Barrel Racing Reins – What You Need to Know

A woman in blue shirt on top of a black horse, pointing her hand towards it.

How much do you know about barrel racing reins? You may know that reins are synonymous with control. You’ve heard the phrase, “Take the reins.” Or maybe, “I had to rein in my emotions.” Reins symbolize authority, control, or restraint. And there are as many different types of reins as there are phrases about them.

So, if you’re just starting out in barrel racing, you may be wondering if any old reins will do the trick? Or are there barrel racing reins that are specifically designed for that purpose?

Well, rein in your excitement, as we discuss which style of reins are best for barrel racing.

What Are Reins?

Horses have had reins placed on them since being domesticated thousands of years ago. It’s the primary means of communication between horse and rider. Reins connect to a bit in the horse’s mouth. This necessary piece of tack is usually .39” wide and about a tenth of an inch thick. Each end of the rein attaches to either the left or right side of the bit.

Different Styles of Western Reins

There are many different styles of reins, but for now we’ll discuss just a few types.

Side view of a woman on top of a horse, and a quote about different styles of Western Reins next to her.

Split Reins

These are the long reins you’re used to seeing in old Western films but they’re NOT the type of reins you’ll want to use when barrel racing. Instead, riders use them to cut with their horse, trail ride, or ride for sheer enjoyment. The left rein is held in the left hand. And you guessed it, the right rein is held in the right hand.

Because these reins are so commonly used, we think it’s important to mention why you will NOT want to use them when barrel racing. The reason is that if you drop one or both of your reins, the horse could easily step on them, and injure themselves or the rider. Even if the horse is unharmed, the rein or bridle may break. Or the sudden jolt could cause the horse to rear its head or become spooked. Plus, as often as a barrel racer needs to change reins from hand to hand, split reins are impractical for use.

Barrel Reins

Barrel racers do all that they can to stay in the saddle as their horse thunders around four barrels. If barrel racing reins were split, the reins could fall anytime the rider had to grab the horn, which would be extremely dangerous. That’s why barrel reins are a continuous loop.

The design of barrel reins makes them impossible for a horse to step on them if they’re accidentally dropped. In comparison, barrel reins are shorter than many other types of reins. They’re constructed from the same material as lead ropes, and feature special knots that help with grip and control.

Another major difference in comparison to other styles or reins, is how colorful and flashy barrel reins tend to be. Many barrel racers love to jazz up their horses with colorful and expressive tack. Barrel reins are no exception.

Paracord or Nylon Reins

These styles of reins are a popular choice for many barrel racers. In fact, many riders braid their own cords, so they can custom design their look. They’re often brightly colored and make an excellent accessory for barrel racers. You might even see them used for pole bending or mounted shooting.

Paracord reins are also highly durable and long-lasting. They use manufactured materials, so they don’t have to be conditioned like leather reins. Plus, they’re very economical.

Woman riding a horse in an open field, and a quote about the symbolism of Reins next to her

Why Do Reins Matter So Much?

We touched briefly on the communication aspect of reins earlier. Let’s dive a bit deeper into that school of thought.

The tack you use for your horse has a purpose. You wouldn’t put an English saddle on a barrel racing horse. Just like you wouldn’t saddle up a dressage horse with a Western saddle. Reins are just as important. Afterall, you only have so many ways to communicate with your horse while riding. You have your voice, your hands, how you sit, and your legs. Think of the reins you use as an extension of your hands. The more you practice with your horse, the more subtle communication becomes.

Barrel racing reins serve their own purpose. They’re shorter, which makes it easier for the rider to pass them from hand to hand without dropping them. And the loop ensures they can’t be dropped while rounding a barrel.

Quality Barrel Racing Reins Make a Difference

Whether a barrel racer chooses leather, poly, or a nylon-poly blend is all about preference. But generally, a barrel racer wants to use a heavier rein. Why? It’s easier for the horse to feel transfers, pulls, and slackness with the weight. Lightweight reins make it harder for the horse to pick up signals.

Lead the Way With the Right Barrel Racing Reins

Split reins have their place, but not racing around a barrel. Barrel racing reins are a continuous loop, so they cannot drop. They also have enough weight so the horse can feel what the rider wants without being forceful. For more barrel racing advice on tack or technique, visit X Factor Barrel Racing. And be sure to learn more about becoming a member. Membership includes tutorials, an awesome video library, Q&As, tips from the pros, and much more! Click here for more information!

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