Monday, February 28, 2011

The Basics: Building a Foundation for Reining

Someone (I think it was Dick Pieper) once said, “If a horse improves 1% every time we ride him, he will be trained in 100 days and we know we cannot expect that!”  What this means is: Training a horse for reining is a long, slow process. Yes, indeed. I have been training reining horses for over thirty years and I have yet to find a way to "finish" a reining horse in a few months. I plan for at least 18 months on my prospects to get them to a three-year-old futurity and I do not usually show my horses one-handed until they are four, although those who compete in the NRHA Futurity must show in a bridle with one hand and so must prepare for that.

A reining horse must be relaxed and confident in the reining pen and only a one-step-at-a-time training program will accomplish that. There is no better way to instill confidence and knowledge into your horse than to teach him the first steps first - the "basics". The basics are a series of exercises that are the foundation for more difficult ones and basic exercises are an essential part of every training program. Not only do they progress the horse from simple to complex, but are also essential tools to fall back on when the horse encounters difficulty with any advanced maneuver. I go through basic exercises every time I ride every horse from two-year-olds to fully trained horses (at the level they are currently at - I expect more finesse from trained horses; for the youngsters, schooling the basic exercises can take up most of the session).

Why are basic exercises important?
1. When the horse is learning:
  • Basic exercises stretch and warm a horse’s muscles, preparing him physically for riding.
  • Basic exercises are the simplest level of training of the step-by-step program that best teaches any horse.
  • A horse can only learn a high level maneuver, such as the spin, by first learning the maneuver in its simplest form - a combination of the basics.
2. When the horse is trained:
  • Basic exercises supple and stretch the muscles for the more demanding part of the schooling session.
  • Starting at the simplest level relaxes the horse mentally and physically.
  • Problems at the basic level can be resolved before the rider encounters them at a higher level. Often there won’t be a problem at a higher level if it is dealt with at a basic level.
What are the basics?
1. Forward motion.
2. Give to the rein.
3. Give to the leg.

How do I teach basic exercises?
1. Correct rider position.
2. Clear signals, or rider aids.
3. Repetition – the same message the same way every time.

* Training a horse is encouraging a horse to be comfortable - putting him a position where it is easier to do the maneuver than not do it.

I am such a believer in building anything step-by-step that I don’t know any other way to write this blog either. I feel I must cover some background before I can deal with specifics so bear with me for a few posts. Also, though Reining Training Tips isn't about starting colts - that could be a whole other blog - many tips can be applied to any horse in any discipline at any level of training.

Next week...rider aids.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Choosing A Trained Reining Horse

Riders who are new to reining usually buy a horse that is already trained rather than buying a prospect but finding the right horse – one that is affordable, sound and “fits”- is a process.

 Locating reining horses that are for sale is the first step. Asking around, checking out ads in magazines and on the internet and narrowing it down to those you can afford usually will turn up a few possibilities. (Remember – flights and road trips can add to that purchase price!) Now check the horses on your list against the following guidelines:

 What attributes must a trained reining horse have?
A good reining horse should possess all the same qualities that a reining prospect does, which are: good breeding, good conformation, a "trainable" disposition, a "willing to learn" attitude, courage and heart. (Refer to Choosing A Reining Prospect)

 How do I find a reining horse with these attributes?
Go to reputable trainers and take your coach or an experienced reiner with you when you look for a horse.
 1. Buy a well-bred horse if possible. Check out the performance records of sire and dam just as you would for a reining prospect.
2. Check out the performance record of the horse. If he has been in the reining pen, you will want to look up results. Talk to the person who showed him and, if possible, get a video of the horse to watch and show to your trainer.
3. Conformation is still very important. You want to be confident the horse will stay sound. Look for balanced conformation and soundness. (Check out last week’s post – Choosing A Reining Prospect for conformation points). If you are not sure what to look for, ask the opinion of someone you trust. It's always a good idea to get a vet check as well to make sure there are not unsoundness issues that are not discernible to the naked eye!
4. Ride the horse and ask your trainer to ride him too. Perform the maneuvers and even ride a pattern. Feel how the horse moves, if he is cooperating with you. Is he relaxed? Does he wait for you to ask instead of volunteering. Does he give to rein pressure? Does he yield to leg pressure without jumping away from your leg? Will he run circles both fast and slow? Does he change leads? A rider who is new to reining should ride a good-leaded horse. After all, the worst maneuver ever can only be scored -1 ½ whereas a horse is penalized one point for every quarter circle he is out of lead – that could be 12 penalty points in one set of circles!

