I’ve been talking a lot about basics – simple exercises to warm up your horse for more difficult ones. I’ve explained why I do basic exercises and how they train a young horse. I’ve also said that giving to rein and leg pressure (what basic exercises are) is the “whole program”. That may seem too simple, but it’s true. Of course, my horse must learn to “give” with refinement and at different gaits (which increases the degree of difficulty) and in combinations, but if I keep it simple in my mind – asking my horse to give to my hands and my legs – then he has the best chance to learn and execute anything I ask. And (I’ve said this before but it bears repeating!), if there is a problem at a higher level, it can and should be fixed at the basic level. Those basic exercises are closely related to the reining maneuvers.
Circles: Circles are an integral part of a reining training program from the first rides to the finished reining horse – and I want very correct circles. I use basics to position my horse in the correct frame to lope a circle – forward motion, give to the rein, give to the leg – and I use basics to keep him on the circle. For example, if my horse collapses into the circle, I apply inside leg to leg yield him back on the circle; if he bows out of the circle, I apply outside leg to leg yield him back on the circle. In a reining pattern, circles are performed at a lope but, if my horse is very resistant, I will drop back to a trot, jog or even a walk to correct.
Rundowns: As in circles, I use basics are to position my horse until he understands how to keep his body straight. A lot of times, training is about exaggerating the correction, so if he fades towards the wall, I might leg yield him well off the track. For example, if I am loping in the left lead in a straight line twenty feet away from the fence and my horse starts to fade over to the right toward the wall (he will be pushing into the right rein as well), I can leg yield him left off of my right leg well into the arena (farther than twenty feet!), then allow him to go straight again.
Lead changes: I cannot teach my horse to change leads if he does not give to pressure from reins and legs. That, along with forward motion executes a lead change. If I am loping in the left lead and want to change leads, I will collect my horse (give to the reins), move him off of the right leg a bit, then switch to move him off of my left leg for the change.
Spins: Spins are a series of half-turns on the haunches and a half-turn on the haunches uses all the basic exercises – forward motion and giving to reins and leg. For example, for a half turn to the left: With the left leg off the horse, I ask my horse to turn with my right (indirect or neck) rein, apply left rein in a give-and-take motion to keep nose turned (give to the reins), bump with the right leg (give to the leg). This is for a horse just learning a half-turn. For a trained reining horse, with one hand (give to the reins), I ask him to turn to the left and use my leg only if he needs it (give to the leg).
Stops: Stops are taught, and then executed, using all the basics. I ask for a sliding stop exactly as in the exercise: vertical flexion, which is about response to my weight, voice and hands. That is, I change my weight (behind center of balance), say “whoa”, and then lift hand only if I need to.
Rollbacks: Rollbacks are merely putting two maneuvers together – a stop and a half-turn on the haunches – along with forward motion. Perfect rollbacks are the result of a good stop, correct response to the reins and timing (the rider’s responsibility!).
Back-ups: My horse learns to back up at a basic level (Basic Exercise: Vertical Flexion) and the maneuver is refined with training, using basics of giving to the reins, legs and weight. The basic exercise in vertical flexion is not really a back-up exercise (it is more about giving to both reins) but it does begin my horse’s understanding of the maneuver. Later, I want him to respond to the motion of my hands and the change of my weight for a pretty back-up.
This is a summary of how basic exercises relate to reining maneuvers. I will deal with each of the maneuvers specifically in later posts.