Reining Patterns: Judge's Tips to Boost Your Score

Reining Patterns: Judge's Tips to Boost Your Score

Focusing on reining pattern placement will increase your score. Jeff Petska explains how to use your markers to plus your maneuvers.

close up of a reining pattern cone as reining trainer Ed Harrison and a bay horse lope a circle in the background (Credit: Abigail Boatwright for AQHA Journal)

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By AQHA and National Reining Horse Association judge Jeff Petska, with Abigail Boatwright

Reining is a precise discipline. All of our scoring is based on that precision and the degree of difficulty displayed. All of our patterns are printed in our rulebook (or you can download patterns reining here), and we base our performance on those patterns. How you lay down your reining pattern is very important in helping the judge evaluate the run. 

Before each class, the judge is going to sit down and look at the pattern in the rulebook. As each horse comes into the arena, we are evaluating how precisely, how closely they are riding the pattern compared to how it’s written in the rulebook. 

There’s really no excuse for not executing a precise pattern. That pattern doesn’t vary – it is how it is written. 

Reining Quick Tips

  • Run a precise pattern. Focus first on accuracy. Even if you don’t run really hard, you can mark a 70 or better. Start where you are, with your ability, then you can add a degree of difficulty as you are able. I always like to say that you can never outrun a mistake in reining – you can only get to your next one faster. I can’t stress enough that correct is much more important than speed.
  • Forget a mistake. As judges, we try to compartmentalize. Once a maneuver is over, it’s over. We don’t carry our evaluation into the next maneuver. So keep moving forward. It does no good to dwell on something that happened previously. Just keep going forward, trying to do the best you can with the maneuver you have coming up. 
  • Practice makes perfect. Practice at home with markers. If you’re not practicing this at home, it’s going to be difficult to do it right at a show. You don’t have to run an entire pattern perfectly in practice, but work on being precise as you practice each maneuver. 

Here are some tips for each maneuver.

The Reining Maneuver: Walking into the arena.

How to Nail It: The rulebook indicates you should walk to the center of the arena lined up with the center cone, and from there, begin your pattern.

How to Miss the Mark: Sometimes people will walk in and they won’t be perfectly in the center. That’s something we should be able to execute at the walk; there’s really no reason we can’t. If you don’t, when you start your spins or circles, you’re already off-kilter, and you’re not presenting as precise of a picture as you would like.

The Reining Maneuver: Circles

How to Nail It: Start from the center. You want your large fast circles to be as close to the same size as possible, always making sure to return to lining up with the center cone. On your small slow circles, you need to slow down at the center point of your circle lined up with the center marker. You also want your small circles to be approximately half the size of your large circles, depending on the arena. Your lead change needs to be as close to the center and middle of your circle as possible. Sometimes you get off-kilter a little bit, especially when you’re running hard circles, you can get off the middle marker a little bit, and we judges try to give a little bit of latitude, about a horse’s width on either side of that middle before it starts to have much negative affect on your score.

Ed Harrison and bay reining horse lope toward center marker

Good: Begin and end your circle in the middle of the arena facing the long end of the fence, and also lined up with the center marker.


How to Miss the Mark: If you come into your center and you miss your middle by 4, 6 or 8 feet, or you’re late slowing down, or your change is early or late – it’s very difficult for the judge to give you credit for those circles. They weren’t precise.

Ed Harrison and bay reining horse demonstrate a circle that is not lined up with the reining pattern center marker

Bad: Failing to line up with the center marker as you come through the center shows an imprecise pattern.

The Reining Maneuver: Sliding stops

How to Nail It: Depending on the pattern, you’ll run straight down the center, or along one side of the arena, toward a stop either after the center marker or located closer to the end markers. Sometimes you’ll rollback, sometimes you’ll back. The size of the pen really has some bearing on where you’re located.

Ed Harrison and bay reining horse perform a sliding stop

Good: Depending on your pattern, you’ll want to stop anywhere past the center marker. Here, Ed Harrison stops near the end marker.

 

How to Miss the Mark: Running down to your stop too close to the fence or too close to the center, if the pattern indicates differently. Sometimes a seasoned horse will pull toward the sidewall on a rundown and the rider will compensate by staying closer to the middle. But as a judge, we can see these things and are cognizant of why you would do them. So if you’re too close to the center, it’s going to figure into your maneuver score. Stopping too soon or too close to the wall will also negatively affect your score.

Ed Harrison and bay reining horse demonstrate stoppping too close to the end fence

Bad: Avoid too close to the end fence.

Ed Harrison and bay reining horse demonstrate stopping too close to the side fence

Bad: Stopping and rolling back too close to the fence will result in deductions from the judge.

The Reining Maneuver: Spins

How to Nail It: Start at the center of the arena (depending on the pattern). Make sure your spin starts and ends in the same spot.

Ed Harrison and bay reining horse spin lined up with reining center marker

Good: Begin and end your spin lined up with your center marker. As you spin, your horse’s hindquarters will anchor that point.

 

How to Miss the Mark: Starting off-kilter, over- or under-spinning and not ending up right at the center will all affect your score.

Ed Harrison and bay reining horse demonstrate spnning while not lined up with the reining marker
Bad: Starting too far away from the center cone or allowing your horse to spin off away from it, are two ways you can minus this maneuver.

About the Source

Jeff Petska of Collinsville, Texas, is a National Reining Horse Association professional, as well as an AQHA and NRHA judge. He has been the chef d’equipe for the U.S. Reining Team at the FEI World Equestrian Games since the reining team was created in 2002. He trained horses for 35 years.

Demonstrating the reining maneuvers in this article is Ed Harrison. "The Global Cowboy" hails from Fort Worth, Texas. Now an NRHA professional, Ed has a background in rodeo, cutting and reined cow horse.