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!?

4 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.

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