What are bearing reins? Bearing reins were a type of horse tack used in the 1800’s to elevate a carriage horse’s head. These reins were uncomfortable and even painful for horses and were abolished partially in part to the protest raised by Anna Sewell’s novel Black Beauty.
A form of bearing rein is used today, but is a much more humane device. Today most horse harnesses include a overcheck or sidecheck- which are comparable to a bearing rein but are adjusted more humanely. An overcheck helps a horse maintain their balance and gives a handler more control- An overcheck does not force the horse’s head up painfully, but is usually set at the horse’s optimal natural carriage. Occasionally, a bearing rein type device is still used on horses ridden by children or disabled adults. A loosely adjusted bearing type rein (usually more like a sidecheck) allows a horse to carry their head naturally, but prevents a horse from dropping their neck to graze or snatching reins out of a riders hands- both actions that can cause an insecure or disabled rider to fall and be injured.
Even though use of the bearing rein was discontinued nearly 100 years ago, the practical applications of bearing reins- applied in more humane manners- are still useful today.