Reining is a western-style equestrian sport in which horses perform a series of movements based upon the riding skills necessary for life in the west of the United States. The movements are a series of approved maneuvers, usually seven or eight that both horse and rider will perform. The movements are performed in an arena and scored based upon execution.


In the days of the cattle rancher at the wild west, reining movements were a natural part of cattle herding. It was very important for a horse to be obedient and able to maneuver any way at a moment’s notice. As the horses were used to herd cattle, their quick responses were able to keep the ranchers and cattle safe from hazards. What began as a necessity turned into something of an art form and reining was introduced to the equestrian world as a sort of western-style dressage.

Similarities to Dressage

Like dressage, reining is an art involving subtle aids. Aids are cues that the rider gives the horse to communicate which move the horse should be performed. Aids should be nearly indistinguishable, but the horse ought to perform the move without hesitation. Reining is also similar to dressage in that the relationship between the horse and rider is paramount to the success of reining. A mutual respect and understanding will help the horse to perform the moves with grace and elegance.


The horses perform these moves at the quick pace of a canter. Each horse performs ten patterns of seven to eight movements each. Those movements are pre-determined and must be performed in order. Judging beings from the first movement, which is called the walk-in. The walk-in is when horse and rider enter the arena. Judges are ensuring the horse seems comfortable in its surroundings.

The stop is one of the most magnificent movements to witness. In the stop, the horse will make an immediate transition from a canter or even a gallop to a complete stop. The hind legs of the horse will lock in position. This movement has been dubbed the sliding stop and is a sight to behold in a dirt arena. The horses’s abrupt stop amidst a cloud of dust is a fan favorite.

Spin moves are an essential reining movement. In the spin move, the horse will turn 360 degrees on the spot, keeping the interior hind leg planted in the ground. The spin move takes time for horses to learn. Most riders begin to learn this move by running small circles until the horse is ready to try pivoting.

In the rollback movement, the horse will perform a sliding stop, reverse direction in a 180 degree pivot and canter in the other direction. The horse is able to turn immediately and without hesitation in a dramatic and graceful movement.

Circles are a cantering movement. The circles made by the horse ought to be even and consistent. Oftentimes, the horse will be instructed to change speed in the circle, which adds a degree of difficulty, as well as making the circle larger or smaller. Each of these changes should be noticeable and graceful.

Hesitation in reining represents how comfortable the horse remains when asked to wait between movements. While not necessarily a specific movement, the hesitation represents the obedience of the horse to remain calm and relaxed between motion. Impatience can result in a penalty.

The lead change movement in reigning is similar to the flying leg change in dressage. The horse will change its lead leg in both the hind and fore legs while maintaining the cantering speed and changing direction.

The rundown movement illustrates the horse’s ability to increase speed to a gallop prior to performing moves like the stop or rollback. During the run down, the horse will canter along the side of the arena before performing the move. This is a basic required move before others can be mastered.

Reining Horses

Typically, stock horses perform best at reining competitions. Bred for strong hind legs and great agility, these horses usually win at reining shows. Another important aspect in choosing a horse for reining is conformation. Correct conformation includes, among other aspects, a low head carriage, straight and sound legs, sound pasterns, balance, sloped shoulders and strong hindquarters. Blood lines can be important as the highest levels of competitions as winners often come from a long line of reining champions.

Equipment and Tack

Attire worn in reigning is less formal than that of traditional equestrian-style wear and is more suited to the western style of clothing. Appropriate clothing consists of a long-sleeve shirt, western hat and western boots. The hat can be straw or felt, although the latter is a more classic choice. Many riders use techniques to keep their hat from falling off during the vigorous movements. Many riders wear jeans, while other choose to wear chaps over those jeans. The most classic western wear in good repair creates the best presentation.

Horses require special footwear for their hooves in order to safely perform some of these movements. Splint boots protect the splint and cannon bones and some even help protect the tendons. Bell boots come in handy when training a horse to spin. Bell boots protect the coronet band. Knee boots are a training boot utilized while a horse is learning to spin in the case that it inadvertently knocks together its knees. The skid boots are used on the hind legs of the horse during the sliding stop.


Scoring in reining uses a unique system. Each rider in the competition starts with a base scored of 70 points. Each movement will result in either the addition or reduction of points. If the execution is correct, the judges will award zero points. For poorly executed moves, the judges can dock as many as one and half points. For excellent execution, a rider and horse can be awarded an extra one and a half points. Smoothness, agility and attitude are all incentives for additional points.

Horses that excel at reining are both agile, strong and obedience. A good horse will have correct conformation as well as excellent tempo. When the horse is moving in canter or gallop, the tempo of the footfalls should be even. The aids that the rider uses to communicate the horse should be hardly noticeable to the onlookers, yet the movements should be fluid and impressive.

Reining is a fun sport to spectators to watch, as they envision the horses performing graceful yet strong movements on the western frontier. From its origins, reining has become an exciting aspect of equestrian sports. As it grows in popularity, more countries will begin programs and join in the international competitions. At the international level, the top competitors will showcase their abilities and wow the crowd.

Veterinary Surgeon, London at Blue Cross UK | + posts

A London based Veterinary surgeon, Sanja is also an avid writer and pet advocate.