The Insanity of Reining

The sport of greenhorns and magazine cowboys.

     The “sport” of Reining is one of the most preposterous riding disciplines of all time. The word Preposterous contrary to nature, truth, reason or common sense; utterly absurd (Webster); appropriately describes the entire Reining scenario.  I can think of no other recognized riding activity that causes injuries (usually permanent) in so many participating horses.  Reining does not require the skills normally associated with working or gaming events and simply reflects the vanity, arrogance and ignorance of its human participants.

The sliding plate shown above is one inch wide and thinner than a regular riding plate below, but some are up to one and half inch wide. Shown below is a normal light riding plate. It is narrower and thicker; hence it provides a deeper cup and better traction.

     The Reining folks call  "Reining" the "Western Dressage" although they are in fact, entirely different. Unlike the movements required in Reining, properly trained Dressage horses perform more natural movements that are not as likely to cause permanent leg injuries if executed correctly.

One example of Reining vs. Dressage movements is as follows:

     In dressage it is inconceivable to have the horse pivoting on any leg without picking it up and moving it forward (in a pirouette, the horse moves all four legs forward as opposed to the Reining horse that often moves one of its hind legs backward during the spin, while pivoting on the other!). If the dressage horse pivots this way on one of his hind legs (or moves one leg backward) in a pirouette or just in a simple turn on his haunches, it will lose points for that particular drill.

     In contrast, the reining people pride themselves in turning their horse so that its hind leg acts like a posthole digger and spinning the horse around like a maniac while the other hind leg is moving in the backward direction. This movement is entirely unnatural for the horse and serves no purpose relative to work or gaming.

     Quick turns on the haunches are practical for the military horse, as well as the cattle horse, therefore it is important to have the horses trained for such moves. Here is where the problem occurs with the Reining spin movement described above. The Reining horse does not often pick up one of his hind legs when turning and/or move one or both legs backwards. When trained to move in this manner, the horse is likely to injure his pivoting leg, especially when turning in a rough, uneven or rocky terrain because it could jam up against a rock or in a hole. Furthermore, the hind leg(s) that moves backward could easily get caught on uneven terrain, causing the horse to trip and fall backwards.

     The trainers of military horses took precautionary measures to prevent injuries resulting from quick turning maneuvers. In addition to applying common sense they made sure that their horses had enough collection (energy) to accomplish a quick turn move and to pick their legs up while continuously moving forward. A military horse that could not properly perform this maneuver would fail its basic training test.
   Another example of the absurdity of Reining is in the shoeing. The shoes which are called sliding plates are designed to satisfy only one of the moves in the reining; i.e. sliding. Reining horses have sliding plates on their hind legs to minimize the traction so that the horse slides when stopped sharply.

    The sliding stop is dramatic and always excites the Reining audience who perceive the action as a skilled “accomplishment” when actually it is the sliding plates that create the special effects for the cheering fans! The situation becomes even worse (for the horse) because after performing the sliding stop, the same Reining horse is expected to run in circles at fast speeds relative to the limited space of the arena. In this case the sliding plates are a detriment, as the horse now needs traction to be able to perform such turns soundly and safe. These horses often move their hind legs like roosters, picking them quicker (higher) off the ground and hysterically trying to set them under themselves (as they are slipping on the sliding plates) so they do not fall.

     Amazingly, people fail to see the hardship and insecurity that these horses display when running in circles. Either they are ignorant to that fact or they simply do not see it, which of course explains my contention that there are no horsemen among the Reining people and their fans.  I am sure there are those among Reining people who will say that they "love" horses but this is only proof of their lack of understanding of horsemanship. There are no true horsemen among Reining people and you won't find any at their events.

This photo shows one of  reining patterns of the insane array of circles preformed by the horse with very little traction in his hind legs.

     Why is Reining so popular these days? Well, it was present much longer than most people think, but until the nineties it lacked popularity. It came to rise mainly through the interest of the Europeans, primarily those in the eastern block. To the people in the East, the West represented freedom and freedom was usually "romanticized" by the "Wild West" cowboys. This could be clearly seen when the Cold War ended in Europe and here in the USA as well. The rising interest in “country” music also brought the attention to horses and the so-called Western disciplines. One can hardly imagine a cowboy without a horse. People in Europe became fanatical about the "Wild West" thing and the rodeo even started there.

    Interest in quarter horses rose as well and so did the fascination of Reining. Since our societies are purely money (profit) oriented, Reining opened a door to new marketing potentials. The promotion of this discipline goes so far that proponents want to make  "Reining" part of the Olympic Games. The hunger and desire for fame drive people to extremes, where athletes will literally sacrifice their bodies to reach recognition. Well, that's OK since we are all grown up (supposedly) and can make our own choices. Using horses for these purposes however, shows our disrespect for them and also our ignorance to the pain that these horses suffer on account of our vanity and pride.

     I have observed in my neighborhood a man obsessed with Reining. One year, he sent a dozen horses to be trained for reining by a famous trainer. When the year was over, nine of those horses (two-year-olds) came back completely destroyed beyond further use of any kind. However, one of the horses managed to make it to the worlds and finished third. To the man, it was all worth it. The racing industry is very tough on horses but in comparison with the Reining it is the horse heaven. 

