Question: I have found a potential reining horse to buy she is pretty and sound but don’t know if she rides well enough. What are some of the things I should be looking for? I want to be able to do a few shows this year and be able to take clinics and lessons at a high enough level but not sure if she is exactly the horse for me. Am I shooting too high here?
Answer from April Reeves:
The first thing to look for when you first get on a reining horse is their ability to stay between the reins. This means that you are able to guide them anywhere you want to go without hesitation or bulging on their part. Guiding is what a reining horse is all about! Does she lean to one side or the other? Are body parts pushing in or out as you guide her?
Good reining horses, those with a solid foundation, travel straight in all maneuvers. By straight I mean that each body section is aligned from front to back, and follows the arc or curve of where you are going. Straightness for a reining horse does differ slightly from the straightness you need in a dressage horse, but if this mare is young, with minimal but good training, accept the basics of straightness in her. You can watch a really comprehensive video on straightness, bend and flexion on this link: Horseman’s U.com/Bending/Flexion/Straightness
To test for straightness and staying between the reins, take the horse on a circle. Circles do not lie; here you will find every little ‘bug’ in the horse. Circles give you an indication of the quality of the foundation work. Reining horses must be able to perform perfect circles with correct physical alignment (straightness) and guidance (between the reins).
I am a fanatic about circles in all disciplines. You won’t get them if you don’t perform them correctly. I draw them in the sand for all my students, and require them to be able to perform them well within 3-4 months.
I don’t know the mare’s age, but if she is 3-4 and has had 6-8 months of professional work, she should be able to perform circles properly and be supple and soft. (I personally do not ride 2 year olds).
Third thing I look for is softness. I’m not just referring to her mouth. Softness shows up everywhere; shoulders, ribs, hindquarters. Can you move each part around in suppling exercises? How responsive is she to the aids? Stiff parts on a horse tell you two things: the horse may have been trained improperly or the horse may be sore somewhere. There are horses that are born stiffer. If they have the quality you are looking for, it is worth the training and time put in.
You can train until the cows come home, but if you have a cranky or soured horse, it’s an uphill battle that could last a lifetime. Great reining horses ‘just get on and get the job done’ and they take their jobs responsibly. They are level headed and although not all are quiet, they are obedient. You can’t do a quiet run when the horse is pinning its ears back and challenging you.
As for additional maneuvers such as lead changes and advanced work like rollbacks, if the mare has a good foundation the rest will fall into place easier. Without it you will have to go back to the basics and reprogram the foundation. You cannot skip a single level with reining horses, as it all connects to create the end result, and the level of competition is so high these days, even in smaller shows, you can’t leave anything out.
If you find these basics in a horse, and are willing to take the training necessary to get where you want to go, I see no reason why you won’t have that dream horse. It takes time and patience, hard work and dedication to train for reining, but then, all higher level disciplines do!
At this time, with so many horses for sale, take the time to find one. I’m not sure what level you wish to obtain, but I would be a little fussier than the level you are looking for. Try to go for the level above or higher. It’s a buyer’s market right now!
Remember: it’s the same cost to feed a bad horse as it is to feed a good horse. The $2000 you saved buying that three-legged horse may cost you that in vet bills one day.