Preparing for Your Reining Debut

In Part 2 of this series about reining, discover what not to do in your horse-showing excursions.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

As you school your horse in the warm-up pen, you realize the competition is tough – really tough. It’s one of your first competitions and, as a novice rider, your heart is already pounding as you wait for your draw. You ponder last-minute miracle efforts that might bring your horse up to par with your rivals. You think you need a quick fix to contend because you know your horse can’t spin that fast and you know you’ve never run that hard.

Calm down, says Brent Wright, renowned reining horse trainer. Last-minute changes will only frustrate you and your horse. With this in mind, Brent shares additional strategies and tips for reinforcing your horse’s strengths, while also calming your horse-show nerves.

Did you miss the first few tips? Review Part 1 of this series for tips in the following areas:

  1. Settling in at the show.
  2. Warming your horse up.
  3. Ideas to keep in mind as you show your reining horse.

Keep the Peace With Your Horse

Just as Brent discourages changing a horse’s program at a show, he also avoids big confrontations during warm-up.

“I try not to get into a big tussle with them before I’m going to show them,” he says. “If you’ve got to correct them and make them a little mad at you, it’s better to do it the night before. That gives them the chance to eat some hay, regain their composure and get over being mad at you.”

Whether you’re a beginning enthusiast learning to ride or an accomplished rider polishing a performance reining horse, it’s always good to go back to basics. Order the “Reining Basics With Craig Johnson” DVD for additional tips and tricks that will not only better prepare you for the show ring, but also improve your communication cues.

It’s a fine balance that requires focusing on - and staying at - your horse’s current ability level.

“You’ve got to have them listening to you, but it’s best to avoid confrontations right before the show,” he says. Stick with what the horse is comfortable with, keep yourself calm and be content in doing your best – not trying to be the best.

Take Advantage of Practice Opportunities

“Paid warm-ups and schooling shows are invaluable for keeping horses honest and working for you,” Brent says. They’re also a great opportunity for novice riders to gain control of nerves and learn what to expect from their horse.

“Schooling shows are a bigger part of getting ready for a show than warming up at the show,” he says.

“If I’ve got a big event coming up, I try to go to several schooling shows. You’ve got to make the horse think it’s a horse show.” He schools during patterns only when his horse gives him reason, but he makes sure to tempt his horse into stepping up and going faster. This way, the horse learns what not to do in a show arena.

“If the horse takes the bait and goes faster than necessary, I immediately pull him into the ground, then lope off again,” he says. “I always start a pattern, then I look for places to school. If the horse is nervous, I might stand the whole time.”

Schooling shows keep older horses honest and working hard, and they’re great for exposing young horses to the show environment, Brent says. A willing horse who’s confident with his surroundings gives you more opportunity to focus on yourself and your riding goals at each show.

Remember to Learn

As a novice rider, you have plenty to think about at shows, but Brent recommends using warm-up time to learn from other riders and horses.

“I’ve learned over the years that horse shows are a great place to learn,” he says. “You’ll learn more at one horse show than in six months riding at home. You’ll learn a lot about training horses, and you’ll learn a lot about your specific horse and what he’s like in a game situation.”

Do you want to take your new-found reining knowledge a step farther? Order AQHA’s “Reining Basics With Craig Johnson” DVD! With Craig’s help, you can learn about properly using the four types of communication cues, applying and releasing pressure and so much more.

Study successful trainers, such as AQHA Professional Horsemen, watch competitors’ rides and ask experts for advice and help, he says. Brent makes a point to watch as many competitors’ rides as his time allows, to stay abreast of the scores and to learn what works for other riders.

Most importantly, he says, learn from your performance by assessing where it felt good or bad, watching videos and getting trainers’ opinions. Then tailor your at-home practice toward an encouraging improvement at the next show.

You’re almost ready to hit the show circuit! Here are a few additional things you should avoid doing:

    • Don’t change your program at the show, no matter what scores you’re up against.
    • Don’t instigate a fight with your horse by trying to fix a problem an hour before your class.
    • Don’t practice in a crowded, chaotic arena. Find another time or place to practice.
    • Don’t forget to mentally prepare. Visualize your ideal ride and anticipate problems so you can avoid them.
    • Don’t let little things bother you. Your draw order doesn’t matter. Focus on making a clean ride.

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