     It is clear that the Reining belongs to the "greenhorn" public, the city folks that know nothing about the work of a cowboy or about horsemanship. The reining discipline contradicts all aspects of true western riding and uses of horses and corrupts the basic principals of any riding style. Many cowboys in the old days were freelancers, they were not rich and the horse was the main tool of their livelihood (if they actually owned one). The importance of a horse and his value in the old west reflects in the fact that the stealing of a horse was a capital crime; men were hung for it in many places. Though I did not live in the "old west", I am sure that no decent rider or cowboy would run his horse full out and then stop him unnecessarily quickly/suddenly nor he would do other abusive things to him as it is done in the reining today such as running in circles on a "slippery" surface or the repeatedly spinning around insanely. In this particular case, the term "slippery" is referring to a riding surface that the horse's feet (hooves) cannot get a hold of since the sliding plates significantly reduce the traction in the hind legs. Asking the horse to take off, run or change direction (circles) in such shoes on a slippery surface is down outright abuse.      To simulate or to feel what the reining horse feels, put on leather-sole-shoes and run on ice (slippery surface) like the Reining horse (see pattern); then see just how secure do you feel and how your knees (stifles) and ankles (hocks) will feel afterwards.

A practical use of a horse and the needed quick stop when done on a ranch. I can hardly imagine that this man would like his horse to slide 30 feet. Of course the roping is not as popular as reining, because it requires not only better riding skills and well trained horse, but also immense athletic ability as well as speed. However, since in the rodeo it is done not for a practical use as in ranching, it also belongs to the vanity of entertainment and it is somewhat outdated.

     It is fair to say, that during my life with horses I have been exposed more than enough to the so-called western riding. The true representative of the old west horsemanship is the roper and his horse because it not only displays the immense skills of a cowboy but it also requires a well-trained horse. I have seen ropers perform many times over and over and until this day it is very hard for me to comprehend that so much can be done in so little time. A man can get his horse out of the gate, rope the calf, jump off the horse and tie the calf up, all in lesser time then it takes an average man to wipe his butt out and pull his pants up. What most people do not notice about the roping horse, that one minute he is on his toes before he breaks out of the gate, then takes off and runs and next second or two he is standing still and unattended. Some may think that I am prejudice to western riding; on contraire as a horseman I admire that which is real. The cowboy/roper and his roping horse are the true representatives of the Old West riding in my eyes, while Reining is merely a parody of it performed by the "Wannabe Cowboys" (hence the term "greenhorns" and "magazine cowboys").

   Reining enables the less competent and irresponsible people to take part. If anyone is concerned with "animal abuse" when it comes to calf roping events, I assure you that 90% of Reining horses suffer much more in the hands of their "horse lover" owners than the calf in question. I doubt that the roper would like the horse to slide 30 feet before stopping. The issue of abuse in Reining is simple; if you ask the horse to stop, equip him accordingly and if you ask him to run, do the same. There is no way, that any intelligent person could defend the "sliding stop" or the repeated spinning around, which serves to no purpose to the cattle horse, which the reining folks claim to represent. The roping and ranch working horse contrasts the reining horse, because he can perform his work day and day out on country surface, usually living into a ripe old age with no pain, while the reining horse is working on smooth surfaces and for many of them, retiring prematurely and lame. 

   The media and the movies also screw up the heads of people regarding the use of horses. In Western movies the horses seem to gallop from sunrise to sunset and cowboys arrive at the saloon in a sliding stop. In the movie Black Beauty, it is the "love" (our emotions) that seems to work miracles with a horse that could not possibly perceive or understand love. The message I am offering to those who think that that their horses respond to emotional love or are capable of loving is simple; "Snap out of your dreams (desires) and wake up to the truth of your life and to the consequences of your deeds".

    In conclusion, the reining horse is for most part a clumsy (off balance) horse with no practical uses what so ever because he cannot perform a simple turn (spin) in athletic and balanced form. He is a product of "magazine cowboys" and the “greenhorns” that know nothing about nature or animals, hence they cannot relate to the horse nor see the truth of what they doing.

In this particular case, the term "slippery" is referring to a riding surface that the horse's feet (hooves) cannot get a hold of. The sliding plates significantly reduce the traction in the hind legs and asking the horse to take off, run or change direction (circles) in such shoes on any surface is down outright abuse.

Correspondence snip:
Message: you are an idiot and know nothing about reining. the turn around is a forward motion maneuver they hold an inside pivot foot and turn legs moving forward and around.

Reply: I do not call the article the "Insanity of Reining" for nothing, but then I could call all of the horse show people insane, because most are fanatical about what they are doing with horses, though they like to call it being passionate. Of course they cannot be reasoned with since they are fanatics the same way as religious fanatics are, or dog show people and such, and pretty much all the so-called 'animal lovers'. Your reasoning (paraphrasing) "a horse is moving forward while one leg stays in ONE place". See you cannot be reasoned with, because you are a fanatic, to which your email testifies. That is what fanatics do, insult and hate those who offend their fanatical beliefs.

Related Correspondence:
Reining and other Western Disciplines - Horse Shows

Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek (2003)