The Bight

double
This is how I learned to hold a snaffle and curb rein. There is an alternative way, where you hold the curb rein between your middle and ring finger, inside the snaffle rein. I hadn’t ever noticed that way until recently. Thanks, Internet.

The bight is the excess rein that extends beyond your hands to the buckle as you hold the reins. I am sure many of you know that, but just in case I thought I’d throw the definition in here.

I think there may be some tradition that requires the bight to fall to the right, or off side. Perhaps so as not to interfere with mounting from the left, another tradition, although completely practically developed out of riders carrying swords on the left hip. Perhaps the bight could have got caught up on the hilt at a gallop had it not fallen to the right? Or maybe it developed out of women riding side saddle, so the bight would not get caught up around their right ankle or something. And also, I may have read George Morris saying something about the bight falling over the reins instead of inside. Perhaps to help you keep those thumbs on top of your hands?

bightme
I do the opposite on both counts most of the time. An arbitrary or even unconscious decision long ago has turned to habit. Sometimes I try to flip the bight over the reins but it inevitably ends up back inside. Piano hands and all that. And I have the bight to the left, or near side. I do think that as I am mounting, the bight starts off on the right, but I flip it over to the left once I am in the saddle.

Although, I may have developed the habit of the bight being on the left so that it wouldn’t interfere with a pretty braid job on the right of the horse’s neck … but I’m not sure …

reins
Can’t really tell where the bight is ending up in this illustration, because SHORTEN YOUR REINS, WOMAN. Did people just ride with long reins in the 19th century?

The habit of the bight falling to the left for me is so ingrained at this point that it feels really weird to have it on the right.

When holding the reins, where does the bight fall for you?

P.S. The cigarette card illustrations are from NYPL’s public domain content.

34 thoughts on “The Bight

  1. This post was fascinating to me because at a clinic earlier this summer the clinician gently chastised me for having the bight fall to the left. Every other time around the arena she’d make me switch it and then I would unconsciously flip it back. In 20+ years of riding she was the only person I’d ever had tell me it was supposed to be on a specific side. Mine also falls inside, not over the reins. GM would be so ashamed of me. For soooo many reasons, haha.

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    1. Honestly, I could have just as easily read that GM thinks it should fall to the inside …. I don’t remember! I would think using an opening/indirect rein would be possible either way? I haven’t ever had anyone tell me which side, but I have read in various places either the right or that it doesn’t matter, or whichever side the crop is not.

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  2. This is so interesting. To be honest this is something I really have never considered! Mine also falls to the left oops! And I have tried to put it on the right before and it just feels too weird. And now I have learned another thing George Morris would yell at me for! Mine falls to the inside, but I’ll try differently today and see how it goes.

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  3. I was taught that the bight should always fall on the outside in whatever direction you are tracking, so I actually flip it when I change direction. I figure this makes sense since I have the bight on the outside and crop/dressage whip on the inside. I always keep it to the inside of my reins against my horse’s neck, seems like it would interfere otherwise. Would be interesting to see if there is more info out there on how it’s “supposed” to be.

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  4. I always have it on the right! I’ve always held my whip in my right hand, too. I never switch it, which seems to disturb the dressage queens the barn. (I only carry a short bat for jumping, while they all carry dressage whips for leg aid reinforcement.)

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  5. Here’s my guess to why it’s on the right… way back when, people held the reins in their left hand only, because they were holding a sword or a lance or something with the right hand. This means that all the reins (2, sometimes 4 depending on your bit) came out of the top of your left hand and were held in place by your thumb. The ends of the reins would naturally fall on the horse’s right shoulder because your thumb directs them to the right. I’ve looked at a couple of paintings from the 1600s and this seems to be fairly consistent, although if you look much before then you’ll see that reins were quite short (think modern barrel reins) so there wasn’t much in the way of a bight.

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  6. My bight is always on the right, and my crop is always on the left. I don’t know why. I do know that my trainer corrected multiple children at camp this week for having the bight on the left side, but I’ve only been riding with her for about a year so my habit comes from elsewhere, and she gets after me to change my crop relatively frequently.

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    1. I wasn’t taught which side the bight should go, but I was drilled about being able to carry a crop or whip in either hand! Seems like every instructor is different.

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  7. Bight to the right, always. Especially when sidesaddle, where I’d think it could even be dangerous to the left, where it could get hooked over the heads or even your right foot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone ride with the bight outside of the reins.

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  8. Well I just learned a new vocabulary word haha. I tend to have the bight inside my reins and on the left- my stick is usually in my right hand and I like having a clear shoulder to tap on to get Frankie’s attention. I’ll change my crop to my inside hand when we’re flatting, but I don’t think about the bight at all. I’m with Olivia, now I’m going to obsess over this!

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