Preparing for Your Reining Debut

Examine these tips to optimize your horse-showing success in reining competition.

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.

A lot of people, myself included, get to the horse show and think they have to change their program,” says Brent of Ottawa, Kansas. “But it’s too late at that point to go changing things. Go with what you’ve got there.”

Consider your ride as an opportunity to learn more about your horse and your performance. Then work on improving both when you get home.

“Novice riders need to realize that, even if they don’t have the quality of horse to win, they still need to go show and get ring experience, get out there and get to know everybody and learn by watching other people,” he says.

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.

With this in mind, Brent shares a horse -show strategy that reinforces your horse’s strengths, calms nerves and minimizes your frustration by concentrating on what you and your horse do well.

First, keep these tips in mind:

    • Know your horse’s ability level and stick with it at shows.
    • Flex and loosen your horse at the beginning of each warm-up.
    • During warm-up, ask your horse to gallop a couple of circles at least as fast as you plan to show him.
    • Use good showmanship to hide flaws in the arena. Keep your hands down and make cues invisible.
    • Watch and learn from successful riders, then practice their techniques when you get home.
    • Attend schooling shows to get accustomed to your horse’s behavior during competition.

Settle In

“When I get to the show, I want to get my horse used to the environment and have him ridden down and not fresh,” Brent says. “A lot of times, I ride my horses a little more than I do at home, because they tend to be a little more preoccupied with their surroundings. I ride twice a day at shows, maybe not for long periods of time, but so they’re not fresh.”

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.

He recommends arriving several days early and visiting the show arena as many times as possible, especially because it can be a scary place for novice riders. “Stop your horse in the arena, let him feel the ground and see if you’ve got any problems,” he says. Getting comfortable with your surroundings helps ease your anxiety at show time.

Warm Up

Wright recommends that novices do most of their warm-up riding on their own, getting trainers’ advice from the sidelines.

“It’s good for the beginner to be on the horse and get some of the jitters out, with a little instruction from the trainer,” he says. “You might as well figure it out and do it on your own.”

Never practice the pattern during warm-ups, Brent says. Instead, practice pieces of the pattern in random order, or vary from the required maneuvers so your horse won’t anticipate any cues in the show ring. “Instead of a sliding stop to a turn, I might stop, then back 30-40 feet so they won’t think about jumping out of that turn,” he says.

He makes sure to keep his horses guessing what cues will come next.

“I might spin them around, then lope them with my legs on them, then take my legs off and make sure they stop as soon as my legs come off them. I make sure they’re in tune with me and listening to me.” Trotting and loping slow will loosen their muscles and get them relaxed to show.

During warm-ups, Brent demands the consistent, correct form his horses learn at home.

“If they’re dropping into the circle, I stand them up and drive them up into the bridle. I do that while I’m loping fast. Then I’ll lope little, slow circles. I want them relaxed. I’ll run some fast circles, then take my legs off in the middle. If they hit the deck right there, that’s fine. Breaking gait doesn’t worry me during practice. I want them craving going slow and relaxing.”

On the day of your class, Brent says to pay particular attention to your horse’s energy level.

“I get on my horses an hour before I’m going to show to see how they feel loping around,” Brent says. “After about 15 minutes of warm-up, I gallop them around pretty fast, as traffic allows – as fast as I’m going to show them in the arena. You can slowly lope them around for 30-40 minutes, but until you get them to suck a little air, they might have some hidden energy they’re not showing you. Let them run in that warm-up pen as fast as you’re going to show them – if not faster – for just a couple of minutes. I want to have the feeling that they’re begging me to go slow.”

After asking his horses for speed, he makes sure they have time to recover.

“I run them far enough ahead of my class that they can catch all their air,” he says. “I don’t want them puffing when it’s time to show. I’ll run them about 45 minutes before my draw. Or, if I’m showing in the afternoon, I might run them hard in the morning while I’m working on my circles.

If I’m riding a fresher horse, I’ll do it closer to show time.” As you get to know your horse through lots of practice shows, you’ll learn how much energy he needs to burn before show time.

“You’ve got to know your horse and how he reacts to game situations,” Brent says. “They tend to change a little bit when they’re in show condition.”

If you enjoyed these tips, check back next week for Part 2, which will offer additional pointers for succeeding at reining events.

Member Benefit

Uncovering new horse-training tips can be fun, but we know how to make it even better. As an AQHA member, you have access to training tools, such as informational DVDs, at a discounted rate. Visit Quarter Horse Outfitters today to reap the rewards of being an AQHA member!