There’s no get­ting around it:

Horse & Rider - - Ride & Train -

Ranch rid­ing is the fastest-grow­ing class across al­most all breeds. Thanks to a solid train­ing foun­da­tion, you could add the event to your reiner or cow horse’s reper­toire with min­i­mal train­ing ef­fort on your part. That means one more class for you to com­pete in and greater di­ver­sity for your horse’s skill set.

Here I’ll dis­cuss three must-have traits for your horse’s way of go­ing be­fore you con­sider ranch rid­ing, and then break down how each re­quired ranch rid­ing ma­neu­ver cor­re­lates to a sim­i­lar ma­neu­ver in rein­ing pat­terns. I’ll also dis­cuss how ranch rid­ing pat­terns can help im­prove your rein­ing and reined work (for work­ing cow horse) pat­terns.

The Must-Have Traits

Reiners and cow horses are some of the best-trained per­for­mance horses to­day. Their fun­da­men­tals and foun­da­tion make tran­si­tion­ing to ranch rid­ing al­most ef­fort­less. Plus, their lin­eage leads to the body type that lends it­self to suc­ceed­ing in ranch rid­ing.

But there are three traits they must have; oth­er­wise it’s a deal-breaker. Is he a good mover and pleas­ing to watch? Move­ment goes a long way in ranch rid­ing. Cadenced, rhyth­mic gaits and true ex­ten­sions play a large role in a ranch rid­ing score. A horse with eye ap­peal—color, chrome, and wow fac­tor—that’s pleas­ing to look at,

has ex­pres­sion in his ears, and shows will­ing­ness to com­plete the pat­tern stands out to the judge.

Does he steer and guide well? Reiners can be what we call “pat­terned,” mean­ing they know the pat­tern they’re run­ning and go by that in­stead of be­ing truly guided. Most rein­ing cues hap­pen in the mid­dle of the arena—es­pe­cially spins and changes of speed and leads. These tran­si­tions and changes in di­rec­tion hap­pen any­where in the arena in ranch rid­ing. This means your horse must be truly guided by your cues, and do it in a will­ing, ath­letic man­ner. Does he carry his body nat­u­rally? If yours is a reiner that trav­els be­hind the bri­dle or packs his head ex­ces­sively low, ranch rid­ing might not be a good fit for your horse. Horses that travel with a lot of frame or col­lec­tion may take more time to set­tle into ranch rid­ing’s style.

With those three char­ac­ter­is­tics, you can move on to fi­ness­ing your horse’s rein­ing ma­neu­vers for ranch rid­ing.

The Ma­neu­vers

Four ranch rid­ing ma­neu­vers align well with rein­ing: turns, stops, lead changes, and the back-up. Walk­ing and trot­ting gaits, logs, and a side­pass are found in ranch rid­ing and are new skills for a rein­ing horse, but with a solid foun­da­tion they shouldn’t be a prob­lem. All of these ma­neu­vers should em­u­late how they’d be used when work­ing on a ranch—ef­fec­tively, cor­rectly, and will­ingly.

Here I’ll break down each ma­neu­ver and dis­cuss the slight dif­fer­ences be­tween ex­e­cut­ing them in rein­ing ver­sus ranch rid­ing. I’ll also of­fer a key tip for ranch rid­ing success.


How it looks in rein­ing: Pat­terns con­sist of four to four-and-a-quar­ter spins. They start slow, and build speed, screech­ing to a halt at the des­ig­nated count. The crescendo of speed and cadence is con­trolled and mea­sured, but picks up be­fore the first revo­lu­tion is half­way com­plete. The horse locks in at the de­sired speed, and then shuts down pre­cisely to end the ma­neu­ver where the pat­tern des­ig­nates. The horse can then pause be­fore start­ing his next ma­neu­ver, whether a set of spins in the other di­rec­tion or a lope de­par­ture.

How it looks in ranch rid­ing: Spins are short and sweet in ranch rid­ing pat­terns, usu­ally cov­er­ing no more than one-and-a-half rev­o­lu­tions. (An ad­van­tage for cow horses try­ing this event.) This best em­u­lates how turns are ex­e­cuted on a ranch when work­ing cat­tle. Four spins in a row sim­ply aren’t prac­ti­cal on the ranch.

There’s no time for a slow start here. Your horse must be re­spon­sive and ac­cu­rate. Once he’s half­way through a turn, when the reiner is wind­ing up, it’s al­most time for the ranch rider to stop. Judges in ranch rid­ing don’t cri­tique the cadence of the spin as harshly as in the rein­ing, but they do ex­pect ac­cu­racy. And there’s no time for a pause. Your ranch rider should have a more fluid pre­sen­ta­tion, go­ing from one ma­neu­ver to the next.

