Reining is a Western riding sport and discipline that showcases the athletic abilities of horses and the horsemanship skills of riders. It’s often described as “western dressage” because it involves precise patterns and manoeuvres performed on horseback, similar to dressage in English riding. Reining, however, has its own distinct set of movements and requirements.
In reining competitions, riders guide their horses through a series of intricate patterns and manoeuvres in a specific order.
These manoeuvres include:
- Sliding Stop: The horse runs at a gallop and then suddenly comes to a stop, sliding on its hindquarters with the front legs in the air.
- Spins: The horse pivots around one of its hind legs while keeping the other three legs in place, creating a fast, spinning motion.
- Rollbacks: The horse makes a 180-degree turn immediately after stopping, followed by a run in the opposite direction.
- Circles: Riders guide their horses through large and small circles at various speeds.
- Lead Changes: Horses switch their leading front leg while moving forward.
- Pivot: Similar to spins but typically done at a slower pace and in a straight line.
- Flying Lead Changes: Horses change their leading leg during a canter or lope without breaking stride.
When you put it all together, it’s called a pattern.
These patterns are essentially a choreographed sequence of actions that are designed to test the horse’s and rider’s skills, precision, and ability to execute the various reining manoeuvres.
Each reining pattern is typically designated by the organising body or association that governs the competition, such as the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) in the United States. The pattern outlines the order and specifics of the manoeuvres that must be performed, including details such as the number of spins, circles, lead changes, stops, rollbacks, and transitions between gaits.
Reining patterns can vary in complexity, and they are often categorised into different levels or classes, such as beginner, novice, intermediate, or open divisions, depending on the experience and skill level of the competitors. The judge evaluates the performance of each rider and horse pair based on their ability to execute the manoeuvres precisely, smoothly, and with the correct form, as outlined in the specified pattern.
Competitors are typically given the opportunity to study the pattern before their performance, allowing them to memorise and practice the sequence of manoeuvres. Judges assess the performance of each pair based on factors such as precision, control, responsiveness of the horse, smoothness of transitions, and overall presentation. Penalties may be applied for mistakes, deviations from the pattern, or lack of control.
Reining patterns are an essential aspect of reining competitions, as they provide a standardised way to assess and compare the skills of riders and the abilities of their horses. Riders must master the execution of these patterns to excel in the sport of reining.
How does scoring work in reining?
There are a total of 13 approved official reining 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 score of 70.
The judge can either add or deduct up to 1 and 1/2 points on each manoeuvre in half-point increments based on the ‘quality’ of the manoeuvre. Penalties are also allocated for minor deviations from the pattern; major deviations result in a zero score for the go.
As the judges watch the execution of the pattern, individual scribes keep track of each judge’s manoeuvre scores on a score sheet, as well as penalty marks. Scores are tabulated and announced at the end of each run.
In scoring, credit is given for smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness and authority when performing the various manoeuvres. 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 manoeuvres are performed correctly.
Judges may deduct points for errors or inaccuracies during the performance. Common penalties include over- or under-rotating spins, missed lead changes, breaking gait during manoeuvres, or lack of control. Penalties are typically deducted in half-point increments.
Reining judges undergo extensive training to ensure consistency and fairness in scoring. They evaluate performances subjectively but are guided by established criteria to maintain consistency across different competitions.
Judges assess the rider-horse pair’s performance in various categories, which may include:
- Manoeuvre execution: How well each manoeuvre is executed in terms of correctness, precision, and smoothness.
- Cadence and rhythm: The horse’s natural and consistent pace and rhythm during the performance.
- Control: The rider’s ability to maintain control over the horse throughout the pattern, without overuse of cues or reins.
- Guidelines adherence: The extent to which the rider follows the pattern as specified, including correct geometry, transitions, and timing.
After completing the pattern, the judges sum the scores for each manoeuvre, taking into account any penalties. The total score for the run is then calculated. Some competitions may offer bonus scores for exceptional performances, rewarding riders who execute manoeuvres with exceptional precision and style.
In the event of a tie, judges may consider various factors, such as degree of difficulty, to determine the winner. Riders who execute more challenging manoeuvres or who exhibit outstanding control and finesse may receive higher scores.
