The Sport of Reining
NRHA – The National Reining Horse Association
The NRHA, established in 1966, is the governing body for the western riding discipline of reining. Reining is a judged event designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch type horse within the confines of a show arena. Reining maneuvers originated from moves that a cow horse would use in performing its duties, and have been refined to today’s specialized level of competition. Reining is often referred to as "western dressage". Like dressage, each individual reining horse and rider pair executes a prescribed set of maneuvers within the confines of a riding arena – which reining competitors call "the show pen".
"To rein a horse is not only to guide him, but also to control his every movement. The best reined horse should be willingly guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely. Any movement on his own must be considered a lack of control. All deviations from the exact written pattern must be considered a lack of or temporary loss of control; and therefore a fault that must be marked down according to severity of deviation.
After deducting all faults set here within, against execution of the pattern and the horse’s overall performance, credit should be given for smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness and authority of performing various maneuvers, while using controlled speed which raises the difficulty level and makes him more exciting and pleasing to watch to an audience".
– NRHA Judges Guide, NRHA Handbook.
Reining: A USET/USEF and FEI discipline
Reining is the newest – and first western riding style – event to be added to the US Equestrian Team (USET), and to the US Equestrian Federation, Inc. (USEF) disciplines of dressage, show jumping, three day eventing, combined driving, endurance, para equestrian, and vaulting. Reining was adopted by USET in 1998, and received it’s FEI – Federation Equestre Internationale – approval in 2001, with the first world championship title in reining awarded at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) held in Spain in 2002. The WEG is now called the FEI Games ™ and the 2006 Games will run from Aug 20 to Sept 3, 2006 in Aachen, Germany. We Americans are excited about hosting the 2010 FEI Games at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY. Reining was a demonstration sport at the last summer Olympics 2004 in Syndey, and the NRHA and AQHA breed associations are pushing hard to get reining recognized as an Olympic event – Beijing 2008 appears unlikely, but hopes are high for the London 2012 summer Olympic games.
For more info on qualifying procedures and forms, the official FEI and WEG shows and event calendar, go to the USEF Reining High Performance page. Here is the USEF Youth Reining information.
About the Reining Patterns
In NRHA competition, competitors are required to execute one of the ten (10) approved NRHA patterns included in the NRHA Handbook. Patterns to be run at NRHA sanctioned shows are typically posted or known well before each show date. At AQHA and APHA shows, which typically use the same NRHA patterns (with the exception of an additional Pattern 11 for Youth AQHA), the reining pattern is usually not posted until the day of the show.
It is very important to remember that the NRHA Patterns are worked as stated, not as drawn. The drawing is provided to give the general idea of what the pattern will look like in the arena.
To guide the contestant in keeping the pattern within bounds, three markers (typically large orange traffic cones) are placed on the wall or fence of the arena as follows:
one at the center of the arena, and one
at least 50′ from each end wall.
Where designated in the pattern for stops to be beyond a marker, the horse should begin the stop after passing the specified marker.
The Reining Pattern Maneuvers
Each reining pattern consists of five distinct "maneuvers". At the lope or canter, are slow, small and large fast circles, which may also include a flying lead change between them. Following the sliding stops are roll backs, where the horse makes a 180 degree turn over the hindquarters to lope off in the opposite direction. The 360 degree spins are the equivalent of the dressage turn on the haunches, however the pivot foot remains in place and the speed is extremely fast.
And of course, the most exciting maneuver – the galloping rundown to a dirt-flying sliding stop – for which the sport is well known.
The reining maneuvers as they are judged are:
Walk-in, Sliding Stops, Spins, Rollbacks, Circles, Backup, Hesitate, Lead Changes, Rundowns and Run-arounds.
Each pattern has seven or eight manuever groups – which are combinations of one or more of the basic maneuvers above. For example, NRHA Pattern 1 has the following judging groups (as color-coded on the back of the Slidin’ Guide card):
Run down the middle, past end marker, left Rollback
Run down middle, past other end marker, right Rollback
Run down middle past center marker, Stop, Backup, hesitate
4 right Spins, hesitate.
