Anticipation in Reining

Shane Borland answers a question on showing a hot headed reiner. Q. My horse is quite hot headed and anticipates lead changes and I find it hard to keep her quiet in the hesitations before the spins. How can I help her?

Firstly, when dealing with ‘hot headed’ horses it is important to keep things slow and simple. Remember to exercise patience. Break your manoeuvres down into small steps and don’t try to be 100% perfect from the outset. Look for small improvements in what you already have and allow your horse time to rest frequently during any work session. This will help them become calmer and more understanding of what you are trying to teach them. Don’t let them tire or become exhausted as a result of work.

Western riding reining

Anticipating lead changes

Anticipating lead changes in the middle of the show pen is common if riders routinely execute or practice manoeuvres in the same area of an arena. Horses are creatures of habit and learn from repetition. Therefore it makes sense that if you repeat a manoeuvre continuously in the same place, an association with that drill, area or even direction will be made by the horse. This will lead to the horse anticipating your next move because it has now become a habit. In this situation I would use a counter canter exercise. This will not only teach your horse the correct body position for lead changes but will also allow him to become comfortable with a change in direction without changing leads. Hopefully he will then begin to disassociate the manoeuvre with the location and direction of travel.

Hesitation before spins

Horses that won’t stand still before or between turnarounds are usually anxious and uptight about the manoeuvre itself, or possibly even as a result of the whole pattern. They are simply trying to move away to what they believe is going to be a more comfortable place, in an effort to avoid further work. As a rider, you are never going to overcome their desire to move by trying to hold them still through rein contact and it will probably make matters worse if you do. The best way to fix this is to offer your horse a place to stand on a relaxed rein before your turnaround . Allow the horse to begin to move. Identify which direction the horse wants to move in and simply begin to turn the horse around, five, six or seven times in the opposite direction. Ask the horse to stop and offer the horse a chance to stand and catch his breath. If they choose to move, simply repeat the drill. What we are trying to establish is a choice. In time the horse will be looking to the rider for any cue that may result in him being able to rest up, rather than going forward to work, and will wait to be guided by the rider as to what the next step will be. Remember that with any exercise or drill it is important to keep them as simple as possible for the horse. Look for the smallest try or improvement and frequently reward your horse with periods of rest. Don’t run before you can walk.

Helpful tip

Use these exercises at shows, possibly in paid warm ups or in a schooling class. This will help prepare your horse both mentally and physically for the task ahead

EXERCISE: COUNTER CANTER

  • 1 Start by loping circles at one end of the arena on the left lead
  • 2 Head diagonally across the arena on the left lead
  • 3 When you are approaching the side of the arena, place your right leg on the horse to move his rib cage to the left
  • 4 You will now be starting your circle to the right in the left lead counter canter
  • 5 Do not complete the circle to the right but as you cross the middle, allow the horse to go back to the left on the left lead
  • 6 Repeat this exercise until the horse becomes relaxed and comfortable about entering and exiting the counter canter
  • 7 Repeat the drill on the right lead
  • 8 If the horse is relaxed with this exercise you may now ask him to change leads at the top of your circle but not in the middle of the arena. This will allow him to understand that he can change leads without an association with a direction change or a particular area of the arena
  • 9 Your next goal will be to ask the horse to change leads at any point in the arena, and then to enter a counter canter, teaching him yet again that a lead change is not associated with a direction change