The horse turns right, then left, during a reining show. With his whole body engaged and his rear end bearing his weight, it feels like the rotation is a quick turn on the hips. However, to master this reining motion, you will teach your horse to move forward in a better reining rotation instead of pulling him backwards.
The pirouette, or “turnover,” is part of a larger reining pattern. A starting score of 70 will increase or decrease based on cumulative positive (+0.5, +1 or +1.5), negative (-0.5, -1 or -1.5) and zero points (indicating the “average”) assigned to each movement. . For a positive-scoring maneuver, the horse’s body must remain straight from neck to tail as it uses its legs to turn.
Here, trainer and reining trainer Sharee Schwartzenberger helps you move your horse forward through the spin by spiraling after a step. Then, it will help you finish your pirouettes with precision when you change direction.
Schwartzenberger turned pro in 2017 after a lifetime of competing in top National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) and American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) events. Her freestyle reining performances have earned her top championship titles. She trains riders and trains reining horses in Longmont, Colorado.
Schwartzenberger says she uses the preview drill to teach young horses how to turn for the first time. It also helps anxious horses. Standing still at the start can cause horses to fret and prance; starting with the forward movement removes the possibility of worrying.
Equip your horse with cowbells, polo shirts or splint boots, and even knee boots to protect him during these athletic moves.
During a show, you will need to start your rounds from a full stop. But for practice, it’s good to remind your horse that a pirouette includes forward momentum.
Mount with both hands on your split reins, walk your horse in a tight circle. Keep both legs engaged at your horse’s sides so he feels the signal forward. Your horse should move in a small circle to encourage it to cross with its front legs.
When you are ready to call for the rotation to the left, release your inside (left) leg so that only pressure is applied from the outside (right) leg. You can take your inside rein to help encourage the horse to side step. Keep your outside (right) leg active and tap, tap, tap to encourage movement. Add a verbal cue, such as a chuckle, to encourage a faster pace. Keep your body centered in the saddle and let the horse work.
If your horse is listening well and responding to your walk and then turn commands, work on a trot. Trot a small circle, then repeat the signal for the turn. The increased speed will help your horse move at a show-ready spin speed.
If you practice this drill regularly, Schwartzenberger says your horse will look for the cue to turn. The pirouette becomes a release and is easier than trotting in quick circles. Master the exercise with two hands and then with one hand on the reins.
Choose your direction
Train both ways, but pay more attention to which way your horse needs the most training. Be sure to practice this exercise between other movements and large sloping circles.
To score well, you will need to start and end your spin accurately. Schwartzenberger says changing direction helps your horse listen to you and stop in the right place.
Throw your horse into a spin. After a three-quarter turn or full rotation, have your horse move in the opposite direction. To change direction, stop your current rotation by removing pressure from the outside leg and raising your hand. Move your hand in the direction you want your horse to stop. Next, signal a rotation in the opposite direction by removing your inside leg pressure and applying outside leg pressure in the new direction.
Wait up to 30 seconds after turning before telling your horse something new. Taking a break can allow your horse to catch his breath and regain his footing after the dizzying maneuver.
As you ride, keep your eyes on the back of your horse’s neck and also keep a cone in your peripheral vision. If you keep your eyes on the same plane as the horse, any dizziness should subside.
You’ll need to count your revolutions when you’re in the show arena so you don’t overdo or underdo it. Most show models require four to four and a quarter revolutions in each direction. Count the cone each time you pass to ensure you’ll stay on the pattern and get your spin under control.
Special thanks to our model horse, Voodoos Smokin (“Olaf”) of AQHA.
This article on how to perfect your reining spins appeared in the October 2020 issue of illustrated horse magazine. Click here to subscribe !