Horse Training for Reining

In this second installment of a two-part series, learn how to master more elements of a reining pattern.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Part 1 of this series focused on perfecting your circles in a reining pattern. This second half will focus on elements such as straight lines and lead changes, with tips from AQHA Professional Horsemen Butch and Patty Campbell of Whitesboro, Texas.

Straight Line

Reining patterns are packed with circles, but straight lines play an integral part, too – particularly on your way to a sliding stop. Learn to ride straight lines slowly at first, working your way up to the high speed required for those exciting stops.

Set one pylon on each end of the arena as a focus point.

“Pick out something on the ground that you can steer toward (the pylon), and learn to steer the horse where you’re looking,” Butch says. “That helps develop steering.”

Straight lines force you to learn correct leg cues as you learn to push your horse’s side when he drifts off the straight path. Once you can walk, trot and lope straight lines, using your legs to correct deviances from the path, the Campbells suggest raising the level of difficulty.

“Walk straight ahead and move your horse’s hips to the left and to the right – and still stay straight – so you have control of the horse’s hips while still going in a straight line,” Butch says. “It’s very important in controlling your horse, and it helps with all your maneuvers.”

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Look ahead at your target and move your horse’s hips to the left with your right leg, maintaining straight, forward motion to the pylon. Then, turn around and use opposite cues to move your horse’s hips to the right while walking straight.

Lead Change

“Many nonpros are afraid to change leads,” Butch says. “We teach them to change leads in a straight line and be familiar with their horses, so it’s not a big adrenaline thing in the middle of the pen. You need to know how your horse changes leads. Most novices fear whether their horse is going to change, how to change, dropping the shoulder for the change, changing early or late or wondering if the horse will change.”

You will be more comfortable changing leads in your circles if you first master changes in a straight line.

Begin this exercise at a trot. “Two-track to the right with your left leg pushing your horse’s head straight until the designated change area,” Patty says. “Then push back to the left off your right leg. This teaches your horse to handle the push from your opposite leg and improves your timing.”

Next, two-track at the lope, asking for the lead change and pushing off in the new direction. This maneuver helps you learn to control your horse’s hip and front end. Once you have control of the horse’s frame, it’s easier to ask for a lead change in the middle of your diagonal line. “The horse and rider need to learn to change under pressure,” Patty says. “The horse needs to accept leg pressure, and the rider needs to develop timing to be precise in the lead change.”

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Loping Squares

The Campbells incorporate loping squares into practice every day. Making a slight 90-degree turn at the lope forces you to be in control of your horse’s front and hind ends, pushing through the corners with your outside leg. “Loping squares doesn’t build up the adrenaline in you and your horse,” Butch says. “It lets you get more familiar with the horse.”

For this exercise, use one hand and loose reins, picking your hand up slightly into each turn. “When you lope squares, you want to feel the horse guiding off the outside rein with your one hand,” Butch says. “If not, square him off, using the other hand if necessary.”

Be Aware

Things to think about as you approach your first reining event:

    • Novice riders generally cue harder and react quicker in the show ring than at home. Consider using bald spurs or no spurs during competition.


    • Horses often lose their attention span at shows, so be prepared to remind them to focus on you.


    • Horses and riders can suffer stage fright. Ride in paid warm-ups to become familiar with the show arena.