Running Large Fast Circles in Reining

Use these six horse-training steps to reach open-level reining speeds.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

There’s a serious need for speed in the reining arena these days, especially among the young-aged events. Are you in on the excitement? Take a lesson from National Reining Horse Association Futurity and Derby winner Andrea Fappani of Scottsdale, Arizona. With his six steps, you can have a futurity prospect that goes mach 10 with your hair on fire.

Step 1: Easy Does It

I like to start working on speed control during a horse’s 2-year-old year, toward the end of the summer. I want a lot of time to make sure the horse is relaxed about speed control. Before I can work on speed control, I make sure my horse can steer well and that I’ve got him soft in the face. If I don’t have everything under control when I’m going slow, there is no point in trying to go fast. If I’m not happy with something my horse is doing slow, I fix the problem because it will only get worse the faster I go.

When I start speeding my horse up, I build speed gradually. I’ll keep riding my horse the same way I do when I go slow. I make sure my horse is totally under control going fast, just as much as he is when going slow.

He needs to steer well and give his face softly. If I have to fix something, for example, if my horse is leaning to the outside of the circle, I’m going to make sure that while I steer to the inside, I keep the same speed, and I don’t slow down. If I want my horse to feel comfortable going fast, I better keep that high speed until everything feels good, and only then will I let my horse slow down.

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If my horse wants to go faster than I ask, I pick up my hands and bring the horse back to the desired speed. When I’m happy with everything going fast (my horse is relaxed, steering well and soft in the face), I let my horse slow down and lope a couple of slower, smaller circles. I reward my horse by going slow and making it easier. My theory is that my horse won’t get hot by going fast if he knows that at some point, he’ll get to slow done and get rewarded.

Step 2: Be Willing to Adjust

Almost all of the horses I’ve trained have gotten excited with speed, so it’s important to introduce them to it gradually. Every horse is an individual, and every horse reacts differently to different speeds.

Keeping that in mind, I adjust the speed to every horse and every level of training. I know that I am going too fast when the horse stops listening to me and ignores my guiding and slowing-down cues. When introducing speed on my young horses, I want my horse to feel uncomfortable enough that he’ll learn how to deal with it, but not be too scared or panic and resent going fast later on.

Step 3: Listen to Your Horse

When running fast circles, the most common problem is to getting the horse to slow down. If the horse has in the back of his mind that thought of slowing down at all times, he will hunt that spot where you’ll actually ask him to come back.

By preserving that desire to slow down, the horse will be relaxed about going fast and most likely will not want to run off. It’s very important to know how tired the horse is when working on speed control. I want to get the fresh out of my horse when working on this particular maneuver, sot the horse doesn’t get fresher going fast. But I don’t want my horse too tired and out of air, or he could get hurt.

Especially when riding young horses, it’s important got to stop training them before they get exhausted. If my horse isn’t being good, and I need to ride more to make it better, I will tie him up and let him catch his air. Then I will ride again. I’d rather ride my horse two or three times for 20 minutes each session than ride for an hour and a half and take the chance of hurting him.

Step 4: Just Steer

If I’ve done my job right, I should have total control of my horse even going fast and shouldn’t have any problem performing precise circles. Just remember that everything happens very fast. If I make a little mistake, and I don’t fix it right away, it quickly becomes a big problem. Look ahead a quarter of your circle to prevent steering problems.

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Step 5: Be a Good Communicator

During fast circles, I lean forward just a bit. The horse tends to follow your body to balance himself; but I don’t want to lean forward too much, because I like to feel the horse under me in the saddle. My cue is to sit forward a little and start clucking as often as I want to increase my speed. If I just want medium speed, I’ll cluck two or three times in a circle. If I really want to push my horse, I’ll cluck every couple of strides. When I want to slow down, I quit clucking and sit back.

Step 6: Practice Makes Perfect

Practice as much as possible at home. For novice riders, it’s a good idea to practice on an older horse who’s solid going fast, so you can become comfortable with increased speeds. A comfortable and confident rider can match a young horse and produce solid circles with speed.

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