Riders and horses are ranked based on their total scores. The highest total score typically earns the first-place ranking, and subsequent rankings follow accordingly.
How did reining develop?
Reining as a distinct equestrian discipline and sport developed in the United States, primarily in the American West, with its roots tracing back to the horsemanship skills of cowboys and ranchers. The development of reining can be attributed to a combination of factors and historical influences:
- Working on ranches: In the 19th century, cowboys and ranchers in the American West relied heavily on horses for various aspects of their work, including herding cattle and managing livestock. To effectively perform these tasks, cowboys needed highly responsive and well-trained horses capable of precise manoeuvres.
- Vaquero tradition: The vaquero tradition, influenced by the horsemanship of Mexican ranchers (vaqueros), played a significant role in the development of reining. Vaqueros have a deep understanding of working with horses and train them to perform specific movements and manoeuvres. This tradition has Spanish roots.
- Foundation breeds: The development of specific horse breeds also contributed to the evolution of reining. American Quarter Horses, in particular, played a central role due to their athleticism, agility, and ability to excel in the types of movements required in reining.
- Showmanship: Over time, the practical skills of cowboys and ranchers began to transition into a form of entertainment. Riders would showcase their horsemanship and their horses’ abilities in public exhibitions and shows.
- Rodeo: The rodeo culture that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries further popularised the display of horsemanship skills, including reining manoeuvres, as part of rodeo events.
- Formation of organisations: The establishment of organisations dedicated to promoting Western riding, such as the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) in 1966, provided a structure for the sport and set standards and rules for competitions. The NRHA played a pivotal role in formalising reining as a recognised equestrian discipline.
- Standardisation of patterns: To create consistency and a standardised way to judge reining performances, specific patterns were developed. These patterns outline the sequences of manoeuvres to be performed during competitions.
Today, reining has evolved into a highly specialised and competitive equestrian discipline with a global following. It combines the practical skills of working with cattle and the artistry of horsemanship. Reining has become a showcase of the partnership between horse and rider, emphasising precision, control, and responsiveness while executing a prescribed pattern of manoeuvres. It is a popular sport in the Western riding world, with competitions held at various levels and events worldwide, including the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity and the FEI World Reining Championships.
The biggest competitions pay out a lot in prize money.
The prize money for the biggest reining competitions can vary widely depending on things like the prestige of the event, the level of competition, sponsorship, and the location. Some of the largest reining competitions offer substantial prize purses to attract top riders and horses.
A few examples of prominent reining events and their prize money:
- NRHA Futurity: The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity is one of the most prestigious reining events in the world. The total purse for the NRHA Futurity has been around $2 million, with substantial prizes for various divisions, including the Open Futurity, Non-Pro Futurity, and more.
- NRBC – National Reining Breeders Classic: The NRBC is another major reining event that attracts top riders and horses. The total purse for this competition has been in the range of $1 million or more.
- The Reining By The Bay: This is a prominent reining event held in California, and it has offered a significant prize purse, often exceeding hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- FEI World Reining Championships: International reining competitions sanctioned by the FEI (Fédération Équestre Internationale) may also have substantial prize money for top riders from around the world. The prize money can vary depending on the specific event and year.
- AQHA World Championship Show: The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) World Championship Show features reining as one of its disciplines. While the prize money may not reach the same levels as some NRHA events, it still offers significant awards for top competitors.
Prize money amounts vary from year to year, and new events may emerge with different purse sizes. Some reining competitions offer prizes in the form of cash, trophies, saddles, and other awards, not just money.
Reining competitions are characterised by their energetic and lively atmosphere, with engaged spectators cheering on riders as they perform precise patterns. These events typically draw large crowds, including competitors’ support teams and families.
Reining is particularly popular in the southwestern United States, especially in states like Texas, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and California. However, the sport is also growing in popularity across the United States and internationally, with countries like Italy, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands developing strong reining programs.
The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) has seen significant growth, with over 15,000 members, including more than 1,400 youth members, and numerous approved shows and entry-level reining events held worldwide each year.
This is a great short film about the world of competitive reining which I enjoyed immensely: