Seven Tips for Stepping Up Your Reining Game

Here are seven secrets from professional horsemen to prepare you for a successful run in the reining arena.

The American Quarter Horse Association

This advice may help at your next show when you are in the warm-up ring feeling a little nervous for a big ride. (Credit: Journal)

Reining: the perfect combination of speed, precision and teamwork. The sport has captured many American Quarter Horse enthusiasts, including myself, and we are happily hooked on the thrills of a sliding stop.

Reining is an event that requires horse and rider to effectively complete maneuvers of high difficulty, some of which have taken hours in the practice pen to learn. America’s Horse Daily has featured some handy articles through the years covering reining advice from skilled professional horsemen. The advice shared in the articles cover topics that encompass all parts of a reining pattern.

While you are working on sharpening your skills, here are some of these helpful tips to add to your routine to strive for that winning ride.

  1. Smooth spins. Francois Gauthier shares how trotting a horse in a small circle before your turn may help you check to see if all of your tools are in place. Trotting is the natural gait a horse spins at, so working on an even pace and steady step allow for a smooth and correct turn. You want the horse to be limber and attentive to your cues so when you ask for the maneuver, they’re ready to plant that back leg and move around with no skipping or slipping.
  2. Correct rollback position. So you schooled your horse to spin, but now you are trying to rollback. AQHA Professional Horseman Al Dunning explains how the key to getting a correct rollback starts with the rider’s body position. Being out of position not only feels uncomfortable, but it also gives the horse a wrong cue and cause issues in your rollbacks. A horse may misinterpret you asking for a rollback after a stop to be a spin, causing you to over rotate. It’s good to practice different body positions to clarify the difference in a rollback cue and a spin cue. Your hand should be slightly higher for a rollback than in a spin and you should release forward with your hand after you have completed your 180-degree turn. 
  3. Running in circles. Circling may be the most overlooked part of a reining pattern. When you’re in the show arena, you don’t have cones highlighting the path of your circle, so symmetry can be easily forgotten. Professional horsemen Matt Mills advises to familiarize yourself with the arena and dissect your circle into pieces to maintain symmetry and help your own performance. To do this, pick a spot in the arena near the rail to aim for, once you’ve made it to that position pick another and continue around your circle. This also helps to remember your pattern by taking it one step at a time.  
  4. Running large fast circles. So you have the concepts of circle symmetry – now it’s time to add some speed. National Reining Horse Association Futurity winner and AQHA world champion Andrea Fappani shares his secrets in utilizing speed. A correct large, fast circle begins with a relaxed horse that is in control. Horse and rider should be in unison, gradually building up to the desired pace and steering off of the rein to execute commands with no hesitation. Control is a priority when executing a large fast circle to demonstrate teamwork between horse and rider.
  5. The perfect rundown. AQHA Professional Horseman Casey Hinton believes the two ingredients to a perfect rundown are straightness and pace. Rundowns are crucial to the perfect sliding stop. Riders need to set up for a stop by properly building speed down the arena. Running down takes a lot of practice, and you won’t complete the exact same rundown twice. It may take time to find the perfect combination of speed and timing so you aren’t too slow moving up to top speed or too fast getting there.
  6. Horse training for the sliding stop. The sliding stop – it’s a reining trademark and is associated with reining throughout the equine industry. This maneuver requires the highest energy and is the highest degree of difficulty. To execute that long, smooth slide takes patience and practice. Troy Heikes talks about how skipping and bad timing are the two killers of a good stop and shares advice on how to remedy this problem. A rider’s body needs to be in the right position to cue for the stop and to allow the horse to naturally slide across the ground. Horse and rider work as a team through the stop, and if one member of the team is off balance, the whole dynamic of the maneuver changes.
  7. Preparing for your reining debut. These helpful ideas from Brent Wright, renowned reining trainer, help riders who are just beginning their reining experience and even riders who have experience but may need some guidance in controlling their nerves. It’s important to ride to your horse’s ability level and not try to push past what you are both capable of, regardless of your competition. It’s also great to observe other experienced riders so you can learn from their success and get new ideas for you to practice. Brent Wright’s advice may help at your next show when you are in the warm-up ring feeling a little nervous for a big ride.

Did you like these tips? Check out America’s Horse Daily for more helpful horse-showing and horse-training advice from AQHA Professional Horsemen.