Reining Horses

Reining is a popular equestrian sport, displaying horses and riders in a graceful yet exciting manner.

Like all western riding sports, reining had its start on the ranch. Cowboys who had to herd cattle, rope calves, and ride long distances needed reliable, agile and obedient horses.

Unlike the City Slicker, cowpokes from the famous movie, in the olden days riders did not collapse by the campfire with a bottle of liniment, but were likely to engage in riding sports, competing with one another to see who had the fastest horse, who had the most obedient horse or who could do the best tricks.

Out of these cowboy contests came the elegant and exciting sport of reining. Today, the skills of the horse and rider are displayed in the riding of patterns around an arena. These involve a variety of movements that must be chained together in a graceful sequence with no observable resistance on the horse”s part.

Reining has been called the “dressage of Western Riding,” with a distinctly hard-driving, sliding, spinning flavor. Its purpose is to show the horse”s smoothness, finesse, obedience and attitude. Reining is quickly gaining international support as a horseback riding sport that is likely to achieve Olympic status.

Tack and Turnout for Reining

Judge not the horse by his saddle.Chinese Proverb

Reining may be a rough sport, but a little class and good looks are needed to win the judges.

Rider: Most western riding sports don”t require any special attire aside from a long-sleeved shirt (cotton in summer, wool in colder weather), a hat or helmet and western boots. Western clothing and turnout are not judged, but “proper” attire gives a professional look. Spurs, chaps (only leather is “cool”) and helmets are optional. Many reiners wouldn”t be caught dead without their spurs, but some beginners have trouble climbing stairs and driving vehicles with spurs on!

In all cases, polished boots, neat clothing and a smart felt hat improve the western rider”s appearance. A straw hat is cooler in summer, but is easier to lose in the heat of competition. Judges never deduct points for a flying hat, but it often distracts the rider and may affect performance.

Horse: Reining requires a western saddle. You can use any Western headstall without a noseband in conjunction with any standard Western bit. Split or normal reins are required as is a curb bit (a bit with a solid or broken mouthpiece with shanks). A rope (or riata) is allowed, and your horse can wear leg wraps or boots.

The following items are prohibited: martingales, tiedowns, nosebands, chinstraps narrower than 1/2-inch or mechanical hackamores. Slip, gag, or donut bits and flat polo mouthpieces are not allowed either. In some classes, three-piece mouthpieces are prohibited.

Grooming for Reining Trials

If you”re a beginner, the old pros might tease you by having you believe that your horse should look “rugged” and “rode hard.” But if you show up at the starting point with a muddy, messy horse and holes in your jeans, you”ll probably stand out like a sore thumb. Not that the judges care, but a little poise and confidence are better for beginners. You needn”t invest in saddles and bridles that ooze silver and fancy saddle blankets that match your shirt. What judges do notice is a rider who appears to care a lot about his or her horse.

A Horse for Reining

To achieve the best, reining requires a well-fitted, well-trained horse.

Can any horse be taught reining?: Yes. Some horses are bred specifically for Western performance events, but as long as they can handle the maneuvers, all horses benefit from the training. Quarter Horses are among the most popular choices for reining and excel at running short distances such as a quarter milehence the name.

Do I ride with both hands on the reins?: Only in the Snaffle Bit or Hackamore classes for three- and four-year-olds. In most other classes, one hand is used on the reins.

PATTERN 4 (from the AHSA Rulebook)

Beginning at the center of the arena facing the left wall or fence. Notice the words highlighted in green . They represent the basic movements that reining horses and their riders perform in competition. See the glossary below for definitions of each movement.

  • Graphic example of a reining pattern.Beginning on right lead, complete three circles to the right: the first two circles large and fast; the third circle small and slow. Stop at the center of the arena.
  • Complete four spins to the right. Hesitate.
  • Beginning on the left lead, complete three circles to the left: the first two circles large and fast; the third circle small and slow. Stop at the center of the arena.
  • Complete four spins to the left. Hesitate.
  • Beginning on right lead, run a large fast circle to the right, change leads at the center of the arena, run a large fast circle to the left, and change leads at the center of the arena.
  • Continue around previous circle to the right. At the top of the circle, run down the middle to the far end of the arena past the end marker and do a right roll backno hesitation.
  • Run up the middle to the opposite end of the arena past the end marker and do a left roll backno hesitation.
  • Run past the center marker and do a sliding stop. Back up to the center of the arena or at least 10 feet. Hesitate to complete demonstration of the pattern. Rider must drop bridle to the designated judge or steward as designated by the judge.

Glossary of Reining Terms

  • Circle: different circle sizes and speeds show control in speed changes
  • Hesitate: Demonstrate the horse”s ability to stand motionless in a relaxed position on command.
  • Lead Change: Change the leading legs at front and rear, at a lope, when changing direction.
  • Rollback: Perform a 180-degree change of direction.
  • Run Down: Demonstrate control and gradual increase of speed before coming to a stop.
  • Sliding Stop: Slow from a lope to a stop by bringing the hind legs under the horse in a locked position, sliding on the hind feet.
  • Spin: Perform a series of 180-degree turns with hindquarters fixed and maintained throughout the spin.

Reining Competitions

Reining is popular in the USA and is growing in popularity on the international level. The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) has approved reining as an international sport. Reining is the first Western riding sport to achieve this status. Its supporters hope that it will soon be an event at the Pan Am Games, the World Equestrian Games and, ultimately, the Olympics.

The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) is the main organization for reining in the United States. Many reining horse competitions and state or local organizations use the NRHA rules. Their main events are the NRHA Derby and the NRHA Futurity. Both are held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Reining Canada sets standards for reining competition and selects Canadian teams for international competition. It is based in Ottawa, Ontario. The main event is the Canada Cup, a series of three or more events held across the country in the summer.

The National Reining Breeders Classic describes itself as “the most spectacular show on the reining calendar.” The venue for this event has recently moved from Guthrie, Oklahoma to Katy, Texas.

Reining is one of the six equestrian sports supported by USET, the United States Equestrian Team. This organization prepares teams for international competition.

The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) supports the sport of reining in the U.S. by processing approved show and race results, cataloging performance data, and publicizing reining events and activities. The AQHA World Championship Show includes reining events at the amateur, junior, and senior levels.

NRHA Affiliates

Most U.S. states from Washington to California are NRHA affiliates. Canadian provinces such as Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia are affiliates. Worldwide, the NRHA has affiliates in Australia, Israel, Japan, Austria, France, Italy, Holland, Spain and Switzerland.

Europe also has a number of national reining organizations:

  • the National Reining Horse Association of Germany
  • the Italian Reining Horse Association
  • the Belgian Reining Promotion Group.