First-time reining event contestants are eager to compete and eager to learn how to perform better. Reining competitions can be stressful, however, for even the seasoned competitor. To better prepare newcomers as they get ready for their first reining competitions, Omega Fields has asked Dr. Kris Hiney, NCRHA competitor and NRHA carded judge, to help out with a few tips.
1. Familiarize yourself with the pattern you will be riding.
At all NRHA shows, the patterns that will be run will be pre-posted in their official publication, The Reiner. Also, check the host association?s web-site for information on what order the classes will be offered. Memorize your pattern, but don't over school the pattern on your horse. Practice specific parts that may be more challenging. For example, if the pattern calls for a small slow to small slow lead change, try it at home. How much speed does your horse need to complete the lead change? Just winging it at the show will cause anxiety for both you and your horse. While you may not need to ride the pattern repeatedly on your horse, do mentally ride the pattern. And visualize it in real time ? how you will ride, what your cues will be, etc. And remember to visualize things going well ? don't think about what can go wrong or it will!
2. Practice counting spins.
While this might seem silly, one of the most common reasons for riders to go off pattern and receive a zero score is for completing the wrong number of spins. You don't always have to practice counting to four, but practice counting while turning your horse. Often if the horse struggles to start a turn or has a poor first turn, the rider tends to forget to count that first turn and ends up doing five spins. Perhaps have a friend watch you as well. It won?t do any good if you think you have been doing four spins, but you really have been doing five.
3. Practice shut downs of your turns.
Just like counting, completing your turns at the designated point is an important part of staying out of the penalty box. Does your horse need to receive its stop cue one-eighth of a turn early or right at the marker? Pick a spot in the arena and practice finishing your turns precisely at that location. This can easily save your score from those half point and one point over- and under-spin penalties.
4. Schedule a visit with your farrier in accordance with your show schedule.
Of course, good hoof maintenance is a must with any equine sport, but wearing sliding plates adds another element of concern. Check that your horse's shoes still fit tightly. If you hear clinking as your horse walks, his shoes have loosened. If the sliding plates are loose enough to move on the horse's feet, this can greatly affect his ability to hold his stop. Also, try to avoid resetting the horse just before you show. Typically it takes a horse a day or two to adjust to his new shoes, or for any exposed nail heads to wear flush with the sliding plate. If you do need to shoe or reset the horse right before showing, make sure the farrier grinds or rasps the nail heads flush to the shoe.
5. Check your paperwork.
Before you leave for the show, make sure your horse has all of its necessary paperwork. This includes not only its Coggins and health certificate, but if you are showing in NRHA events, you also need a competition license for your horse. If you show in any Green, Rookie or Non-Pro classes, you also have to complete a Non-Pro declaration in order to get your Non-Pro card. Check www.nrha.com for the appropriate forms.
6. Familiarize yourself and horse with the arena.
Arrive at the show early enough to ride in the arena before you show. Check with the host association to know when open riding is allowed and when the arena is closed. Make sure your horse feels comfortable with the banners, chairs, cones, etc. that may distract him during your pattern. Give your horse a chance to ?feel? the ground while stopping ? all arenas have slightly different traction that the horse may need to adjust to. Finally, analyze the arena for important landmarks. Look to see how your circles will fit in the arena. Will they be symmetrical if you ride all the way to the rail? Probably not. Try to visualize your path that you will take to form those perfect circles. Also look for visuals to guide you through your rundowns. Remember that you must stay 20 feet away from the fence while approaching the stop. Look for something to aim towards at the end of the arena. You will also need to ride past either the center or end markers prior to stopping, depending on the pattern. To avoid two-point marker penalties, try to find additional visuals that you can use in your peripheral vision other than the cones. And lastly, familiarize yourself with center! All of your circles must hit the same center of the arena or the judge may deduct from your maneuver score.
7. Check your equipment.
It is important that you bring it! Check that you have everything that you will need for the trip. Typically this might include both your everyday work pad for schooling as well as your show pad. Does the show pad change the way the saddle will fit or even feel to both you and your horse? Often times there is a large difference in feel between everyday equipment and show equipment. Will this make your horse's back sore with long term riding? What about other types of equipment? If you think your horse might be fresh, include a lunge line, but realize space for lunging might be limited or non-existent. Bring the bits that you intend to use. Is your show bit different from your practice bit? Does your horse respond differently to that bit in a novel situation? Then be sure to ride them in that bit at the show. Also check that the bit is legal. There are many bits out there that may be judged illegal and cause you to be disqualified. Check with your show association to be sure. And while it seems minor, make sure your curb chain is attached to your bit in the correct manner so that it lies flat. Putting one side on up-side down so that there is a twist can cause you a ?No score?. Finally, whether or not you have show bridles and saddles, all tack should be clean and polished. Adding silver to your outfit won?t increase your score, but clean tack just gives a good impression.
8. Check your clothing.
Bring an extra pair of jeans for the show pen just in case. Washing horses and cleaning stalls doesn't leave the greatest impression on your clothes. Are your jeans the appropriate length if you don't plan on wearing chaps? Jeans, while in riding position, should be long enough to cover the ankles of your boots. Also, nice, starched jeans with fresh creases add to the presentation. You must wear a shirt with full length sleeves ? three-quarter length sleeves are illegal in NRHA. Check your show shirt?s fit. Do you have freedom to move your arms? Will your shirt stay neatly tucked while riding? These little factors will help boost your confidence. Your show attire need not be extremely glitzy; in fact, conservative attire is quite normal at reining events. Finally, look at your hat. Make sure it is clean and shaped properly. Will it stay on while you ride? Worrying about your hat falling off during your pattern is extremely distracting to your concentration. Some tips other than a properly fitting hat include using hairspray, bobby pins, or even duct tape.
9. Make sure your horse is fit for the job.
It is human nature to sometimes override our horses at the horse show. You may watch other riders schooling their horses and try to emulate them. However, perhaps they are riding at a higher level or have a horse who is simply more capable of harder maneuvers. Over-riding the horse at the horse show creates muscle soreness and a sullen horse who will resent being at the show. Stick to the game plan of what you and your horse have normally been doing.
10. Warm up your horse.
How much you need to warm up prior to showing is individual for each horse, but is something you will learn through trial and error. Your horse will most likely be more alert and distracted than at home, so some extra riding before you show is important. However, don't overdo it. If your horse is fatigued he can't perform at his best either.
Finally, relax and enjoy the experience. It will be over far too soon.