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.

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