Key tip for ranch rid­ing: When you’re school­ing at home and warm­ing up for a class at a horse show, be sure that your horse is pay­ing at­ten­tion and re­spon­sive to your cues. Don’t fire him up un­nec­es­sar­ily, but ex­pect a re­sponse when you ask him to turn. Also, be sure to prac­tice end­ing your spins. You’ll in­cur a penalty for over­turn­ing in ranch rid­ing, just as in rein­ing.


How it looks in rein­ing: The slid­ing stop is the hall­mark of a rein­ing horse. The run­down builds speed un­til the horse hits the dirt with his hind end and slides. Reiners are bred for this ma­neu­ver—yes, part of it is train­ing; but a large por­tion of stop­ping ability comes from ge­net­ics.

How it looks in ranch rid­ing: Stops are fun­da­men­tally the same for ranch rid­ing. Your horse should stop square and bal­anced, but the front legs don’t need to “pedal” (see photo on page 73) in the ranch rid­ing the way they do in the rein­ing. It’s the ma­neu­ver you’ll have to put the least ef­fort in when adding ranch rid­ing to your reiner’s ros­ter of classes.

How­ever, judges don’t want ranch rid­ing to be­come a slid­ing con­test. Most stops are called for from a walk or trot; not a gallop. The pat­terns don’t al­low the rein­ing-style build­ing of speed that leads to a butt-drag­ging stop be­cause that’s not nec­es­sary on a ranch. I’ve heard some ranch rid­ing com­peti­tors com­plain about reiners wear­ing slide plates in ranch rid­ing and that not be­ing typ­i­cal of a ranch horse. I think that’s short-sighted. Ver­sa­til­ity, as when a reiner or cow horse com­petes in a class out­side his norm, should be ac­cepted and even re­warded, if done cor­rectly. Key tip for ranch rid­ing: Key in on re­spon­sive­ness. Stop your horse from all gaits and ex­ten­sions so he’s lis­ten­ing and ready to stop when you cue rather than just at the end of a run­down. If your horse is re­spon­sive, he’ll stop squarely at your cue where the pat­tern des­ig­nates, from any gait.


How it looks in rein­ing: A lead change is func­tion­ally the same no mat­ter the class, from rein­ing to horse­man­ship to West­ern rid­ing. All lead changes have three key el­e­ments: forward

mo­tion, el­e­va­tion of the horse’s back and shoul­ders, and lat­eral move­ment. What you see in a flying lead change in rein­ing shouldn’t be func­tion­ally dif­fer­ent in ranch rid­ing.

How­ever, many reiners are only trained to change leads in the mid­dle of the fig­ure eight that’s the base of their pat­tern. That’s where the key tip, be­low, is es­sen­tial. How it looks in ranch rid­ing: Both flying and sim­ple lead changes are ac­cept­able in ranch rid­ing, but all things be­ing equal, a well-ex­e­cuted flying lead change demon­strates a higher de­gree of dif­fi­culty. Key tip for ranch rid­ing: Prac­tice chang­ing leads all over the arena when school­ing at home. Be sure that your horse doesn’t use the mid­dle of the pen as a crutch to change leads when you move your hand, shift your weight, and change di­rec­tions. En­sure that he has a solid lead change any­where in the arena, and even when you ride out­side the arena.


How it looks in rein­ing: Style plays a large role in rein­ing, and the cur­rent style tends to­ward quick feet and poll flex­ion in the back-up.

How it looks in ranch rid­ing: A ranch horse’s back-up is just as will­ing as the reiner’s, but it’s not as fast and his nose might not be tucked quite as far in.

Key tip for ranch rid­ing: For this event, the back-up should be will­ing, just as in rein­ing. Judges don’t want to see you drag your horse back­ward. If my horse labors to back, I use my feet, al­ter­nately on each side, to help get him un­stuck, pick up his shoul­ders, and re­spond to the pres­sure.


How it looks in rein­ing: The tran­si­tion from small, slow cir­cles to large, fast cir­cles is a ma­jor com­po­nent in rein­ing, so your horse shouldn’t have prob­lems with that change of gait. But there’s no trot­ting in rein­ing, other than when warm­ing up or maybe en­ter­ing the pen for a pat­tern that starts in the mid­dle of the arena. Trot­ting— into lope de­par­tures, out of roll­backs, through lead changes—is a penalty in rein­ing and is ac­tively dis­cour­aged. This cre­ates ha­bit­ual pat­terns so you can avoid penal­ties when com­pet­ing. Even worse, your horse might lack con­fi­dence tran­si­tion­ing from a walk to a trot or a lope to a trot.