4 1/4 Left Spins, hesitate
Left lead circles – departure, large fast, small slow, large fast and Lead Change
Right lead circles – departure, large fast, small slow, large fast and Lead Change
3/4 of large fast left lead circle, run down side past center marker, Stop, hesitate
Ride Like a Reiner
In most reining competitions, junior horses (horses under the age of 5 years as determined by NRHA and AQHA rules) can be shown two handed in a snaffle bit or a hackamore. Senior horses over the age of 5, must be shown one-handed in a bridle. The bit can be of a snaffle type mouthpeice (i.e. any broken mouthed bit is technically a snaffle mouthpiece) but must have shanks (i.e. not a round ring bit). Overly severe and sharp mouthpieces, such as pointed spades, bicycle chain, and gag bits, are illegal in reining competitions (see the NRHA handbook for complete legal tack guidelines).
Reiners are expected to be ridden on a loose contact – the degree of difficulty marks are higher when the horse is shown with a very loose rein in the bridle. In competition, reiners have a distinct riding style – with the off hand folded up to their waist, and the rein hand and arm fully extended, straight out over the horse’s neck for the speed portions of the pattern, then bent at the elbow and retracted to just over the saddle horn for the slow circles, and spins. This stylistic western riding difference (from say, a barrel racer or a roping competitor) is to emphasize the skill of the horse/rider pair – showing that the horse is so well trained, it can be galloped at speed and yet precisely manuevered with (what appears to be) minimal control and rein cues from the rider.
How are Reining Patterns Judged and Scored?
The scoring of a reining competition can be pretty confusing to newcomers to the sport. Let’s start off with the simplest official NRHA description:
"In NRHA competition, reining horses are judged individually as they complete one of ten specified patterns. One or more judges score each horse between 0 and infinity with 70 denoting an average score. Each horse automatically begins the pattern with a 70. The judge can either add or deduct up to 1 and 1/2 points on each maneuver in half-point increments based on the "quality" of the maneuver. Penalties are also allocated for minor deviations from the pattern; major deviations result in a zero score for the go. …In scoring, credit is given for smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness and authority when performing the various maneuvers. Controlled speed in the pattern raises the level of difficulty and makes the reining horse more exciting and pleasing to watch. Increased level of difficulty is rewarded with higher scores if the maneuvers are performed correctly." – NRHA Judges Program, NRHA.com
If a competitor misses a maneuver completely, or executes maneuvers in an incorrect order, or stops a pattern in mid-run, that is called "going off pattern" and results in a score of 0. Doing a manuever well, is typically called "Plus-ing a manuever" – such as, "my reiner can Plus all his manuevers" or "my reining mare is a Plus-One and a Half Spinner and a Plus-Half Stopper".
After each horse/rider combination executes the pattern, typically called a "run" or a "go", there is a pause, and then the judges will announce the score for that competitor before the next competitor begins his or her pattern. Among seasoned reiners, Keith Bradley’s deep voiced, slowly drawn out, dramatic announcement of "The Score…" after each competitor’s run at the NRHA Futurity (he’s been announcing it for 34 years!) is a part of reiner tradition. Typically at major events there are three judges, so a plain or average run scored as a 70 by each judge would be announced as a final score of 210 (70 x 3). The NRHA reported Bryant Pace and the famous APHA/AQHA horse Gunner posted the highest NRHA reining score ever of 233 in the Semi Finals of the USET Reining Championship in June of 2001.
For new reiners, I highly recommend the NRHA’s video set, NRHA Fundamentals of Judging. It shows examples of all the penalties, and for each manuever what is considered to be a – 1 1/2, -1, -1/2, 0, +1/2, +1 and +1 1/2 score. This video really helps you to understand what those judges are looking for! It is currently listed on the NRHA Forms and Documents page on their website as a .pdf direct order form.
NRHA’s FAQ for Newbie Reiners
While we’re promoting stuff over at the NRHA, let me add this. Mario Boisjoli wrote this really nifty "A Pocket Handbook for Reiners" which used to be over on the NRHA’s website, but they’ve taken it down. You can still download a copy of it NRHA show_handbook. It’s a nice little FAQ about the type of horses used in reining, reining tack and apparel, and a few training tips. If you are a spectator, or a brand new reiner you will find it helpful – it’s just a .pdf file you can download.
And I totally agree with Mario:
"Q. What is the most important thing about reining? A. Have Fun!"
All NRHA Handbook quotes are © copyright 2017 NRHA. The NRHA Reining Patterns are used with express written permission of NRHA to Slidin’Guide/DotcomCowgirl, Inc.
All other text is © 2017 Slidin’ Guide/DotcomCowgirl,Inc. Not to be reproduced without written permission. Need it? Don’t steal it – Email me!