Running in Circles, Part 1

AQHA Pro Horseman Matt Mills offers five tips on making perfect circles.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Fast and slow circles count just as much as the other maneuvers when judges tabulate their final scores. Journal photo.

When it comes to reining, circles are often overlooked. Emphasis is usually placed on stops, spins and rollbacks.

However, the fast and slow circles count just as much as the other maneuvers when judges tabulate their final scores.

AQHA Professional Horseman Matt Mills is known for his precise, consistent circles in the reining arena. He offers these five tips on how to improve your circle scores.

1. Have a Plan

It’s very important to pick landmarks out in the arena. Before you show your horse, make out a plan of where in the arena you are going to go. If it’s an arena you’ve never ridden in, you might consider walking it on foot to familiarize yourself with it.

Slide into the excitement of reining with AQHA World Champion reining exhibitor, Al Dunning. Whether you are just starting to ride or you are polishing a performance reining horse for competition, Al demonstrates maneuvers step by step in Reining for the Rider.

While looking at the arena, pick out four points you are going to try to hit when showing to ensure you’re in the right spot. Obviously, you have the center cone as one point but then you should choose three other points on the rails of where you need to go.

You’ll be surprised how this helps you. It takes your mind away from getting nervous if you know, “OK, I’ve got this pattern dissected down into pieces. When I lope off, I’ve got to go from this point to that banner right there to that white post over there and then to that banner on the other side.”

You know exactly where you are at, and you’re always looking where you’re going.

2. Look Up

To maintain the same size circles, you must be aware of the arena while you’re showing.

I see so many riders who just don’t look up. If you don’t pay attention to the small details, you will cost yourself points, and those are silly points to lose.

Ring Steward Seminar

Learn ring steward responsibilities like how to assemble classes, assist the judge with unruly horses and mediate between judges and exhibitors at AQHA’s Ring Steward Seminar.

A rider looking down is a sign of an insecure rider. I know just from watching videos of myself show when I felt really good and confident. You could tell because I’ve got my head up, and I’m looking where I’m going. I’m very focused on what I’m doing. It definitely shows up in the judges’ scores.

When you’re not confident and looking down while you’re riding, it not only doesn’t look as good to the judge, that’s usually when mistakes happen because you’re not looking ahead.

It’s very important to look up. It comes back to arena awareness, knowing where you are in your pattern. Don’t blow the entire run for one bad maneuver.

3. Know Your Horse

I like a horse that is bright and looking around, but I’ll make subtle movements when I’m showing just to check and make sure he’s listening to me. The best way to know whether a horse is dialed in or not is if his ear is perking back on you every now and then.

In the Reining for the Rider DVD, Al Dunning demonstrates the riding skills needed to show a champion reining horse. Order your copy today!

You’ll be surprised what those ears will tell you. I’ve been run off with as much as anybody has, but if you watch the ears, the horse will tell you if he is listening or not.

You’ve also got to pay attention to what kind of horse you have. If you have a horse that is a little on the hot side, one that really wants to go, then you don’t want to go very fast. Go a medium speed. Keep him where he is comfortable and don’t push it. If you’ve got a horse you know you can run, then go ahead and show him off and ask for more speed.

For my horses, I like to sit differently. When I’m running fast, I lean forward and push my hand forward on the horse’s neck. That’s a cue for the horse to go fast, but it also gives me the feeling like I’m ahead of my horse. That way, if there are any problems that come up, I’m already ahead and can see them coming.

When I move into my slow circle, I sit back in the saddle. That’s the cue for my horse to slow down. It’s a huge move because I don’t want there to be any doubt in that horse’s mind that when we get to the center and I sit back, it’s time to slow down. Plus, to me, it adds a touch more to my performance.

Come back next week for Part 2 of Running in Circles!