Reining Circle Exercises

Reining Circle Exercises

Try incorporating this circle exercise into your next horse-training session to improve your reining horse.
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Ready to give reining a shot? If you’ve got some trail and horsemanship experience under your belt, you’re halfway there, say AQHA Professional Horsemen Butch and Patty Campbell of Whitesboro, Texas.

“Becoming better at horsemanship and reining go hand in hand, because the two classes are so closely related,” Patty says.

With your trainer’s help, find an experienced, gentle and willing reining horse and hit the practice arena with the Campbells’ favorite exercises.

But first, take a look at the basic reining rules:

Do you use a bosal on your horse during training sessions? If so, you’ll want to make sure you’re tying the mecate correctly. Download AQHA’s FREE Tying the Mecate report so an improperly tied mecate doesn’t interfere with your horse training!

Reining Rules

The road to readiness won’t be easy. And your first performances won’t be perfect. Keep these tips in mind so you can enjoy the ride.

  1. End each practice on a good note, with something your horse does well.
  2. Make showing and practice fun. If you're out to have fun, you're more relaxed.
  3. Treat every show the same.
  4. No matter the score, always look for ways to better yourself.
  5. Stay out of the penalty box.
  6. A smooth, pretty ride is better than an overly aggressive ride.
  7. Shoot for a 70 as a realistic goal.
  8. Spend only 20 minutes on a new concept, then leave it alone for a day. Don't push it if the horse is struggling to understand.
  9. Learn the judges' perspective. Sit in on National Reining Horse Association judging clinics and ask others to evaluate your performances for good and bad aspects.
  10. Seek criticism. Watch videos of yourself and ask others to evaluate your performances for good and bad aspects.
  11. Memorize your reining patterns before you get to the show so you can concentrate on your horse.
  12. Study up. Take advantage of AQHA videos and other resources to learn more about reining and how it's scored and judged.

Rooted in horsemanship patterns, these drills are designed to improve your riding skills, timing and knowledge of reining maneuvers. Most importantly, they’ll help you get to know your horse - an essential component of becoming a successful novice team.

Slightly change the procedures every couple of days, creating your own versions of the exercises so your horse doesn’t begin to anticipate your cues.


Nonsymmetrical circles are a common novice mistake. Why? Not enough practice. Perfect circles require a trained eye, which can be developed through exercises that help you measure your distance from the circle’s center.

The Campbells set up two or more circles outlined with four pylons. Lope inside and outside the pylons, maintaining consistent distance from the center at all times. If needed, start at a trot. As your symmetry improves, gradually increase your speed.

Tying a Mecate Step No. 1: Begin by turning your bosal just as though you were looking up at your horse. For the next eight steps, download AQHA’s FREE Tying the Mecate report. Start your horse-training sessions off right by ensuring your mecate is tied correctly.

“If you’re running big circles out in the middle of nowhere, there’s nothing to gauge by,” Patty says. “The pylons are definite obstacles, like in a trail class. The rider knows exactly when to turn to make it.”

During this exercise, look slightly to the inside of the circle, using leg pressure to guide your horse closer to or farther from the pylons.

“To tighten your circles, use more outside leg back by the cinch, and lay the outside rein up to close off at the withers,” Patty says. “If the horse tries to cut in too much, keep your inside leg up by the cinch and keep him from cutting in.”

Also concentrate on keeping your horse in correct form.

“Loping a left circle, you want to push your horse up into the bridle and keep him in a nice, round arc by having your left foot forward,” Butch explains. “That way, you also have his left eye, he’s framed up and has his shoulder picked up. Your right leg is back (keeping his hip from falling out of the circle).”

Vary your speed and count strides with each circle to establish consistent cadence. “Counting helps you know if you’re keeping the same stride in all your circles,” Patty says.

Join us next week for three more show-prep exercises, plus a few tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your first reining event.