Some horse training thoughts, reining, Western Pleasure

Donning my asbestos undies here….

Well, maybe not.  I don’t tend to attract a lot of the passionate equine arguers to this blog.  But it should serve as a lovely example of horse neepery to the non-horsey.

Anyway.  At the horse show this past weekend, I observed (in the frenzy of competition myself), two entirely different facets of the Western reining world.  Reining competition (for those not in the know) is frequently compared to dressage in the English world for its performance demands with regard to the level of athletic ability required to perform at the highest levels.  Many of the complex movements in both disciplines are similar.  Many of the training methods are similar.

Good and bad alike (well, okay, I doubt that aggressive fencing is common in dressage, while rollkur has its adherents in reining).

I saw training examples of both.  One trainer openly stated this show was a prep for a big California show.  That trainer and the trainer’s students rode in a very similar style.  Heavy-handed.  I literally saw one student yank and jerk her horse to a stop, see-sawing on the reins.  Every damn horse this trainer and their students rode looked more like a heavily framed up Western Pleasure horse than a reiner.  Backed off the bit, overfaced, sullen horses.  The trainer’s own mount moved off stiff-legged after a run.  The trainer was standoffish and a little bit pushy, and the trainer’s students were kind of the same (except for one extremely polite student).  None of this trainer’s students completed the pattern.

Those horses had good spins, though.  But I can imagine the aggressive schooling done for those spins.

That trainer and the students spent a lot of time in the warmup arena as well, riding and riding and riding.

In contrast, the other trainer was friendly and chatty with all of us.  This trainer took the time to give me some tips.  The horses this trainer’s students rode accepted the bit and carried it without being backed off of it.  The trainer hollered about seat and leg cues, not snatch and jerk like the other one.  None of these horses looked like broken-backed overfaced Western Pleasure horses.  Spins weren’t as fancy, and there were schooling moments, but overall the rest of the ride was much more correct.  Those horses also didn’t get their legs worn out in the warmup arena.  The trainer had a number of horses in the string coming back from layoffs (mostly due to injuries or broodmare time).  The trainer and students didn’t push the horses past the limits of what the horses could do in their current condition.  The trainer’s philosophy is one close to mine–this trainer repeatedly said “if a horse can do reining, they can do anything else” and talked about the value of cross-disciplinary training.

Which leads into a corollary thought.  One buzz that went around the holding pen during the beginning of Western Pleasure was a half-heard, quiet comment from one big exhibitor to another that these judges meant to enforce the rules on head position.  I didn’t hear all of it because I went off to show in Equitation, but the general buzz from what I heard was quiet approval.  I know I didn’t see much of the excessive broken-backed peanut roller movement.  In fact, a couple of the consistently higher scoring Pleasure horses were ranch types, moving out on light contact with light collection, nose slightly ahead of the vertical, head and neck either level or slightly above.  They also demonstrated the consistency and smoothness I associate with a good Pleasure horse.

That said, for me, a Pleasure class is a means to an end–practice in moving consistently and smoothly at all three gaits, in the show ring.  I can get that to a certain degree at our home arena.  Getting it in the show ring is still a different story.  Mocha is not bred to be a Pleasure horse, but she can certainly move respectably enough to place in a well-judged class.  At least in walk/jog.  Once it becomes walk/jog/lope it’s clear she’s a reiner.

Nonetheless, I figure it’s worthwhile to school for the consistency of Pleasure gaits because that turns around and helps me with the consistency and control I need to have with Mocha at speed in a reining run.  G told me today that she looked and moved like a reiner should, especially in her large fast circles.  It was clear we were fast but also under control.  I don’t think the two months we spent schooling large/fast and small/slow transitions necessarily built that speed control.  I do think the long periods we’ve spent schooling the maintenance of smooth and consistent pace at all three gaits created it.

Let’s just say that maybe I’m seeing that some of my theories about schooling seem to be coming together.  I prefer a horse to accept bit contact rather than be backed off like the horses of the first trainer.  In that respect, I’ll enter a Pleasure class with no real expectation of placing simply to practice consistent pace in a show ring setting.  But then again, for me, Pleasure’s a seasoning and schooling class, and a stepping stone to more challenging work for horse and rider.  That’s what I always thought it should be, rather than an end in itself.

But that’s a minority point of view.

Anyway, this is getting disjointed and rambling.  But I wanted to get these thoughts down before they skittered away.  Just a few thoughts from the horsey side of my brain.

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