Plus-Worthy Reining Circles

Horse-training tips to put “wow” in your circle transitions.

Ever watch a reining pattern and wonder how those riders get such spectacular transitions from their fast to slow circles? AQHA Professional Horseman Bob Avila says it’s easy to teach.

Reining is a show, and you have to play for the crowd, and part of the crowd is the judge.

It looks really cool when a horse goes from a big fast into a small slow circle. But you mark more when you have that abrupt change and boom right down to where the horse almost comes to a stop as he goes into the small slow.

Sometimes, though, when a horse comes down in the middle and slows down, the neck will raise and stiffen up. That judge will see that, and that’s not good.

You want a horse to come to the middle of that arena and abruptly come to a small, slow circle, but stay relaxed.

It never hurts to go back to the basics. In AQHA's "Reining Basics" DVD, Craig Johnson, an AQHA world champion, discusses communication cues between horse and rider, horse psychology and how to create a softer, smoother ride.

To Start

First, ride your horse in a fast circle. As you lope the fast circle, put your hand forward and tip your body forward. As you come to the middle of the arena, sit down on your pockets and draw your horse into the ground by taking the slack out of your reins and getting him to stop.

There is no verbal cue when you ask for the stop. Do not say “Whoa.” You get to doing verbal cues and you’ll get yourself into trouble.

Don’t Scare Your Horse

The one thing you have to watch is to never scare your horse in the middle. You can draw your horse into the ground in the middle, but do not jerk him into the ground.

If your horse is scared, you’re in a wreck, and you are not going to have a good run. You want your horse relaxed and calm.

The way your horse packs his head will tell you whether he’s scared of you pulling on him. As you continue to practice stopping in the middle of the arena, if the horse’s head stays in a relaxed position, then you know that he realizes what is coming and is not scared.

If your horse does not take you seriously when you ask for a stop, do not get after him a lot. Just back up a few steps and then ask for another lope off into a fast circle.

Over and Over

As you continue to circle your horse and ask him to stop, you’ll start to feel him go to the ground quicker and quicker. A horse is a creature of habit. Repetition will teach him what you are asking for.

Start plussing every maneuver in your reining pattern now. In the "Reining Basics" DVD, AQHA world champion Craig Johnson helps improve the line of communication between a rider and his reiner. This is a great resource for the novice or expert horseman alike.

Eventually, you will see your horse start to shorten stride in the middle of his fast circles. We want that.

Just kick through that to continue the fast circle to make the horse realize not to stop or slow down until you sit back into the saddle.

Test Drive

Once you feel confident that your horse is listening to you and understands what you are asking for, pick up a fast circle and instead of asking for a stop in the middle, just sit down on your pockets and draw down on your horse. They horse should automatically come into that slow circle with a more dramatic effect.

If he doesn’t, then continue doing the stopping-in-the-middle exercise until he is able to understand what you are asking for.

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AQHA Video - Watch it Now

Watch the winning run in senior reining from the 2011 AQHA World Championship Show.