Tips to Improve Ranch Reining Scores
Maneuvers in the pattern include at least one circle in both directions, a change of leads in each direction, at least one 360-degree turn in each direction, stop and back, and a rollback in each direction. (Not all patterns include a rollback.)
Perfect Your Practice
For expert advice on how to master those maneuvers, we turned to Kevin Oliver, AQHA Professional Horseman and sponsored rider and advisor to Farnam Companies, Inc. In addition to being a top trainer, Oliver is a successful competitor in Versatility Ranch Horse (VRH), and also an AQHA specialty judge in VRH.
To be fully prepared, Oliver recommends practicing the same maneuvers required for NRHA patterns. Key word: maneuvers! Practice the maneuvers themselves, but never an actual pattern verbatim. That's because if you practice a pattern, you horse will begin to anticipate, which is one of the biggest no-no's in the reining show pen.
For example, a pattern may call for a lead change in the center of the pen, but don't ask for that when you're practicing at home. You definitely want to practice lead changes, but not at the same place every time.
Just don't ask for a lead change when the horse's body is arced in the curve of a circle, because it's more difficult for him to change leads from rear to front. It can also be uncomfortable, and that can make him resistant to changing leads.
You'll also want to practice turnarounds and rollbacks in a way that will keep your horse from anticipating what you're going to ask for next.
"Believe it or not, horses can count!" says Oliver. "Even a young horse learning to turn around will quickly catch on to how many revolutions you're going to ask for. If a pattern requires 4 or 4-1/2 revolutions, I always ask for 5 or 6 when I'm practicing at home, because I don't want him to anticipate the end of the turnaround in the show pen.
To be fully prepared, Oliver recommends practicing the same maneuvers required for NRHA patterns. Key word: maneuvers!"A lot of times I incorporate a backup before I ask for a rollback, because I don't want him to start to roll back just because I've stopped," adds Oliver. "When I'm practicing, sometimes I ask for a rollback after I've stopped, but not always. This will keep the horse from anticipating a rollback every time he stops."
Don't forget to use the entire arena when you practice. On your stops, for example, get your horse used to loping from end to end of the arena. When you get to one end, curve around and head back the other way. Don't let him get the idea that the end of the arena means stop!
"You want to get the horse comfortable in understanding that just because we lope to the end of the arena doesn't mean we're going to stop. You don't want him to anticipate the stop," says Oliver. "You can also mix it up by stopping him at the 50-yard line (the middle of the arena). His biggest reward would be to stop, stand there, fill up with air and do nothing for a minute or several minutes."
Fine-tune it! Maximize your scores in ranch reining by remembering these helpful tips from Oliver:
Know your pattern. "Know where in the arena the various transitions need to happen. Be aware of the cone placements."
Don't rush: "Most people try to rush through the pattern because of nerves."
Breathe: "When riding a reining pattern, take a deep breath at the start. I wait for my horse to do this too. You're not wasting the judge's time. He's very patient and wants you to do well. When I finish the turnarounds and stop, I take another deep breath and I want my horse to do this, as well." Ride your own ride: "Don't just follow the hoof prints in the arena from the previous rider."
Versatility Ranch Horse (VRH) has become one of the fastest-growing Western riding competitions in the world. The various classes are all about promoting the horse's athletic ability and versatility by performing skills routinely used by working ranch cowboys.