If you look back in history, mainly in the southwestern states and Mexico, they had to manage cattle on horseback. The cattle needed to be herded, branded, doctored and sorted. In order to be able to do all these things and more, cowboys had to have a horse that would respond to leg pressure and light rein contact. If a cattle was getting out of the herd, the cowboy would need to swiftly get around the loose animal forcing it to turn back in. The horse would have to be able to turn quickly and stop “on a dime”. Often while on horseback, cowboys would open gates, use a lasso, wave a hat to get the cattle to go the correct way and many other tasks. The chores of the cowboys later turned into a sport known as reining. Other similar sports that were once simple chores are team penning, ranch sorting and cutting.
Reining is a competitive western riding sport, often referred to as a western form of dressage since it requires the horse to respond immediately to the rider. It was first recognized as a sport by the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) in 1949. Later on, it was also recognized byt he United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). In 1966 the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) was formed in the United States and developed a worldwide membership. The NRHA also formed standardized rules and patterns that other organization such as the AQHA and USEF. In the year 2000, reining became an FEI-recognized (Financial Executives International) recognized event and FEI-sanctioned reining competitions began to be held worldwide, including at the World Equestrian Games. In this event a rider will guide their horse through a very precise pattern of spins, circles and stops. Every thing is to be done at a lope/canter and gallop. The horses must show zero resistance at all times, willingly performing all that the rider asks.
Reining is performed with one horse and one rider. They will begin with a score of 70, with a theoretical range of scores from 60 (if there are some penalties) to 80 (the highest and nearly impossible perfect score). The team, rider and horse, are judged on precision, smoothness, difficulty and finesse. The speed and agility of each move will determine the difficulty level. The higher the speed is the more difficult it is to perform and the potential for a higher score is increased. Two spins both performed perfectly but at different speeds will score differently. The faster spin will acquire more points.
The range of points are ½, 1, and 1 ½. This would either be earned or deducted to the total score. A score of 70 is considered to be average and is for horses who made no mistakes but did not perform with any exceptional ability. A score above a 70 means that the horse made no mistakes and had some impressive or tough moves. If a horse scores below a 70 it indicates deductions for misbehavior of the horse or a move performed incorrectly. There can also be a zero score given for more significant errors, such as an over spin. If a rider goes off pattern or makes any major mistake they will receive a no score, resulting in disqualification.
All riders must use a western saddle since it is a western event. Bridles must be western style without a nose-band or tie-down. A bosal style hackamore is allowed only for “junior” horses and there are very strict rules about the types of bits and bosals are allowed. Often horses wear splint boots or polo wraps on the cannons of their lower front legs and skid boots on their hind fetlocks. Bell boots that wrap all the way around the pastern and protect the hoof are worn on the front feet and sometimes on all four feet.
Reining horses usually wear special horse shoes on there hind feet called slide plates. They help the horse perform a sliding stop with less resistance form the ground. These special shoes have wider bar steel and are smoother than regular shoes. Even the nail head holding the shoe on will be filed flush with the shoe. Often reining horses will have a well rounded toe so make sure the hoof does not catch the ground when performing a sliding stop.
There is not a big difference between men’s and women’s attire than in other western sport such as western pleasure, however, women tend to wear brighter colors with a more fashionable look. The riders must wear a long-sleeved shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. It is optional to wear chaps and clothes but some competitions will require chaps. Certified equestrian helmets are required in some organizations but cowboy hats ar woren.
Just like the sports of ranch sorting and team penning any horse breed is welcome to partake in this event. The stock-type breeds particularly the American Quarter Horse, dominate this event and is the horse most often seen competing. These horses must be agile, quick and very responsive to the rider. Reining horses need to have powerful hind quarters to be able to hold the position in a sliding stop and need to have perfect coordination for flying lead changes and fast spins. Horses who are good at team penning or ranch sorting will likely succeed in reining as well. In order to avoid injury, reining horses need to have correct leg conformation since they are under a lot of stress when performing and practicing the routines.
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