Reining is a western riding competition for horses where the riders guide the horses through a precise pattern of circles, spins, and stops. All work is done at the lope (a slow, relaxed version of the horse gait more commonly known worldwide as the canter) and gallop; the fastest of the horse gaits. Reining is often described as a Western form of dressage riding, as it requires the horse to be responsive and in tune with its rider, whose aids should not be easily seen, and judges the horse on its ability to perform a set pattern of movements.
The reining pattern includes an average of eight to twelve movements which must be executed by the horse. Patterns require the following movements:
The horse begins with a score of 70, with a theoretical range of scores considered to be from 60 (if there are no penalties or disqualifications) to 80 (a near-impossible perfect pattern). Points are added or subtracted by 1/2, 1, and 1-1/2 point increments for each of the 7 to 8 maneuvers in the designated pattern. Each part of the pattern is judged on precision, smoothness, and finesse, and increased speed increases the difficulty of most movements and the potential for a high score. A score of 70 is considered an average score for a horse that made no errors but also did not perform with any particularly exceptional ability. A score below 70 reflects deductions for incorrectly performed movements or misbehavior of the horse, a score above 70 reflects that some or all movements were above average. Certain misbehaviors may incur additional penalties beyond a minus score for a given maneuver. Significant errors, such as an overspin (more than one quarter turn), will result in a "zero score", which might still allow a horse in a small class to earn a ribbon for last place (awards are given to the top three, five, six or ten competitors, depending on the type of competition and sanctioning organization). Major mistakes, such as a rider going off-pattern, result in disqualification, sometimes called a "no score," which prevents the horse from earning any award, even if it is the only horse in the class.
For protection, horses usually wear splint boots or polo wraps on the cannons of their lower front legs as well as skid boots on their hind fetlocks. Bell boots, which wrap around the pastern and protect the hoof and coronary band, are also usually seen, sometimes only on the front feet, other times on all four feet.
Riders must wear a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, a cowboy hat, and cowboy boots. In most competitions, they also wear chaps. Gloves are optional. There has historically been less difference between men's and women's attire in reining than in most western events, though women's clothing is more influenced by fashion trends from Western pleasure competition, and thus women sometimes wear brighter colors, and are more apt to add a decorated jacket or vest, though usually not as flashy as in other horse show events.
Riders may use both hands when a horse is ridden with a snaffle bit or a bosal hackamore. However, snaffles and hackamores ridden with both hands are usually limited only to special classes for horses between the ages of three and five years old. Most of the time, with the exception of "freestyle" classes, snaffle bit and hackamore horses do not compete directly against curb bit horses, though specific details vary depending on the particular sanctioning organization. In the last thirty years, the snaffle bit is the more common headgear used on younger horses, but in the past, the hackamore was more common. Some local or regional competitions offer a non-sanctioned "novice horse" division where horses of any age who have limited experience as reining horses can be ridden two-handed in a snaffle.
Sometimes reining classes at breed shows are split into "junior horse" and "senior horse" divisions. Depending on the breed, Junior horses are either 3, 4 or 5 years old, and allowed to show in a snaffle or bosal. Senior horses who age out of the junior horse divisions at age six must be shown in a curb. The rules have changed over the years to reduce the stress on young horses. Junior horse devisions at one time were limited to horses that were only 3 and, sometimes, 4 years old. Expansion to age five parallels the standards set by the FEI and in endurance competitions, recognizing that the physical and mental development of most young horses is not considered complete until that time. Further, though many western stock horse breeds are started under saddle at the age of two, they generally are not physically or mentally ready to be entered into any type of reining competition at that age and in some cases are prohibited from entering any performance class until at least 2-1/2 years old. Both the NRHA and many breed associations offer snaffle bit futurities, usually for three-year-old horses, which pay very large purses.
Individual divisions at a reining competition vary somewhat depending on whether they are sanctioned by the NRHA or another organization. However, standard classes include those limited to junior or senior horses, to horses of a specific age (such as three year olds), classes for professional, "non-pro," or amateur riders (those who do not work with horses for pay), youth riders of various ages, adult riders over age 40 or 50, as well as open events for all competitors. Classes may also be limited by the experience level of the horse or the rider.
Freestyle reining allows a horse and rider team to incorporate reining movements into a three and one-half minute musical routine, akin to the KUR Freestyle competition in Dressage, but with elements that resemble the freestyle events in human competitions such as figure skating. Under NRHA rules, costumes are allowed, though not required; riders may ride with one, two or even no hands on any type of NRHA approved bit; props, within certain limits, are allowed; and the show management may allow special arena lighting. Freestyle reining competitions have no specific rules as to saddle, though humane equipment is required. Allowing "no hands" means that some competitors may perform without a bridle, which increases the difficulty of the movements. The rider must include a specified number of spins, stops and flying lead changes in a performance. Rollbacks, rein backs and dressage type maneuvers such as the half-pass may be added and scored. Competitors are judged on technical merit and artistic impression. At some competitions, an applause meter is added and may contribute to the artistic impression portion of the score.
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