Aside from steer­ing, one of the must-have traits dis­cussed ear­lier, gait tran­si­tions can be the most dif­fi­cult ma­neu­ver for a rein­ing horse to mas­ter. But it can be done. How it looks in ranch rid­ing: Up­ward and down­ward tran­si­tions are a key com­po­nent to ranch rid­ing pat­terns, and

they’re ex­e­cuted pre­cisely. The in­ten­tion is to mir­ror what you’d see a horse do­ing on a ranch—walk­ing as he leaves a gate, jog­ging to ap­proach a cow, lop­ing across a pas­ture. A ranch horse, un­like a reiner, uses all of his gaits.

Key tip for ranch rid­ing: I cluck and say “whoa” dur­ing rein­ing pat­terns, but I use more ver­bal cues with my ranch rid­ing horses—es­pe­cially in down­ward tran­si­tions or when a horse starts to get ahead of me. For ex­am­ple, to go from an ex­tended trot to a walk, I calmly tell my horse to walk, along with us­ing my body cues. Or when we’re work­ing at an ex­tended walk and he feels like he might break into a trot, I re­peat a “walk” ver­bal cue. This helps my horse’s con­fi­dence in terms of know­ing what I want him to do.

At home, be sure to prac­tice all gait ex­ten­sions to build your horse’s fa­mil­iar­ity with all lev­els of each gait. And be sure that you’re ex­tend­ing gaits (length­en­ing stride), not sim­ply trav­el­ing with faster foot­falls.


How it looks in rein­ing: Ob­vi­ously, there are no logs in rein­ing pat­terns. I’ve had the oc­ca­sional rein­ing horse that’s scared of the logs, but more of­ten they’re lazy and plod through the ob­sta­cle, hit­ting each log. How it looks in ranch rid­ing: The pat­tern can call for any gait over the logs, with more space be­tween each tim­ber for faster gaits. A straight, cadenced ap­proach makes foot place­ment be­tween the logs less a worry. Then you can fo­cus on rid­ing all the way through the ob­sta­cle—un­til the last foot steps over the fi­nal log—for a clean ex­e­cu­tion.

Key tip for ranch rid­ing: Be­gin with one log on the ground. Cross it at all gaits un­til your horse doesn’t think twice about it. Once you cross a se­ries of logs, keep a steady cadence from ap­proach to fin­ish. Slow­ing down means he’s likely to hit a log. Build­ing speed means your horse is “go­ing with­out you” and is wor­ried about the ob­sta­cle, which also leads to hit­ting logs. Teach your horse to be con­fi­dent, re­laxed, and cadenced over the ob­sta­cle.


How it looks in rein­ing: You won’t see a side­pass in a rein­ing pat­tern, but a rein­ing horse should have lat­eral move­ment in his bag of tricks. It’s es­sen­tial for a cor­rect lead change, as well as to keep your horse square in his shoul­ders. How it looks in ranch rid­ing: Ev­ery ranch rid­ing pat­tern re­quires a side­pass ob­sta­cle, usu­ally over a log placed on the ground. The judge can call for a side­pass in both di­rec­tions or just one, usu­ally with four or five con­sec­u­tive steps to com­plete the ma­neu­ver.

Key tip for ranch rid­ing: Your reiner might be ac­cus­tomed to mov­ing parts of his body lat­er­ally, but not his en­tire body. Take the time at home to work on whole-body lat­eral work, rather than iso­lat­ing one part of his body. 

LEFT: Ranch rid­ing gaits. True ex­ten­sion—as shown in my horse’s ex­tended trot—plays a large role in ranch rid­ing. RIGHT: Rein­ing gaits. Most reiners tran­si­tion only from a fast lope to a slower lope in their pat­terns. It’ll take time for your horse to...

LEFT: Ranch rid­ing spins. With a shorter time­frame to get in mo­tion and then stop where des­ig­nated, my horse must re­spond to my turn cue quickly and will­ingly. RIGHT: Rein­ing spins. My horse has more time to wind up and lock into a cadence for mul­ti­ple...

LEFT: A ranch rid­ing back-up. My horse lifts his back and shoul­ders, and will­ingly backs up the des­ig­nated num­ber of steps. RIGHT: A rein­ing backup. This time, he tucks his nose and hus­tles his feet back­ward with drape in the rein, per the style for...

Though you won’t see a side­pass in a rein­ing pat­tern, your reiner has the tools to per­form lat­eral move­ment.

When rid­ing over a set of logs, don't quit un­til your horse’s last foot crosses the fi­nal log. This will keep him from hit­ting it.

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