Reining Horse – the heart of western riding

reining horse
The heart of Western Riding

Reining Horse is more than any other the class that defines the Western Horse. It was what first caught my imagination. I’d many years ago tried horse riding and really could not see the point. It was OK if all you were looking for was a ride out in the country. But in those days I was an Adrenalin freak. I spent 10 years motor racing before I took up gliding and I just could not see the attraction of horses. Oh how I wish I’d seen that Reining video earlier in my life. But it has its way of turning out, doesn’t it?

The first time I sat a Western Horse (the legendary “Chiquita” or, to her friends, “Chico”), Stuart Powell showed me the basics. How you asked for a stop and start and we walked, jogged and loped. Because that was the kind horse that Chico was. She knew what was required and would show you a quiet start. Confidence came very quickly, skill rather later.

My first roll back

In no time at all we had done our first roll back. Gosh, how I went home smiling from ear to ear that day! Of course, all I wanted to do at that stage was slide to a stop in a stylish shower of dirt a la Al Dunning. But even Chico wouldn’t put up with that kind of nonsense from a rank beginner.

It was a long time and again much patient tuition from Lesley Powell before I could manage a stop where George didn’t prong onto his front feet and lurch me forward in the saddle. Not that he couldn’t do it. Apart from one or two memorable occasions in the early days, he never ignored the cue. It was just that he was doing precisely what was asked at the moment it was requested. And, I eventually learned from Lesley, that it took accurate timing to get the Boy’s back feet under him as he stopped.

Reining horse’s specialist shoes

Without the specialist shoes (or sliding plates)

Sliding Shoe

Sliding Shoe

on a reining horse to protect the bulbs on his back feet (they wouldn’t help much working a cow), George’s stops never were as spectacular as a dedicated reining horse. So we never achieved the Al Dunning standard of sliding stop. Which has to be a minor irritation but, given everything else I’ve done with George, it’s more than compensated.

And it was the lack of a full blown sliding stop that always marked George down in competition against specialist reiners. But, for me, that was an acceptable compromise in having a versatile horse. When reining is only one of 18 or 20 different classes in a weekend, I’ll happily take our chances in the knowledge that we’ll make it up against the specialist reining horse in another class.

And, just occasionally, you get lucky. There was one show where one of the competitors (who shall remain nameless!) had just acquired a dedicated reiner. A fine looking stallion quarter horse: the quintessence of the breed and he joined this competitor’s stable with his games horse and his cow horse. He was the man to beat with all these horses and we watched spellbound as he put the reiner through its paces. He was a joy to behold and a text book tour de force. But ever so slowly a murmur started to go round the assembled riders. He was doing the wrong pattern! A perfect performance that wouldn’t count leaving the class open for the rest of us.

But you can’t go riding and hope that you’ll be there to pick up the points when another rider fails. That’s a recipe for mediocrity and we continue to strive for improvement in all areas. That’s what it’s about.