When Buck Davidson rode Carlevo with his reins in the driving position to stadium jump at Rolex, people took notice. Commenters noted that Carvelo is a very sensitive horse and carrying your reins like you are driving is a quick and reliable way to establish a soft and giving contact.
For many years, trainers have used the driving rein to teach an automatic release but it’s useful for riding on the flat, too because it’s all too easy to get into the habit of pulling back instead of giving forward with your hands, especially on a horse that pulls. I got into the habit of using a neckstrap with Freedom because it keeps my hands very still and prevents me from pulling back. I was in a lesson with Corinne Ashton when she suggested it. What a huge difference it made when I could no longer pull back approaching a fence.
Riding with a driving hold also makes it next to impossible to use your reins for balance, so it’s an interesting exercise to see if you really have an independent seat. Since it’s also harder to pull back, you need to ride forward from your seat and legs. How do you do it? It’s simple, rather than having your reins come from the bottom of your hands, usually between your ring finger and last finger, you reverse the hold so that the top of the rein sits between your thumb and first finger.
Before you try jumping with your reins in a driving hold, start by riding on the flat. Many people notice that it helps them relax their shoulders and elbows as well as soften their wrists and forearms. Next, try trotting and cantering over poles, or jumping crossrails.
Wendy Murdoch has an excellent article on her site about using the driving rein. She recommends that once you feel comfortable with the driving rein, you should try holding one hand in the traditional riding hold and the other with a driving rein, switching back and forth as a way to retrain your muscle memory.
I’ve been trying this with Zelda and it definitely helps establish a soft contact. She’s a horse that can be quite fussy in her mouth (it took me forever to find a bit that did not offend her) and I think she appreciates having a supportive hand rather than a restrictive one.
Have you ever tried riding with a driving rein?