Hold the Reins at the Right Tension

First, let me admit that I’ve never ridden a horse.

And yet, I’ve always thought of riding a horse as a metaphor for life. Sometimes you need to be very hands on and hold the reins tight. Sometimes you need to be ease off and hold the reins more loosely.

The Wikihow entry on how to hold a horse’s reins is instructive:

Hold the Reins at the Right Tension. You want just enough tension to maintain control, without restricting the horse’s movements unnecessarily. It’s better to hold them too loose than too tight, in order to avoid causing pain.

This metaphor is particularly useful when it comes to managing people or raising your kids.

Most of the time we need just enough tension to guide our kids or our employees, without restricting them unnecessarily. But when our kids get involved in harmful behavior, or if a work project gets off track, we need to tighten those reins and exercise more control.

What about you? How do you find the right balance when parenting or managing a team?


  1. The two life lessons I’ve tried to instill in my daughter are respect and responsibility. I’m open and honest with her about mistakes I’ve made. I giver her a lot of rope, and I make it clear that she can always come to me for help or guidance and I will reserve judgement as my ch as possible. She’s 15. So far it’s worked.

  2. An appropriate metaphor, for this mom of five sons.

    I’ve never ridden a horse either, but I see the wisdom in having loose enough reigns that they feel freedom to run, yet a tight enough grip to pull them back, change their course, and slow them down.

    I might add that spurs are useful too:)

  3. Hi, Keith,
    I think the advice to hold the reins loosely is essentially wise and sound, but as you point out, if circumstances warrant, we need to be prepared to take tighter control. I don’t have kids, so can’t speak to the parenting side, but in terms of managing people, it’s wise to remember that each employee has different needs, different motivations, and different abilities. Thus, there’s probably no one-grip-fits-all approach to rein-holding. Unlike horses, we have the opportunity to talk with our employees and discuss where they are comfortable running unrestrained and where they either want or will benefit from more oversight and control. Sometimes they assume capabilities they don’t yet possess. Our challenge is to teach and nurture–without breaking the spirit–even when people may not yet recognize that they need it.

    • You make a really good point Donna. Every child and every employee is different. Some need a firmer grip; some looser. And it varies for each one from day to day.

  4. I think you gave wise advice in your metaphor. I’m not a parent but know I’d try to give any kids I would have had a good amount of freedom and wiggle room, but still be protective enough for both my and their generally security. I agree with the poster above that this analogy applies to more than just parenting. I think it would make for a very good boss, at least the bosses I’ve had and liked gave me ample wiggle room.

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