reining horseback riding guide


Last Updated on September 1, 2020

Like many other adrenaline pumping adventures, reining is known to be one of the most addictive experiences you could enjoy. Known as a highly enjoyable sport today, reining dates back to the nineteenth century and is considered to be a part of the, American heritage. The settlers of Spanish origin in the Southwestern part of U.S felt proud of the skills they had when it came to handling the horses.

This beauty of effortlessly directing their horses to take turns, form patterns of circles and make flawless stops soon turned into a form of competition that was held to find those individuals who had excellent horse-handling skills. In 1950, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) accepted reining as an official part of its list, and it was a few years later that the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) was formed.

Reining as a Sport Today

The main purpose of NRHA today is to promote reining as a sport and to make it an enjoyable and adventure filled competition. Thirteen patterns have been approved and are carried out at the NRHA competitions. If you ever witness a reining event get ready to be mesmerized by the skills and techniques used in the competition. You will have your eyes fixated on the exceptional feats being performed in front of you and will be amazed by the accomplishments of the individuals handling the horses. 

Characteristics of a Good Reining Horse

Once you have established interest in the sport, let’s move on to knowing more about the characteristics that will help you determine whether a horse is apt for reining or not. When choosing the right horse for the art of reining, it is important to keep in mind that these horses should be considered as athletes and instead of keeping the standards exact and strict for all the horses, it is beneficial to have a general guideline that should be followed when choosing the right horse. Here are some of the factors that you need to keep in mind:

1)    Ancestry

Breeding is the word that should catch your attention first and foremost when deciding on the right horse for reining. A horse that has been bred well and has the right genes will be more likely to perform better at reining than others. So, why genes? This is because the genetic makeup of your horse will have a great impact on its ability to perform different acts such as spinning, rolling back, and stopping easily. Moreover, how your horse executes during training will also be affected by its genetic makeup. So, before you choose your horse, it is essential to pay attention to how it has been bred and the type of pedigree.

2)    Appearance

After you have ensured the presence of good genetic makeup, it is time to move on to the appearance of the horse. Even though a strong appearance does not guarantee performance, but having a horse that creates a striking impression succeeds in capturing the attention of the onlookers.

3)    Performance

During a reining competition, you will need your horse to be responsive and quick. Therefore, it is important to look at the ability of the horse before you decide. Training should be considered to be a process that improves the ability and should not be the only factor you are counting on. Make sure that the horse has the right balance, alertness, and promptness.

4)    Structure

Apart from the performance and ability, it is also necessary to pay attention to the structure and conformation of the horse. The quick movements during the competition cannot be accomplished if there are structural flaws in your horse. A strong back with a leveled neck and head and stable legs will help the horse achieve the balance required in the competition.

Overview of Reining Training

If you are looking for basic reining skills, it is recommended to look for a professional trainer and work with them. It is also helpful to visit the National Reining Horse Association website and find out information about the events happening around. This will help you remain associated with the other individuals interested in the same sport. Moreover, if you are starting from scratch do not compare your skills to the high-level competitors and instead work on the basics. Choose the right trainer based on the following:

  • Their teaching method
  • Their expertise
  • The way they look at the sport
  • Are you both a good fit or not
  • How much will it cost

You have the option to choose either group lessons or one-to-one, it is advisable to opt for the group lessons to learn from the experiences of others and to have someone you can relax with.

The training process will be divided into three categories, the lateral flexion, the simple collection, and the two-track.

The Reining Competition

Reining became an official sport in the year 1949 and since then reining competitions are being held, the purpose of which is to determine the athletic ability of the horses. At first, NRHA will officially announce the movement and patterns that will become a part of the competition in their publication ‘The Rider.’ There will be ten executions approved by NRHA, and each horse will be expected to run them.

Judging Criteria

A good rider will not be expected only to guide the horse but also control its every movement according to the AQHA Handbook of Rules. Thus if there is any movement from the horse itself, it will be judged negatively. Moreover, the attitude of the horse is also taken into consideration and if there are signs of refusal, running in the wrong direction, or display of irritation the rider will lose points. The agility and the smoothness of the moves will be looked upon favorably. The movements that the judges will be looking closely at during the competition are as follows:


You should do your best to perform the spins while being closer to the ground and having a stationary foot pivot on the rear side. If an over spin of more than one quarter is executed, the turn will be deemed as a disqualification.


The stops need to be controlled and strongly pivoted on the ground. The neck and head are supposed to be lowered. 


There should not be any hiccups during the maneuver, and the whole process of stopping, dropping and then snapping back should be executed smoothly.


Depending on the kind of circle, the gaze is expected to be straight. The execution should be smooth.

Lead Changes

The front and hind legs need to change leads during the process, and the whole maneuver should be performed fluidly.


In the beginning, each rider and horse are considered to have a score of 70 after which they will be given points for each movement. Each maneuver will be scored from a range of +1.5 to -1.5 and there are separate penalty points that are given on the basis of a flaw in the maneuver.

1.    No Score

Such a score results in disqualification based on which the rider will not be able to perform in the day’s remaining classes. No score is given when:

  • Violation of laws associated with the exhibition or the quality of care of the horses.
  • Illegal Equipment Usage
  • Animal Abuse at any point
  • No Inspection of horse and equipment done by the judges
  • Misbehavior or Disrespect

2.    Penalty

A penalty score of ZERO or Disqualification is given in the following circumstances:

  • If you show a use of two hands.
  • O or DQ will also occur if there is more than index finger distance between the reins.
  • Jogging for more than a half circle or half of the arena’s length.
  • Rider’s or horse’s fall.
  • Absence of suitable western attire.
  • Contact of the rein to the level of the ground while the horse is moving.
  • If the rider fails to achieve the pattern as instructed.

5 and 2 point penalties are given in the following circumstances:

  • If the gait breaks
  • During a spin or a rollback, there is a freeze up in the maneuver
  • Saddlehorn holding
  • Any violation of rules in the form of kicking, striking or biting.

Reigning Equipment 

To be prepared for the reining competition, it is essential to ensure the presence of proper equipment. Such as:

  • Saddles
  • Spurs
  • Reins & Bridle
  • Bits such as Snaffle, Shanks, and Grazing
  • Splint boots

The attire of the rider also needs attention, a shirt with long sleeves, jeans and boots are often the components of the participants.


Reining is an addictive sport that has gained extreme popularity particularly in the United States. However, before you start your reining adventure, it is recommended to gain as much knowledge as you can about the rules and regulations associated with the sport. The evolution of freestyle reining has also changed the sport dramatically and has brought along greater entertainment.

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