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What is a Check Rein?

I get this question all the time. What is a check rein? What is an Over Check as compared to the Side Check? What is a Bearing Rein? So, let’s dive in!

Over Check / Bearing Rein

A bearing rein and an over check are the same thing. This is the rein that goes from the horse’s bit, over the front of the face, between the ears, down the neck and connects to the water hook on the saddle. The use of this rein is to keep the horse’s head UP. It does not make it so a horse can’t buck or run away which is a common myth. But it can make it so the horse can not pull the vehicle by engaging the tummy muscles but instead forces them to use their back muscles.

To most of us the photo above is not pretty. But this was a desirable look in the 1800s and early 1900s. Black Beauty talks about this rein and is what most people think of when they hear bearing or check rein. It’s easy to understand how some horses could not handle having that rein set tight.

People who have an understanding about setting this rein and training their horses and ponies to work with the rein use it to help with attaining a head set in the modern day show ring.

Side Check

The side check goes from the horse’s bit, through rings on the poll piece of the bridle, then down the sides of the neck and connects to the water hook. This style of check rein seems to be a bit more kind to the horse. It allows them to lower their head a bit more, which allows them to use their tummy muscles and rear end to pull the vehicle. It also allows them to tip their noses from one side to the other.

If you are new to driving and have to use a check rein for some reason the side check is a better option than the over check.

Some cons to the check rein:

  • If it’s not adjusted correctly, loose and flopping, it can easily get hung up on the end of the shaft and cause an accident.
  • If it’s adjusted too tight then you can change the way the horse is using its body to pull, causing all kinds of problems physically.
  • Pressure on the bit is pressure on the bit. The horse can not tell the difference between the pressure from the check rein and the pressure from your lines. If your check rein is always pulling at the bit, or bumping them as they move their head when walking, they will have to learn to tune that out. Which makes your communication through the lines blurry. It’s harder for them to pick out what you are saying from the constant pressure of the check rein. This is also true if you have your bridle too tight. This is the 3 wrinkle “rule” that you hear so much about. Having your bridle tight feels the same to them as you holding your lines tight. Do you see how that could cause them to just ignore all pressure? They have to cope somehow.

Many of the people I know that drive small ponies and mini horses choose to not use the check rein at all. Especially when pleasure driving. All of the people that I know personally, that drive draft horses, large horses and mules use a side check every time they drive. It does make sense though. If a draft horse decides to lower his head below shaft height, it will be impossible to get that head back up!

If you show in the breed ring it is required to use either an over check or a side check, for safety reasons. If you show in the CDE ring a side check or over check is NOT allowed, also for safety reasons. The rules of horses and horsemanship are so convoluted and confusing aren’t they!?

7 thoughts on “What is a Check Rein?

  1. Stanley Gibson says:

    Does the horse gait have any bearing on need for a check rein. I have a young TWH with a 4 beat gait. I will be training her to drive.

      • Henry Stine says:

        Great article… thanks for writing it. I have been called to many Amish farms because they believe their horse is going lame… instead I find the new fad is a check rein. They are making a road horse hold his head up high and expect him to go up hills with no problems. I can now show your article to them and hopefully persuade them to stop using the check rein so their horses can engage their hind quarters when traveling up a steep grade.

  2. Linda Harris says:

    Guess what…here come to find out we have inheritied a tradition from the 17 and 1800’s where the true cause and purpose of the check reign has been lost. Here is the real reason, as written by someone who was there and would have known, a veternarian, horseman, equine hoof researcher, farrier and scholar, who by the way names the ‘periople’ which is the soft band of skin connecting the hoof to the leg and covering the bulbs. His name was Bracy Clark.

    From: Hipodonomia, The true structure, laws and economy of the horses foot. 1829
    No one, I believe, will have the hardihood (hard time) to deny the danger of mounting horses thus mutilated (the shoeing they did contracted the foot). Among my acquaintance and friends I could relate many instances of miserable accidents, and the news- papers are furnishing plenteous proof every day, in support of this assertion. The appearance also of broken knees proclaim every- where the little assurance there is on feet that have been so igno- rantly treated.

    A very large coach proprietor in London, (Willan,) struck with the misery of the bearing (check) rein, and perhaps a broken jaw or two, ordered all his horses to be freed from them. On being put to work, the accidents with their knees became so extensive, that he was again compelled to relinquish his humane endeavors, and resort to this most cruel alternative, at least as it is often made use of. (they used it to keep horses from tripping and falling due to the bad condition of their feet.)

    The present system of shoeing, and its consequences, ruin such multitudes of horses, that surely the discovery of its cause, beyond the power of denial, cannot but be of the highest importance in the affairs of mankind ; as well also as on account of the sufferings of the animal ; for not one in thirty of all that are raised live to see the half of their natural life expended !

    I have also remarked, that the most frequent accidents happen to the horse about the fifth year of his age, and which has appeared to me to arise from this cause, — that the great conflict between the iron and the foot arrives at its height about this period, and that after this the poor sufferer learns to go in a manner that is more suited to his actual condition, that is, with a shortened step, humouring the state of the parts, and in which there is less danger of falling ; and the foot after this period yields a more passive submission to the overpowering effects of the iron and nails.

    Make no mistake he was not against shoes but against the method of which they were put on and of some of their designs. He developed his own shoeing and trimming system through study and experimentation and opened several shops in London. But the smiths and vet professors at the colledge did every thing they could to undermine his work and research to change the suffering he saw. And so their traditions in both shoeing and vet care have continued to this day with nary a change only getting in reality worse. Except now due to not riding horses like we use to you do not see the affects of it, nor the casualties. But the traditions of the farriers and the horrendous feet they produce is still the same. And you see that people who drive and use horses also have inherited a falsehood in why the check/bearing reign is used.
    https://archive.org/details/hippodonomiaortr00clar/page/n17/mode/2up

  3. Linda says:

    What a load of nonsense. We drive a lot here where I live and NO ONE uses side checks, EVER. And no horses will bolt or whatever they do you think they can do. Using these reins, overchecks or side reins are abuse and totally ridiculous.

    • Mindy Schroder says:

      Hi Linda, Thank you for your comment. The blog above actually doesn’t support using a check rein in most cases. Show rings require them and as I stated the show ring requires them for “safety” and the CDE ring doesn’t allow them for safety. So convoluted…
      Mindy~

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