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Pessoa Rein~ Georgina Roberts



As helpful as gadgets may be, there is no replacement for good schooling and conditioning. Both horses and riders ultimately need to learn how to balance themselves, develop correct muscles for sustained quality, with the rider developing accurate sensitive aids. Artificial aids can assist where there is a fundamental problem and the rider is less than experienced, helping to speed this process up by allowing both parties to get the correct feel for such work. Never assume that your groom knows how to use a specific gadget – always be educated and supervise their use.


The Pessoa Rein is the only full-body gadget, i.e. does not focus solely on the neck and head position. It cannot be used while riding, but is highly effective on the lunge. It works by teaching the horse body awareness, connection from back to front, suppleness, lightness, and to push and engage the hindleg. 


It is particularly effective for horses that struggle to work through and over the back, whilst staying light in the contact. Try imagine it as teaching the horse to be “contained” in a forward bubble of movement; the second the horse leans on the bit, it will literally pull its own hindquarter further under itself. If it pushes out instead of under with the hindleg, it will immediately feel the light pressure of the rope around the hindquarter; it will also pull slightly on the bit, which is why it is important to instill the forwardness from the ground, that they never learn to correct “backwards”. It one of the best aids to use for regular lunging, and once the handler knows how to fit it very little adjusting is needed in a session – all that the handler needs be responsible for is maintaining the ratio of balance and forward tempo, and knowing which rope goes where!


There are several different fittings for the Pessoa, depending on the horse’s level of training. By far the most common way for attachment is pictured: above the hock, clipped midway on the surcingle, through the bit rings, ending between the front legs. This encourages the horse to work rounder and lower, stretching the topline to encourage the “rugby ball” shape. With a more experienced and balanced horse, they can warm up like this and then have the end clips moved up to the top of the surcingle to simulate the position of the riders hands, encouraging the horse to work in a slightly more uphill frame through the wither, while still in self-carriage and pushing from behind.


The feeling of containment, whilst one that we encourage more and more throughout a horse’s life, is initially a very claustrophobic one for a flight animal. Too tight, and the horse may panic and throw itself over. Too loose, and the dangly ropes are not only ineffective but a tangling risk.

Horses can learn to lean quite comfortably on themselves and may need to be pushed forward more to lighten in front. On the other side, a horse that is particularly shy in the contact will tuck his nose in and suck away from the bit, not pushing forward, as he might not like the lack of steady pressure on the mouth.

The Pessoa, being on a pulley system, can also slide a little to the horse’s favourite side. It may need to be shifted back into the correct place when changing rein, and if the horse consistently shifts it due to severe one-sidedness, then long-reining (where the handler can control the straightness directly) will be a better option.

Horses also commonly kick out at the feeling of something toughing their hocks – try not to panic, but gently push them forward. If they are reluctant to go forward, make sure that it is not too tight to begin with that they feel they can “go somewhere”, and try maintain the rhythm until the horse relaxes into the frame. If the horse wants to shoot forward away from the back rope try keeping his head bent slightly in towards you and not letting the circle get too big. If the horse is particularly sensitive about his hindquarters you can desensitise him first by lunging with a crepe bandage tied from the girth, around the hindquarters, and back to the girth. This arrangement will not change pressure with the frame, thus allowing them to get comfortable and confident working like that before upgrading to the Pessoa.


Colour code the ropes in the beginning if you have trouble remembering which goes where! Also remember to only put it on once in the lunging arena in case the horse does panic. The ends of the ropes can tend to fray, so to ensure longevity tape them. Make sure the pulleys turn easily and don’t jam, and once you and your horse are confident, don’t be shy to experiment with other settings: it’s a great way to develop an eye for how small changes can alter the biomechanics of your horse.

Welcome to the life of a working pupil.

“Are you actually mentally retarded?” A painful pause, punctuated by my boss, immaculate in his Pikeurs and Italian leather boots, inhaling deeply through his nostrils, eyes closed like he was willing me to evaporate. I fidgeted in my muddy wellies, and genuinely-ripped-not-by-Guess-but-by-pony-in-field jeans with grass stains. My hair was escaping my cap like it, too, was desperate to avoid the shit-out session at hand. I was trying surreptitiously to wipe the specks of blood (or manure?) (probably both) from an earlier colic off my cheek. My ego was as high as could be when one is looking like a particularly filthy (and apparently retarded) hobo, standing in front of one of the country’s top riders, who you have just managed to piss off on your second day of work.

Was he… Was he actually waiting for an answer? I wasn’t sure. It seemed that absolutely anything I could say would be the absolutely wrong thing in that moment.

There is nothing that can quite prepare you for your first job in a big yard. Here I was, nineteen, bright eyed and annoyingly bushy tailed, full of optimism and love for horses and three years worth of theory that I was itching to apply. You imagine the glossy docile horses that adorn the pages of your BHS books, the perfect step-by-step application of bandages, the immaculate running of your feed room, the neat client records and paperwork, rows of oiled saddles, impassioned dedicated grooms…

“No, I’m not being sarcastic OR rhetorical. Seriously: Are. You. Retarded.” It seemed there was no way out of answering this. I demurely averted my eyes and mumbled in the negative.

“THEN WHY ARE YOU ACTING RETARDED??? Is this candid camera? Has someone paid you to give me a stroke? Then WHY, for the love of baby Jesus and all his angels, would you put sugar in my coffee? GO AND MAKE IT AGAIN.”

No. This was most definitely not what I had imagined.

Welcome to the life of a working pupil.

Welcome to:

  • The end of your social life
  • Caffeine dependency
  • Wine dependency
  • Desire to have a drug dependency…
  • …but no money to afford such a thing
  • Bruises
  • Tears
  • Profanity

What you need to succeed:

  • A thick skin…
  • …and a paradoxically huge heart
  • Passion
  • Mental illness (and very likely retardation)
  • High pain threshold
  • MASSIVE and really dark sense of humour
  • People skills, almost more than…
  • …horse skills, because they are owned by people (sadly)
  • Ability to perform on minimal sleep a bonus
  • Humility – but if you don’t have this, some will be provided for you
  • Determination
  • Friends
  • A dog (or five)

But the best part…

  • Horses! All. Day. Every. Day. Horses <3
  • Horses noses
  • The smell of horses
  • Baby horses
  • Hairy horses
  • Pretty horses
  • Big horses
  • Little horses
  • Even ugly horses

Because at the end of the day, this one reason – this one, big, beautiful, makes-your-heart-burst, reason – is what pulls us towards this career. Certainly not fame or fortune. If you love horses, there is no cure. You will be broke and broken, and if you choose this path you will still be the happiest person in the room. IF you really love horses, and you try choose a sensible career, you will die a slow death.

But if you choose this, you will be living the dream, waking every morning with a smile, because the reality is that every job has ups and downs, but very few jobs have ups like these. And it only takes being the first person in the world to touch a newborn foal, or watching your favourite horse jump his first grand prix, or to be sitting in a room full of your favourite people, laughing exhausted at the end of a rare but rocks-your-world-in-a-way-that-you-are-high-for-months competition to remember why we can so easily tolerate the abusive hours, abusive bosses, and abusive mental demons.

Because, horses.

Follow our weekly working pupil’s blog for an insight to the equine industry, the seventh circle of hell, and ascending with the angels, right here on www.equilife.co.za/blog *****

The Offside


Read next week for – who knows? We can’t imagine. Because, horses.