perfect size and style for your bridle.

Don’t forget that SmartPak has free return shipping on sized products. So, if you aren’t sure which is the right size or style, pick the best options with the confidence that you can return the one that doesn’t fit and we’ll cover the return shipping. If you’re not finding the style or brand of reins you’re looking for, let us know!

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.