Horse Activities: Reining

Like other Western horse sports, reining is a competition that originated with the cowboy’s need for an agile, responsive horse with which to work cattle on a ranch. (For more information, see Western under “Riding Types.”)

Sometimes compared to the English sport of dressage, this popular competition requires the rider to guide his horse through a precise pattern of circles, spins and stops at a lope (a slow canter) and gallop. The horse’s willingness to listen to his rider and perform the preset pattern of movements with few visible aids from the rider are key. In most divisions, the rider will hold both reins on one hand. The rider communicates with his horse using a combination of his weight, leg and the light pressure of a rein rested against one side of the horse’s neck or the other (“neck reining”).

The accuracy and smoothness with which each movement is executed are very important in reining, as is the horse’s form. Movements that require more speed and agility than others are rated with a greater degree of difficulty but can lead to a higher score if performed well.

A reining pattern typically involves 8-12 movements in the arena. These include circles; a flying lead change (in which the leading legs switch mid-stride during the lope); a sliding stop from a gallop; spins (or turnarounds); a rundown (a long gallop along one side of the arena); a pause between movements; a rollback (a 180-degree turn after halting from a sliding stop); and a backup of at least 10 feet.

Points are either added to or subtracted from a base score based on the performance of each movement. Deviating from the pattern or having an equipment violation usually results in a “zero score.”

As in other Western disciplines, the American Quarter Horse or a similar stock horse type is predominant in reining. Western tack is used, with curb bits required in most types of reining competition. In the case of junior (young) riders and/or young horses, snaffle bridles or bosal hackamores (bitless bridles) may be allowed, with both hands on the reins. Reining horses generally wear protective boots and/or supportive wraps.

Reining competition is offered in different divisions for different categories of horse and rider, depending on the governing organization, at the national and international levels. The sport is also contested at the World Equestrian Games.