Riding with Contact and Rein Aids – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic

Day 2 of the first Mikey Clinic completely restructured everything I knew and didn’t know about riding with contact! I got a brain wash that I desperately needed! Mikey studied with Philippe Karl rather intensively, so you will read a lot that is part of his school of Légèreté. I am very thankful to Sarah, who prepared me extremely well for this clinic with the Finesse she has taught me and the DVDs she had set as homework. Having heard most of this before, I am able to learn much more in the clinic than I  would have otherwise. So let’s get started…

When you add pressure with the reins, i.e. use your reins, that pressure should usually go up, not back relative to the horse’s mouth. Pulling the reins back hurts the horse whilst pressure going up will simply be uncomfortable, only touching softer tissue.


As we get taught in our first Level 1 clinic, there are two types of pressure a horse responds to – rhythmic and steady. Those are your two basic rein aids – nothing magical or mystical after all.

Applying rhythmic pressure upwards is called the demi-arrêt (cannot be translated) and should cause the horse to lift it’s head and open the poll. The refined form would be vibrating.

Applying steady pressure upwards and then giving should cause the horse to extend the neck. 


Those are really the only two rein aids one needs to concentrate on for a long time. Closing the poll (one hand up and one hand down) is the last thing you do but that is for a very high level – Piaffe level. The only time you want to close the poll is if the horse is above the bit but already knows all the aids and responds to them. Then that should cause them to round. It is very important to open the poll! Without an open poll, the horse is hiding from the contact and then you cannot ask him for anything nor can you use your rein aids effectively.

At this point in the theory session there were lots of questions firing around the room and Mikey said something that really stuck with me:

“You have to make the switch from the dedicated student who plays the seven games as he was taught, to the Horseman who knows what it [the horse] needs.” – Michael Wanzenried

Other posts from the Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic February 2016 | Ireland

  1. CONNECTION, MYTHS, BALANCE – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic
  2. RIDING WITH CONTACT AND REIN AIDS – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (you are here)
  5. THE PROJECT, FINESSE, RIDER EXPERIENCE – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (coming soon…)
  6. LEADERSHIP AND RIDER EXPERIENCE – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (coming soon…)
  7. LOOKING BACK – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (coming soon…)

8 thoughts on “Riding with Contact and Rein Aids – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic

    1. Hi Sally, thanks for the input. I can’t explain why, but in Mikey’s opinion they are different. I guess we would have to ask him about that. When I was in riding school as a kid they tried to teach me a half halt but it was nothing like the demi-arrêt that Mikey taught me. But like I said, I don’t understand all that well enough to explain it yet. Would be very interesting to find out though, why he thinks that.


    2. Oh sorry I understand now what you mean. The words demi-arrêt mean half halt. That’s true. The point Mikey was making was that nowadays most people learn a half halt means something along the lines of tugging the rein back somehow and that is not what a demi-arrêt is. So he doesn’t use the words half halt when he teaches. Therefore in a sense they can’t be translated because the translation has a different meaning attached to it nowadays. I think that’s what he means. Thanks for pointing that out!


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