Pri­vate Les­son

Horse & Rider - - Contents -

Rein man­age­ment for mounted shoot­ing.

ONE-HANDED RID­ING IS A ne­ces­sity for mounted shoot­ing, which means highly tuned rein-man­age­ment skills are re­quired so you can cue cor­rectly and get the proper re­sponse. Tar­gets come fast, even at the be­gin­ner level, and gun han­dling re­quires quick think­ing. This makes mas­ter­ing rein man­age­ment at home a key to com­pet­i­tive suc­cess. I’ll cover my best tips here.

When you have one hand on the reins and one hand on a gun, two-handed, di­rect rein­ing sim­ply isn’t an op­tion. (That is, pulling with your left hand to go left and your right to go right.) Neck rein­ing and effective rein man­age­ment are crit­i­cal, and a com­bi­na­tion of cir­cle, pat­tern, and lead-change work is an ex­cel­lent way to prac­tice these skills at home.

Tack up your horse in a bri­dle he re­sponds to, and grab your rop­ing (loop) reins. Be­gin work­ing at a slower gait to start (walk or jog) on cir­cles and build speed as your re­flexes sharpen and your horse re­sponds to your cues. For the pat­tern work, set up four shoot­ing tar­gets (or bar­rels or cones) in a square with 15 to 20 feet be­tween each tar­get, de­pend­ing on the size of the pen.


Here’s what I see hap­pen all-too of­ten when I work with riders and at com­pe­ti­tions—in­cor­rect neck rein­ing. I’m hold­ing the rein in a fist (like an ice cream cone), in­stead of the cor­rect way (palm down). I’ve asked my horse to turn left by pulling my hand out to the left, which lays the rein across the right side of her neck. I didn’t ad­just my rein length or po­si­tion, so there’s a firm pull on the right side of the bit. My mare re­sponds by lift­ing her head and tip­ping her nose to the right in­stead of turn­ing left and fol­low­ing her nose. Not only is it vis­ually un­ap­peal­ing, it cre­ates a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous im­bal­ance in a turn and also drives her left shoul­der down, which means she’s not car­ry­ing her­self prop­erly. In all, this re­sponse can cost valu­able sec­onds in a run and teaches my horse a bad habit. But it can be avoided with cor­rect cue­ing and fo­cused prac­tice.


This is the cue and re­sponse I’m look­ing for and you should strive to­ward. With my palm down, I’ve walked my fin­gers down the left side of the rein, short­en­ing it to tip her nose in the di­rec­tion I want to go. I’ve also lifted my hand and pushed it for­ward so I’m not pulling against her face—she has room to ad­just her neck po­si­tion and turn her nose to the left. My rein isn’t too short nor overly long and hard to man­age. It’s short enough that I can han­dle it eas­ily, but long enough

that my mare has a re­lease in­stead of con­stant pres­sure on the sen­si­tive points of her mouth from a rein that’s ad­justed too short for her com­fort.


I walk, jog, and lope cir­cles, chang­ing di­rec­tions reg­u­larly with sim­ple lead changes while ad­just­ing the po­si­tion of my hand on the rein to give the cor­rect cue. No­tice that my palm is al­ways fac­ing down. That keeps my hand in a bal­anced po­si­tion when I’m not ask­ing for a turn and keeps slack in the rein so I’m not al­ways pulling on my mare’s face. Drilling this re­peat­edly with turns to the left and right is the only way I can “train” my fin­gers to be nim­ble enough to walk back and forth along my rein un­til it be­comes sec­ond na­ture and some­thing I don’t have to think about when rid­ing.


You can even prac­tice this off your horse while sit­ting on the couch or watch­ing TV. Hold your loop rein, palm down, and walk your fin­gers back and forth along as you would to cue your horse to turn. .


To fur­ther re­fine your rein man­age­ment and im­prove your horse’s re­sponse, move from your cir­cles to a pat­tern set up in your arena to mimic a shoot­ing course. In the pat­tern here, I lope three-quar­ters of a cir­cle around a tar­get, and then I move to the next par­tial cir­cle. This gives me am­ple op­por­tu­nity to prac­tice my turn cues and move my hands up and down my rein. Here you can see that I’m com­plet­ing a left turn around the marker. Even though I’m shoot­ing at a tar­get to my right, I can rein my horse to the left, keep­ing her nose on her path and her shoul­ders el­e­vated.


For com­par­i­son, I’m also mak­ing a left turn here at the lope. No­tice my in­cor­rect hand po­si­tion (back to a fist), the short­ness of my rein, and my horse’s re­ac­tion to my cue. She can’t look where she’s go­ing, and she’s dropped her in­side shoul­der be­cause I’m pulling on the op­po­site side of the bit in­stead of guid­ing her nose to the in­side of the turn. If we were to add speed in this po­si­tion, she wouldn’t be able to move ef­fi­ciently in her pat­tern work, which adds pre­cious sec­onds on the clock. Or worse, she could eas­ily lose her bal­ance.

Kenda Ari­zona, Len­seigne, worked with Phoenix, top cut­ting horse train­ers in Texas and Cal­i­for­nia. But when she tried mounted shoot­ing, she was hooked. She’s the first woman in the his­tory of her sport to win the Over­all World Cham­pion ti­tle, and con­tin­ues to lead the pack of com­pet­i­tive shoot­ers. Learn more at kendalen­

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