Editor’s Note: Reining trainer Francois Gauthier operates Sunny Pines Farm in Lucama, North Carolina. The Quebec native trains and stands six stallions, including leading sire Boggies Flashy Jac. Francois’s National Reining Horse Association lifetime earnings are more than $500,000. Here are a few tips he has to add some finesse to your spins:
The ideal reining spin features a horse turning a quick 360 degrees on a stationary hind leg, displaying the correct crossover in the forelegs combined with cadence, a positive attitude, smoothness, finesse and speed. One of the problems associated with the turnaround is a hop, or a lack of forward momentum and rhythm. If I want to build up to get more speed and more rhythm out of a horse, I’ll use a lot of trot exercises.
1. Make sure you have all the tools. Before you fix a problem, you’ll need all your tools available. First, when you pull on a direct rein, you want to make sure that the horse willingly follows his nose and his shoulder. He should follow the slack of a rein immediately with his nose and his shoulder, and his body should follow. Second, he needs to respond to your leg and move forward. Third, make sure you can touch his face with both reins and get some flex of the poll, while at the same time keeping his forward motion.
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2. Make the turn a reward. The trot is a natural gait for turning. If you turn fast, it’s a trot rhythm, and the horse will have to elevate the shoulder to do it correctly. I put the horse on a 10-foot circle at a trot.
On a right circle, I pick up my right hand almost straight up, while my outside rein is a little lower. My hands are just holding without pull unless the horse is resistant. I use my left leg to drive him forward. The goal is to hold him while pushing with my left leg. The horse will push from behind, and then he will elevate his shoulder.
If I feel resistance in the poll or on my leg, I can adjust that. I’ll make sure he’s got the forward motion while soft in the frame, then I make sure he can move off both legs. Then I can add more pressure.
Eventually, that momentum is very forward, he’s ready to spin, and he really wants to spin. When I’ve got a very good step, when the horse knows to step correctly, I use my outside rein and cross over. I will let him spin without pressure – no spur or legs – just let him turn. Whatever momentum I’ve got then will be good for five or six spins. I just turn and get out.
The spin’s a reward instead of me getting after him, banging him in the belly for a little bit more. This exercise is very tough for the horse. You’ve got two or three different things you’re asking at the same time, and he has to be quite broke to do it.
3. Diagnose the problem. If you’ve got him bridled some, and if you ride him from behind, he has to elevate his shoulder. If he tries to spin and fails, instead of elevating his shoulder, he might be moving his hind leg or picking up his head. If he wants to hop, he’ll pick up his head, and after that, your reins won’t affect his shoulders – they will make him want to suck back. You need to get him back forward and in the bridle. So when he raises his head, push him forward out of it. You have to raise those shoulders. If he moves a hind foot, I don’t fix that. I look at the front and make him cross better. If I pull on him and he moves too much on his hind leg, that’s not good because he’s not forward enough – so it’s back to the trot.
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4. Check both sides. If he’s better one direction than the other, I first check to make sure he’s sound. If it’s just resistance, I will bend him like I did when he first came to my farm. Then I will pick him up and drive him forward in that trot circle – drive, drive, drive. Turn him loose, then drive him forward. But it’s an exercise, and the horse has to build up his ability to do that. Sometimes, it might just be a little thing causing trouble one direction, like he wants to suck back too much. A horse is always better one way than the other, but it cannot be too different. And sometimes, you work them a long time, and a couple of months later, he’s better on the other side.
5. Check the attitude. If he’s tense or scared, take a little more time before you turn. Practice the trotting exercise until he wants to turn. When you do step, use two hands, try to keep him in the frame and let him step while your outside rein is pretty straight, not across his neck like a broke horse. You can improve the drill some. But that’s where you decide how much pressure your horse needs. If he’s a lazy horse, you’ve got to encourage, “Come on, get out!” a little bit more. If the horse is a little nervous, then be a little softer, and maybe use a little bigger circle so he’ll feel more comfortable preparing for the spin.