Bud Lyon believes learning the difference between a patterned reining horse and a broke reiner with superb steering skills can be the key to higher scores in the show pen. • Photo by Kate Bradley Byars.

Assessing a Horse’s Steering Situation with Trainer Bud Lyon (Part 1)

The cornerstones of reining are circles, spins, rundowns and sliding stops. Those are the fun maneuvers, but without solid fundamentals that include responsive steering and guiding, a horse loses its ability to perform.

The horse can only run a pattern, somewhat like a mouse learning to run a maze. Throw a new turn in the maze, and the mouse fails to get the cheese. 

Reining trainer Bud Lyon realized his horses, as well as other seasoned reiners from different programs, lacked a solid understanding of rein pressure and responsive steering when he shifted from reining patterns to ranch riding.

“Several years ago, I started to transition to showing in the ranch riding in addition to reining,” said the 39-year-old Tioga, Texas, trainer. “We have set patterns in reining, but none of the patterns are symmetrical in ranch riding. They require more steering and guiding all over the arena. Clients sent reining horses to me to get shown in the ranch riding, and that is when I realized that some of us in the reining industry had drifted away from the steering fundamentals.”

In this Learning Curve three-part series, Lyons explains why he believes laying a foundation is important, how he assesses a horse’s understanding of steering and how it all ties together in the show pen.

In part one, he talks about how to assess a horse’s understanding of steering. Parts Two and Three will be published at QuarterHorseNews.com on Tuesday, July 28, and Tuesday, Aug. 4.

Horsemanship & Foundation

It wasn’t that Lyon did not have a solid horsemanship base when he started out as a trainer. As a youth, he competed in all-around events, rode with successful trainers like Todd Crawford and was immersed in the horse show industry. 

“I learned the basics of horsemanship from showing all-around, but when it comes to the program I use today, it is a mix of influences,” he said. “I started riding with Todd Crawford at the age of 14. When I was in college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, I would spend the summer with Don Murphy when he was still in California. He did a bit of everything – reining, roping and cow horse. Whatever I learned from Todd was amplified by my experience with Don, and that harkened back to reined cow horse traditions of what a good, solid, broke horse is supposed to be.”

Following graduation, Lyon spent seven years working with reining and reined cow horse trainer Randy Paul before moving to Texas and starting his own operation. The pressures of working as a full-time trainer and meeting expectations subconsciously altered how Lyon approached each horse.

“I got into a habit of working on those [reining] maneuvers and not always focusing on some of the fundamentals. The fundamentals are not always exciting; they are laborious and tedious. It takes time to get it right,” he said. “My horses knew how to speed up, slow down and spin and stop. But if you took them out of their routine and tried to steer them around the arena at any given point, some of those horses were lost. I had to go back and reevaluate what it took to take a reining horse and do the ranch riding. It came down to guiding.”

After identifying the problem, Lyon used his skills to correct it and began adjusting his program.

Assess the situation

Bud Lyons training
The ability to steer the horse any direction, at any point in the ride, is key to Lyons’ program.

There are 15 approved patterns in the National Reining Horse Association. All require circles, lead changes, rundowns, spins and sliding stops, as well as a back-up. None ask the horse and rider to perform a serpentine or do anything at a diagonal. In essence, a reining horse only must do six maneuvers.

In Lyon’s observation, riders that practice only the elements of a reining pattern create a “patterned” horse, not one that is broke to guide and steer. When a client brought a seasoned reiner to him to also compete in ranch riding, Lyon found commonalities in the issues he faced.

“A lot of the horses knew to stay in a circle, or stay in a circle if there was an arena fence, but when you tried to steer to the inside or outside of the circle, the horse either didn’t want to steer or became inept,” Lyon explained. “I could run a large fast with my hand on the horse’s neck, but as soon as I tried to guide right or left, it took more effort – more leg and neck rein – to get them to move.”

Counter-cantering, turning a 90-degree angle during a straightaway and even trotting serpentines was challenging, or more challenging than it should be on a broke horse. To assess the horse’s understanding of steering, Lyon looked at how much of a cue, or guiding hand, was needed to affect change.

If a rider’s hand has to move more than 2 or 3 inches to the left or right of the neck, then the horse is not responding like it should. Another indicator that the horse lacks respect for being guided or an understanding of steering is that it braces against the rider. 

“A horse that is bracing against you, being belligerent and deliberately going where it wants to go has a steering issue,” Lyon said. “This needs to be addressed at home by working on neck and direct rein cues, where when you lay a rein on the horse’s neck, then the head turns and the rest of the body follows.

“You may have a horse that moves its head and neck off the neck rein, but the body doesn’t follow. That is when you have to use a little leg or get aggressive with your hand. This will affect your turns in the show arena.”

Lyon opts to build understanding of proper steering and guiding at home so his horses perform better at the horse show. Once a hole is identified in the horse’s foundation, he sets about correcting it with back-to-basics exercises.

Meet Bud Lyon

Meet Bud Lyon
Bud Lyon

As a youth, Bud Lyon competed in all-around events, rode with successful trainers like Todd Crawford and was immersed in the horse show industry living in California. He attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California, and spent summers riding with Hall of Fame cow horse trainer Don Murphy.

Following graduation, Lyon spent seven years working with reining and reined cow horse trainer Randy Paul before moving to Texas and starting his own operation. Based in Tioga, Texas, with his wife, Kim, Lyon focuses on reining and ranch riding horses.

In 2018, he rode Chics Dream About Me to the AQHA World Champion Senior Ranch Riding title; in 2019, he piloted the NSBA Breeders Championship Senior Ranch Riding champion Lectric Chic Olena and Junior Ranch Riding Champion aboard Crowd Pleaser; he also rode the 2019 APHA Junior Reining World Champion Steady Joe.

His Equi-Stat lifetime earnings total $205,928.. For more information, visit Bud Lyon Performance Horses at budlyonperformancehorses.com.

The complete article ran in the September 15, 2017 issue of Quarter Horse News.