What you don’t want to feel when you ride him:
  • He is nervous.
  • He doesn’t want to walk into the pen or stand in the center.
  • He jumps into spins.
  • He speeds up, tries to take the bit or jumps into lead changes.
  • He throws his head or is otherwise scared of the bit.
  • He charges into stops.
  • He does not want to stop.
Riding the horse is by far the best barometer of the reining horse’s talent and attitude. If he is kind, willing and comfortable performing maneuvers, I can overlook less-than-stellar breeding and/or performance record, especially for a first time reiner. And one last hint: Almost without exception, it’s better to ride a horse you have to “push” than one you have to “pull” on. You can be sure that a little anticipation at home will be a lot of anticipation in the pen.

The following video is of Wildwood Magic Miss and a prospective buyer in and out of the arena. The rider had never reined before and this was the first time she had ridden Magic. This is how I want my horses to go for a new rider - relaxed and happy.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Choosing a Reining Prospect

I know most of you are anxious to get to the "good stuff" but, just as training a reining horse does, Reining Training Tips starts with "groundwork" - a little advice about choosing a reining prospect. (I know many of you will enter your reining experience by buying a trained reining horse, so the next post will be that.)

Selecting a reining prospect can be overwhelming. If you are new to reining and wish to take this route (buying a prospect and having him trained), then I would suggest that you enlist the help of your trainer or someone who has experience in the reining industry. Take someone you trust and take his advice. Decide how much you can spend and ask him what you can get for that dollar. Consider as well how much money must be added to the purchase price before you can show! Buying a prospect may be the right option for you if you enjoy watching your horse learn and/or you would like to show a futurity horse (Ask your trainer if that is a realistic goal).

What attributes must a reining prospect have?
1. Good breeding. A great pedigree does not always mean a great reining horse, but it's a good start.
2. Good conformation. The reining prospect should have correct, athetic conformation and he has to be sound and look like he will stay that way - no structural weaknesses that could cause unsoundness with the demands of the sport.
3. A "trainable" disposition and "willing to learn" attitude.
4. Courage and heart.

How do I find a prospect with these attributes? 
1. Breeding. Check out the performance record of both the sire and the dam. If they are both performers in the reining pen, then that's a good start. If the dam has not performed, but is leaving performers, that is good as well. Of course, those prospects will probably be higher priced, so that may dictate your decision but remember that the breeding influences everything else - all the following points!
2. Conformation: You can't undervalue conformation. Balance is everything. I always watch the horse running free to see how he moves. I love a pretty-moving horse and the judges do too! The reining horse should move flat, long and low, with his hind legs well under him and a lot of reach.
I like a pretty head with soft, wide-set eyes and large nostrils. The neck should come straight out of the withers and the throatlatch should be clean, shoulders sloping and wither the same height as the croup. (If the wither is lower, the center of gravity is forward and the horse cannot pick up his front end easily). Back and loins need to be strong, hips long and powerful, cannons short and feet well-shaped with large heels and healthy frogs.
3. Disposition and Attitude - I like to see a sense of cooperation in the reining prospect. He should be smart for sure, but also happy. I like him to look at me like he sees me, curious but not spooky.
4. Courage and Heart - A horse has "heart" if he gives you all that he has to give when you ask. You probably won't know if your horse has courage and heart until you show him but you can, however, tell a lot from his breeding and his disposition, which is what you have to go on when you are choosing a prospect. "Heart" comes from a good mind and a quiet, trainable attitude. It also comes from a trust-bond between horse and rider.

Wildwood Liberty at one year old - an excellent example of a reining prospect.

Liberty at one year - one thing I like to see when I watch a prospect move - he wants to stop!
 These are a few guidelines to selecting a reining prospect, one that has not been ridden yet. Next post I will talk about choosing a trained reining horse.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Welcome to "Reining Training Tips", a blog devoted to training reining horses. Some of you know me well,  others not at all,  but if you are reining or interested in the reining industry in any way, I think you will want to read on.

I have been training, and showing reining horses since 1980. I'm still learning and that will never end, but I have developed a program that I believe in. That is what I want to share.

 My business is Wildwood Reining Horses, a one-woman operation that began in Saskatchewan and is now located in Hanceville in the Chilcotin area of British Columbia, Canada. I stand two stallions and raise quality Quarter Horses bred to rein. Although I am cutting back on training outside horses, I still train and show my own horses and coach riders.

Training a reining horse to competition level takes time - 18 months to two years, in fact. Even then, without competition experience, the horse is not finished. Although some horses will come along faster than others, all will benefit from a step-by-step program over several months, even years. 

Many years ago, when I started reining, I didn't want to show 3 year olds because of the strain it would put on their young bodies but I soon found out that I must if I was to stay in the game. To reconcile my doubts with my common sense, I decided then to adhere to two rules:
  1. I would condition my horse gradually for several months before the intense training began and
  2. I would not try to make a reining horse out of a horse who was not capable, either mentally or physically.
These two rules, I believe, have spared my reining prospects injury.

In subsequent posts, I will talk about choosing and training a reining prospect as well as "fixing" problems on older horses. I will keep posts short and on topic. Please comment, request clarification, suggest topics or even challenge me!