Reining, the Western form of dressage riding

Dressage is a type of competitive horse training, and competitions are held at all levels from amateur to the Olympics. Dressage is sometimes described as “Horse Ballet”. It was first recognized in Europe during the Renaissance and so is at least five hundred years old.

The dressage tests performed at the Olympic Games Dressage competition include the following:

  • Piaffe
    A calm, composed, elevated trot in place
  • Passage
    A movement done at the trot, in which the horse has great elevation of stride and seems to pause between putting down its feet.
  • Extended gaits
    Usually done at the trot and canter, the horse lengthens its stride to the maximum length through great forward thrust and reach.
  • Collected gaits (trot and canter)
    A shortening of stride in which the horse brings its hindquarters more underneath himself and carries more weight on his hind end. Takes a great amount of strength.
  • Flying changes, informally called “tempi” at this level
    The horse changes leads at the canter every stride (one tempi or “oneseys”), two strides (two tempi), or three strides (three tempi).
  • Pirouette
    A 360 or 180 (depending on the level) degree turn in place, usually performed at the canter
  • Half-pass
    A movement where the horse goes on a diagonal, moving sideways and forward at the same time, while bent slightly in the direction of movement.

Reining is a much more recent activity in Western riding.  As the Fédération Équestre Internationale (commonly known as the FEI) describes it:

Reining is a high level competition sport requiring concentration and high riding competence. Riders must wear the appropriate western attire including a long sleeve shirt with collar, cowboy boots and western hat or safety helmet. If you’ve ever had the chance to see reining, you will immediately trace it back to its early beginnings – where cattle horses had a special line of duty.

Required Movements

  • Walk-in: brings the horse from the gate to the centre of the arena to begin its pattern; should appear relaxed and confident.
  • Stop: the act of slowing the horse from a lope to a stop position by bringing the hind legs under the horse in a locked position sliding on the hind feet.
  • Spin: a series of 360-degree turns, executed over a stationary (inside) hind leg; location of hind quarters should be fixed at the start and maintained throughout the spin.
  • Rollback: a 180-degree reversal of forward motion completed by running to a stop, turning the shoulders back to the opposite direction and departing at a canter, as a continuous motion.
  • Circle: done at the lope, of designated size and speed; demonstrates control, willingness to guide and degree of difficulty in speed and speed changes.
  • Hesitate: act of demonstrating horse’s ability to stand in a relaxed manner at a designated time in the pattern; horse should be motionless and relaxed.
  • Lead change: act of changing the leading legs of the front and rear pairs, at a lope, when changing direction.
  • Run-down and Run-around: demonstrate control and gradual increase of speed to the stop.

In addition to the required movements, Freestyle Reining provides the opportunity to use manoeuvres creatively but to expand them to music by means of choreography. Competitors are required to use musical scores, which permit them to show the athletic ability of the horse in a crowd-appealing way.

Reining is growing in popularity around the world, and the FEI European Reining Championships will be taking place in Wiener Neustadt in Austria from July 26 to July 28, 2011.  Reining is likely to be the next FEI discipline to be included in the Olympic Games.

The strongest region for reining still remains the Southern states of the U.S.A.  The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing knowledge about the competitive sport of horse reining.  One of its affiliates, the Southwest Reining Horse Association (SWRHA), is particularly strong in Texas and Oklahoma.  The organization hosts the SWRHA Online Stallion Auction, as well as the Southwest Reining Horse Association Futurity & Show.