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.
Throughout American history, dating back to the earliest Spanish
settlers in what today is Mexico
and the Southwestern United States
, including Texas
needed to manage cattle
from horseback. Cattle were moved, branded
, doctored, sorted, and herded
, often on open range without the benefit of fences
or other means of holding the animals. A good cowboy
needed a quick and nimble horse, one that could change directions quickly, stop "on a dime," and sprint after an errant cow. The horse needed to be controlled mostly by legs and weight, ridden with only one hand and a light touch on the reins, so that the cowboy's attention could also be on tasks that could include handling a lariat
(to rope cattle), opening a gate, or simply waving a hand, hat or rope to move along a reluctant herd animal. Informal demonstrations of these ideal characteristics amongst ranch cowboys and vaqueros
evolved into the sport of reining, as well as the related events of cutting
and working cow horse
as well as several other horse show
Other nations with traditions of herding livestock on vast areas, such as Australia and Argentina, developed similar traditions that have blended into the sport as it has expanded worldwide.
The reining pattern includes an average of eight to twelve movements which must be executed by the horse. Patterns require the following movements:
- Circles: the horse must perform large, fast circles at a near-gallop and smaller, slow circles at a lope. They should be perfectly round, with the rider dictating the pace of the horse. There should be an easily seen change of speed as the rider transitions from the large, fast to the small, slow circles. Most circles incorporate changes of direction that require a flying change of lead.
- Flying change: the horse changes its leading front and hind legs at the lope mid-stride, during the suspension phase of the gait. The horse should not break gait nor change speed. While completing a change at speed can improve one's score, precision is the most important factor in judging: A horse taking more than one stride to complete the change, or a horse that changes early, late, or that changes only the front feet and not the hind feet will be penalized.
- Rundown: the horse gallops or "runs" along the long side of the arena, at least from the fence or rail. A rundown is a required movement prior to a sliding stop or a rollback.
- Sliding Stop: the horse goes from a gallop immediately to a complete halt, planting its hind feet in the footing and allowing its hind feet to slide several feet, while continuing to let its front feet "walk" forward. The back should be raised upward and hindquarters come well underneath. A particularly powerful stop may, depending on arena conditions, produce flying dirt and a cloud of dust. The movement should finish in a straight line, and the horse's position should not change. This movement is a crowd favorite, along with spins (see below).
- Back or Backup: the horse backs up quickly for at least . The horse must back in a perfectly straight line, stop when asked and hesitate a moment before the next movement. It is judged on how quick, smooth and straight the line is.
- Rollback: the horse immediately, without hesitation, performs a 180-degree turn after halting from a sliding stop, and immediately goes forward again into a lope. The horse must turn on its hindquarters, bringing its hocks well under, and the motion should be continuous with no hesitation.
- Spins or Turnarounds: beginning from a standstill, the horse spins 360 degrees or more (up to four and one-quarter full turns) in place around its stationary inside hind leg. The hind pivot foot remains in essentially the same location throughout the spin, though the horse will pick it up and put it down as it turns. Spins are judged on correctness, smoothness, and cadence. Speed adds to the difficulty and will improve the score of a correctly done spin. A pattern requires at least one set of spins in each direction. Horses must stop the spin in the designated place or be penalized for over or under spinning. The term Pivot is sometimes used to describe a turn on the hindquarters of up to 360 degrees where the horse has to keep a rear pivot foot stationary. In 4-H competition, pivots of 90, 180, or 360 degrees are sometimes used in pattern classes to introduce youth riders to reining concepts.
- Pause or Hesitate: the horse is asked to stand still for a few seconds to "settle" between certain movements in the reining pattern, particularly after spins. Pauses are not judged as a movement per se, but a horse that is ill-mannered or behaves with impatience when asked to wait will be penalized.
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.
Reining may be performed by any horse, but the Stock horse
breeds, particularly the American Quarter Horse
, dominate the field. The reining horse must be agile, quick, and very responsive to the rider's commands
. Powerful hindquarters are required to hold position in a sliding stop or a rollback, excellent coordination is required for proper spins and flying lead changes. Correct leg conformation
is essential, as the limbs and joints are often under considerable stress in competition. The horse must also have an excellent temperament to perform with both speed and precision.
Equipment and attire
Riders must use a western saddle
are allowed, but whips
are not. Bridles
are western-styled, without a noseband
or caveson. The bosal
is also allowed. There are very strict rules about what types of bits
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.
Bit and Hackamore rules
Horses in most types of reining competition are required to perform in a curb bit
. In most cases, riders with a horse in a curb must give all rein commands with only one hand.
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.
Reining as a sport was first recognized by the American Quarter Horse Association
(AQHA) in 1949, and by the United States Equestrian Federation
(USEF) in its western division and within a number of its breed divisions. Beginning in 1966, the National Reining Horse Association
(NRHA), was formed in the United States
, and developed worldwide membership as well as standardized rules and patterns that were gradually adopted in whole or part by other organizations, including the USEF and AQHA. The sport of reining became an FEI
-recognized discipline in 2000, and international competitions such as the World Equestrian Games
are now governed by the FEI in cooperation with the NRHA.
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.
In individual nations where reining competitions are held, national organizations usually oversee the sport. For example, in the United States
, where reining is quite popular, the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) is the lead organization, creating patterns and developing judging standards. It sanctions events open to all breeds. The United States Equestrian Federation
(USEF) works with the NRHA to sanction breed competitions open to individual horse breeds
, such as Morgans
. Breed organizations that sanction their own shows, including those for Quarter Horses
(ApHC), and American Paint Horses
) also work with the NRHA. Reining classes can be held at a stand-alone competition just for reiners, or as one category within many different classes offered at a horse show
International competitions are regulated by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports
). Reining is growing in popularity around the world and is one of the world's fastest growing horse sports. Its popularity has spread to Europe and beyond, especially to Australia
, and it is one of the latest additions to the World Equestrian Games
, first included at the 2002 Games in Jerez, Spain.
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.
- Strickland, Charlene. Competing in Western Shows & Events. Storey Books, div. Storey Communications, 1998, pp. 61-71. ISBN 1-58017-031-5