How Did Roping Reins Change History?

Since man first domesticated the horse and began to ride thousands of years ago, control of the mount has been of primary concern says Dennis Moreland Tack. Probably the first “control” mechanism was a rawhide string tied around the lower jaw and extending back to the rider’s hand. With this string, the horse’s head could be pulled to the side, directing it, or circled to a stop.

It didn’t take long for early riders to realize a rein on each side gave lateral control in both directions and the mount could be pulled to a stop. Split reins had come into being.

When man discovered he could hunt on horseback, using either a spear or a bow and arrow, he found that split reins were impractical. A fist full of reins left him with only 1 hand free.

His solution: a continuous rein which could be looped around 1 hand while still holding his bow. The same looped rein was also necessary when horses became war mounts. A warrior could use 1 hand to control his mount with split reins and aim a lance or swing a sword with the other but he couldn’t use a bow and arrow-the primary distance weapon of the time. A continuous rein was the answer once again.

Metal bits (primitive snaffles) came into existence during the Bronze Age (approx. 3300 BC to 1200 BC) just as bronze swords, shields and lance and spear points emerged. A continuous rein was attached, just as it had been to the rawhide loop on the horse’s jaw. Mounted warriors of that time, aware that they could be knocked off their horse and left afoot, often added a long extra rein on 1 side and tucked the extra coils in their belts. That way, if they were unseated, they could grab the rope and still have hold of their horse.

Many riders today, when using a snaffle, still follow that example. And, a continuous rein with a lead (mecate) is part of the traditional vaquero hackamore (jáquima)

Closed, continuous reins became the norm for any type of riding where the rider would need to have his hands free. Ancient horse art depicts hunters and warriors using a closed rein. As horsemanship spread across the ancient world 2 styles of riding developed-one with split reins and the other with a single, continuous rein.

When the Spaniard Cortez invaded Mexico in 1519 his mounted warriors used a continuous rein. They followed a style of mounted war-fare that had been in existence for centuries. Once raising stock became common in Mexico horsemen used the single rein, usually with a separate tie rope, on an everyday basis. Often those early cowboys or vaqueros attached a short whip or quirt to the center of the rein to make romal reins As the vaqueros moved north into what would become the western states of the US, the cowboys there picked up their rein techniques. Such reins, usually made of braided rawhide and/or leather, are still used by cowboys following the vaquero tradition including exhibitors in reined cow horse classes.

Around 1900, when the cowboy sports of rodeo and contest roping began, the early ropers were working ranch hands using split reins. Photographs of early-day single steer ropers frequently show the horse out at the end of the rope with one or both split reins hanging on the ground. Later photos show 1 rein attached to both bit rings and the other tied around the horse’s neck. By the time of World War I (1914-1917) ropers were essentially all using a single rein. The roping rein had arrived following the age-old tradition that horsemen will adapt their equipment to meet their need.

Today good roping reins are made of a single leather strap attached to the bit with buckles or snaps. Some roping reins are adjustable so the rider can lengthen them when he or she isn’t roping.

My DM 5/8″ Adjustable Roping Reins are handmade of racetrack harness leather and my non-adjustable DM Roping Reins are made of latigo. Both styles have stainless steel snaps and buckles and are cut and finished by hand to give you the best feel possible in a roping rein. Call or text 817-312-5305 or email [email protected] if I can answer any questions.

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