Rein Length with Saddle Bronc Jesse Bail

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Q: Jesse,
I hear bronc riders talking about rein length, and I understand the concept in general, but I was wondering if you could explain how you go about determining the length of rein you use.

Thanks,
Patrick Miles, Edgemont, S.D.

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A: Rein measurement is important on a bronc because if it's too long, you'll get slack in it and when they kick they'll throw you over their head. A lot of people think if it's too short it'll throw you over their head, but most the time that happens if the rein is too long. If it's too short, you're pulled over them and you can't get up in the neck with your feet and spur them as good. It's pretty simple, really, but nobody understands it.

Measuring the Rein
First, I just pull it across the swells of my saddle, some people pull it across tighter than others, but I just get it snug. Put your hand right behind the swells, a fist and thumb is what's called average. Then just mark it right there with a piece of leather or mane hair. Another way to measure an average is to take the rein up over the horse's head, behind his ears and down to his eye on the opposite side. At the top of the eye is usually average. This is handy if the horse won't stand or if you want to double check the measurement.

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X and Four
For anything else, I just measure my average and then this would be four more. Four fingers is all it is. Some guys will say X and One, Two, Three or Four. I always just use Two or Four. For some guys, their average is X and Two. I think that comes from the way they pull their rein when they measure. I just lay mine across, some guys will pull on it.

I just mark my average and if they take X and Two, I'll know that and grab it where I need to.

If broncs put their head down, they'll take a pile of rein. That usually means they're better to ride and you can spur higher in the neck-which is what you want. The high-headed horses that don't take much rein tend to get a little emptier and droppier, some of them are hoppers, too. You'd rather have one take rein, it makes it look like a better ride.

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Moose Ears or Double X
I hardly ever give a bronc that much rein, maybe just a few times. I've heard of bronc riders taking it at the cantle, too, but I never have.

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Fist
Sometimes a horse will be phony headed or he will fight his head, so if you put your rein in his throatlatch he won't feel it as much. It helps him out and he won't fight his head as much. I'd rather not do it, but I do it on broncs that need it done. If you do that, usually a fist becomes your average. It happens, but it's not really common.

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The Grip
I'll put the spot where the braids come together between my ring finger and pinkie, it just feels more comfortable like that. Some guys full-hand it and some guys run a finger through one of the braids.