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.
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.
Here in Part Three, he explains how the foundation helps when it’s time to show.
When a rider is in a pressure packed situation like a big reining event, it is common for nerves to create some loss of communication. But Lyon said with a solid foundation, horse-and-rider pairs can overcome show ring issues.
Following his own advice to get back to basics helped Lyon and 5-year-old Einsteins Top Whiz go from locking up in a pattern in June 2016 to making the Derby Level 4 Open finals at the 2017 National Reining Breeders Classic and NRHA Derby.
“The horse came into training in May 2016 and had been through at least four trainers’ programs. I attempted to show him at the [NRHA] Derby in June 2016, and when I asked for a left rollback, he put his head the wrong way and locked up,” Lyon said. “He didn’t respect the neck rein.”
Lyon went home and set to work figuring out how to get a show-ready horse. He said the answer was time in the saddle working on boring, tedious basics. However, when the two stepped back in the arena at the 2016 High Roller Reining Derby, there was a marked difference in the horse.
“I still lost some steering in my circles, but he was much better. We did a lot of exercises where the head went a direction first, and his body waited on me to go that direction,” Lyon said. “Neck rein, direct rein and respecting changing direction – it was tedious, but necessary, and it made a difference. There is no secret or magic to what I do. You have to go through all these issues at home so you can utilize the lessons at the show in the show pen.”
When Lyon took a hard look at his own program, he realized, like many trainers, he was trying to keep up with the high level of reining competition. But it didn’t matter how fast his horses were spinning or how hard they would stop if they couldn’t get around the arena.
“Maybe the value in my light-bulb moment is to get back to basics,” Lyon said. “It is easy to find yourself getting away from that, especially in the reining. The level of competition and the quality of horses has gotten dramatically better over the last 10 years.
“You have to stay on top of your game. It is easy to get caught up practicing stopping or running harder. But none of that matters if you can’t steer in the show pen.”