Win­ning In­sights

Ro­mal reins are a great train­ing tool, but there are many mis­con­cep­tions about the piece of tra­di­tional tack. Con­sider these points when de­cid­ing if ro­mals are right for you and your horse.

Horse & Rider - - Contents -

What ro­mal reins are… and are not.

When An­drea Fap­pani loped Spooky Whiz into the arena at the 2016 NRHA Fu­tu­rity fi­nals, all peo­ple could talk about were his ro­mal reins. Two years ago, it wasn’t com­mon to see the tra­di­tional braided rawhide reins in the rein­ing arena—es­pe­cially on a 3-year-old horse run­ning at a ti­tle worth more than $100,000. Peo­ple wanted to know why he chose ro­mals over split reins, which are much more com­mon in the rein­ing arena. They be­came fix­ated on the mys­tery be­hind the ro­mals.

Add to that the pop­u­lar­ity of ranch rid­ing classes and the preva­lence of ro­mal reins in the ranch events, more peo­ple started taking no­tice and won­der­ing if ro­mal reins are right for their rid­ing.

As a West Coast horseman, I’ve had ro­mals as part of my train­ing tool­kit since I was young. I’m here to share with you two things that ro­mal reins are and four things that they aren’t.

Ro­mals Aren’t: A Fad

Peo­ple like to get hung up on a “look.” You see it all the time in what peo­ple wear to show, styles of pads, amounts of sil­ver on tack—horse show­ing is full of fads. But ro­mals aren’t one of them.

Ro­mal reins are a tra­di­tional piece of tack used by horse­men for gen­er­a­tions. The art of rawhide braid­ing con­trib­utes to the al­lure of the tack, but the fact is ro­mals serve a pur­pose. His­tor­i­cally, they’re part of tra­di­tional va­quero train­ing meth­ods where a horse ad­vanced to rid­ing in a bri­dle in phases. For the mod­ern rider, you of­ten see ro­mals in work­ing cow horse be­cause when you’re work­ing a cow down the fence, you can’t be fuss­ing with split reins.

Ro­mal reins have al­ways served a pur­pose rec­og­nized by those who use them.

Ro­mals Are: A Great Train­ing Tool

The best trained horse is one that you can ride in ro­mal reins. You can’t cheat with them like you can with split reins. Per the rules of most or­ga­ni­za­tions, your hand must stay closed around the reins and your free hand can’t run up the reins past the con­nec­tor. You can’t put fin­gers be­tween the reins. All of these fac­tors come to­gether to make you work harder to train your horse than you have to work with split reins.

Ro­mals Aren’t: One-Size-Fits-All

My wife likes ro­mals with a larger-cir­cum­fer­ence (fewer plaits). I pre­fer a smaller one. Some folks like them stiffer, and some pre­fer more pli­able. They can be made from all sorts of hides to suit just about any rider’s pref­er­ence.

Con­sider the length of your horse’s neck when choos­ing a set of ro­mals. Ob­vi­ously, you don’t want to have an ex­tra-long set of reins on a short-necked horse or vice versa.

You’ll also choose be­tween me­tal snaps or rawhide but­tons to con­nect the

reins to your bit. I pre­fer the snaps with an S hook for ease of mov­ing my ro­mals from one bit to an­other.

The key is to try all dif­fer­ent sizes and hides to find what feels best in your hand. I have peo­ple come into my tack room at horse shows all the time to see how dif­fer­ent ro­mals feel in their hands. Once you choose a few that feel right, try them on your horse to de­ter­mine which set of ro­mals works best for your rid­ing goals and your horse’s needs.

Ro­mals Aren’t: All the Same Qual­ity

You can find ro­mals at just about ev­ery price point. How­ever, your less ex­pen­sive reins won’t han­dle the same as higher-dol­lar, hand-braided reins made from pricier hides. You def­i­nitely get what you pay for.

No mat­ter the price of your reins, they won’t last if you don’t care for them prop­erly. They re­quire con­di­tion­ing to keep the rawhide from break­ing. They must be stored out of sun­light to pre­vent them from dry­ing out.

Ro­mals Are: Good for Straight­ness

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, ro­mals help straighten up a horse that might drop a shoul­der or lean in one di­rec­tion. The reins are con­nected, so there’s not as much room for your horse to push or lean. When I pick my hand straight up from the mid­dle of my horse’s neck, I can feel his straight­ness tighten up. This makes him more pre­pared for what­ever I ask of him, whether it’s lead changes, roll­backs, spins, or lop­ing cir­cles.

Ro­mals Aren’t: A Big Se­cret

Ro­mals can be mis­un­der­stood—by rid­ers, train­ers, even judges. Ev­ery­one wants to know the big se­cret be­hind us­ing them. But the truth is, it all comes down to what’s best for your horse and what feels best when you ride. If your horse goes bet­ter in split reins, then that’s what you should use. The key is to go with what works, no mat­ter the lat­est fad.

Ro­mal reins are a great train­ing tool, but there are many mis­con­cep­tions about the piece of tra­di­tional tack. Con­sider these points when de­cid­ing if ro­mals are right for you and your horse.

Top: I find ro­mal reins es­pe­cially help­ful in terms of a horse’s straight­ness. They can straighten up a horse that drops a shoul­der or leans one way or the other. Bot­tom: You get what you pay for when buy­ing ro­mal reins. They’re avail­able at all price points, and good ones will last a life­time with cor­rect, reg­u­lar care.

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