Don’t leave home without it….

One of the most underutilized pieces of tack I know of  is the ever absent grab strap that should be connected to the d-rings of every saddle.  You won’t see one of my saddles without one.  It’s usually overconfident teenagers that are the hardest to convince of  its necessity.   They see it as a sign of weakness, an admission that they are fallible (pun intended).  I see the absence of it as a sign of poor training.  There are many reasons the strap is necessary in training that have nothing to do with falling off.    I will cover a few, although there are many more than I can cover in a short blog.

  • When riding a young horse, or really a horse of any age, care  should be taken to never, even one stride, bounce on the horse’s back.  One unbalanced bounce can make a tentative horse tighten his back to protect it from pain.  This is a trust issue that is hard to overcome once the horse becomes defensive.
  • The horse that snatches at the rein will persist if he is successful at disrupting the contact.  It is never permissable to snatch at the horse but holding the strap lends stability to the rider’s hand and the snatching horse will soon desist with the evasive behavior if he is unsuccessful at altering the length of rein.
  • When the rider’s response is delayed, even for a moment, because his brain is occupied with self-preservation, the training suffers.  This occurs frequently when flying lead changes are introduced.  The few seconds  that occur when the disobedient horse bucks or evades by dropping behind the rider’s leg are the critical determining point over whether the horse or the rider has the upper hand.  No matter how skilled the rider is, if the resistance is not immediately addressed with forward driving aids then the training opportunity is missed and the disobedience is reinforced.  If the rider is already posed with the grab strap in hand there is no hesitation between the resistant act and the corrective response.
  • When working on the seat, as all riders should do, it is not beneficial for the rider, or the horse, for the rider  to bounce on the horse’s back.  When being lunged for seat work, hold yourself into the saddle to get the feeling of a correct seat.  Nothing is gained from practicing bouncing. 
  • Horses that have become confused about stepping forward into the contact can become more confused if the rider does not keep a consistent point of reference for the horse to find his balance.  Help the unbalanced horse find stability by using the grab strap to ensure the consistency of the connection.

The most common complaint about the strap is the difficulty a rider feels in holding it and riding at the same time.  Frequently I will attach a double ended snap to both ends of a strap to lengthen it.  In this way the reins can be held as usual without disturbing the rider’s balance.  With the strap lengthened to accomodate the rider’s hand position there should be no difficulty riding with certainty while holding the strap.  If there is still a problem after lengthing the strap, it is probably not the strap,  and the rider may need to go on the lungeline anyway.  With a grab strap. 

So, forget what the railbirds think,  pick up a strap for your saddle and don’t be embarrassed.  In the end, it is the effectiveness of your training that impresses a good horseman, and a good horse. 


9 thoughts on “Don’t leave home without it….

  1. Bucking strap is to stay in the saddle when the horse bucks. Using it as a training aid occasionally is a good idea. But the problem is that the rider can get dependent on it and at the time when something goes wrong will stop riding, balancing on the strap instead. Having it all the time will create a bad habit that’s hard to get rid off. Next you will tell us that we have to wear a helmet!

    1. As far as helmets go that is the choice of the rider. If the rider cracks their head it is their decision (I frequently wear no helmet). The grab strap is not for the good of the rider- it is for the good of the horse. Mistakes made in training can seriously affect the quality of the rest of the horse’s life. I am not as concerned about rider safety as I am about correct training and the rider’s ego should never be spared if the training will diminish. Neither should the horse pay for the rider not developing bad habits. A solid foundation of the riders position should be established without reins before any training can be put in the rider’s hands. A grab strap for an already established rider should not negatively effect their contact or balance.

  2. I concur….and often use it just to realign myself if my horse loses throughness in a lengthenins, especially the trot….I certainly don’t want to sit against the movement but often it’s a lesser evil than bouncing!!!

  3. Dang it, now I have to go out and get one. I’ve ridden in saddles that have them, but have never used one. The idea of lengthening snaps at either end is brilliant. Usually if I feel I’m not quite deep and relaxed enough, or slightly out of sync, I’ll use one hand in the gullet to “remember” what it feels like to stay with the horse.

    I can’t imagine becoming dependent on it? I’m not dependent on riding one-handed in the gullet for a few strides. It’s a self-check, right? Be terrific to be able to hold the reins properly while “checking” or learning something new. Thanks for the idea.

    1. Thanks for checking out my blog! I read yours for hours and loved it!! It gives me a lot of inspiration and ideas! I loved that you had the Thelwell website on it- I love Thelwell!

  4. I’m reporting back. I bought the strap and some clips, and have been riding with it on three different horses: three different dressage saddles. I LOVE it. I’m finding it helps me reinforce the body memory of what it feels like to relax into the movement. I have trouble weighting my seat bones evenly, and using the strap gave me instant feedback on if I was even or not.

    I’ve learned I’m trying to ride in 3 different saddles as if they were identical. I had no idea. There are 3 horses who would like to tell you how happy they are you wrote this post.

    Worth it’s weight in gold for me. Thank you!

      1. LOL. When I was having trouble with rein length as I went up in collection, I asked my trainer if I could borrow her rainbow reins until I could “body memorize” the new length for that level of collection.

        She was horrified. “You’re much too advanced for that! That’s for beginners!” I’m sure she didn’t want me to look bad, but I have no dignity. I’d rather understand.

      2. I know what you mean! I think it’s the closest thing I can come to understanding letting go of the ego in order to attain knowledge. As soon as you start worrying about the ego, all training not only stops, but with horses it seems, gets worse! I’m so warped I can only understand philosophy in regards to how it applies to horses! I bet a lot of the clinicians I ride with wish I would get some rainbow reins! That is my weakness! Too long reins!

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