Reining: A Detailed Guide On This Unique Western Discipline

When I was looking at the show history for my Arabian Bronze, I noticed that he used to be a reining horse. I didn’t really know too much about this discipline or style of riding and was told by a friend that I should write an article on this style of riding. Because I don’t know too much about reining, I decided that it would be fun to write an article all about this riding style as it would give me a chance to research it and learn more about it.

What Is Reining?

Reining is a sport seen in the western style of riding. In reining, horses must perform a number of displays including fast turns, sliding stops, large circles, and more. In reining, there isn’t a specific pattern that horses must go at all times, there are in fact multiple different patterns that horses can perform. Reining is a fast-paced sport that requires extensive training for the horses to perform the motions required of them. The most common breeds used in this discipline are mostly Quarter Horses, but Arabians, Appaloosas, and Mustangs are now joining the Reining Horse Association as competition horses.

Where Did Reining Originate?

Though it might not seem like it based on modern day reining performances, reining was actually used in cattle ranches of Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Cattle ranchers would train their horses to spin on a time and make quick turns to make rounding up cattle more fast and efficient.

Having a fast horse that could make quick maneuvers, turns, and stops was crucial on the range when cattle herding and cattle drives were being performed all the time.

What Is Expected Of The Horse?

In reining, horses are expected to do several things. These include:

  • Fast Turns
  • Spins
  • Sliding Stops

These horses not only are expected to perform these motions with ease, but they are also expected to do them with very little contact. If you have ever watched a reining horse competition or class, you might notice that the reins are held slack by the rider and are only used for light neck reining. The horse must be extremely sensitive and responsive to obey direction with such gentle guidance. This is in fact what is expected of the horse when it comes to riding.

These horses, as you might notice, are not told to stop through pulling on the reins like in other disciplines. These horses are stopped by something called a spur stop. A spur stop is basically where the rider will squeeze his/her legs around the horse and potentially put spur to them to ask the horse to stop. This is how the horse stops with the reins remaining slack.

Do Reining Horses Enjoy Their Sport?

Yes! Actually, most horses like having a job and because this job is constantly changing with the numerous patterns they must perform, it keeps it interesting for the horse as they don’t always know what to expect.

Some horses will even perform some of their motions on their own that they were taught from their training as reining horses. An example would be this one time that I turned my horse out in the arena so he could stretch his legs. As he was running around he galloped down the center of the arena and did a sliding stop on his own! I was really surprised, but sometimes these things stick with them.

Is Reining Dangerous?

Because of the fast pace, abrupt stops, and quick turns, reining is a potentially dangerous sport both to the horse and the rider. It is not uncommon for a rider to become unbalanced when spinning or turning, or even performing the sliding stop so for a rider to fall is not an uncommon occurance.

Reining is dangerous to the horses because of the constant stress they have on their legs. This is especially for the horse’s hind legs. When reining horses do a sliding stop, they push their hind legs forward underneath them to help them skid to a halt. This puts a lot of stress on the tendons and ligaments of the hind legs which, over time, will deteriorate faster than they should.

Common Injuries Seen In Reining

There are several injuries that are commonly seen in horses who do reining. They include:

Bowed Tendons/Suspensory Tendon Inflammation

A bowed tendon is a tendon that has swelling in either the upper, middle, or lower region behind the cannon bone. This is an injury seen in the suspensory ligament mainly behind the front legs. Bowed tendons in reining are mainly caused from the stress put on the legs when the horses spin and perform sliding stops.

Osteoarthritis In The Hock

Osteoarthritis used to be known as degenerative joint disease. Because of the stress put on the horse’s hocks when they perform the sliding stop, it is not rare for a horse to develop this kind of issue in their hock. Arthritis is caused from the wearing down of the cartilage in the joint causing the joints to move bone on bone rather than cartilage on bone. This causes the bones to almost grind on each other which is extremely painful. A horse to develop this kind of issue must be retired from reining as this issues is career ending.

Navicular Disease

Navicular disease is actually a problem that I talked about in my article on the bones of the hoof (you can read that here). This disease basically causes the eating away and degeneration of the navicular bone itself. Because of this, the DDFT (deep digital flexor tendon) loses support and loosens. This causes the hoof to elongate, the fetlock and pastern to drop, and the entire lower leg to lose support. In most cases, this disease is caused from damage to the bone or DDFT though the exact reason it happens is unknown.


Overall soreness is not uncommon in reining horses. This is because the body of the horse is performing movements and motions (like spins and sliding stops) that a horse wouldn’t normally do. Soreness can not only be found in the horse’s muscles, but it can also be found in the horse’s feet.

Suspensory Branch Injuries

When a suspensory ligament is overstretched or injured in some ways, the connecting tissues (also known as branches) can be damaged as well.

Reining Penalties

There are a few penalties that can be put against a horse and rider in the sport of reining. They mainly apply to the spins that a horse does as a part of their pattern. The penalties against the spins include:

  • If the horse over or under spins by 1/8 of a turn, the horse will be penalized 1/2 of a point
  • If the horse over or under spins between 1/8 to 1/4 of a turn, the horse will be penalized 1 point
  • If the horse over or under spins by more than 1/4 of a turn, the horse is disqualified

At What Age Does A Horse Begin This Sport?

It depends on the ease of which the horse is trained. Some horses pick up this sport really fast and will start competing at the age of 3, but other horses take much longer and won’t start competing until they are around 5 or 6 years old.

My Arabian Bronze started showing in western classes when he was 3 and began doing reining competitions when he was 4.

At What Age Are Horses Taken Out Of This Sport?

Horses are usually retired from reining if they are either injured or their owner feels it best that they retire. The average age for a reining horse to end their career is around 15 years of age though it can be much sooner if they are injured in their time spent working in this field.

What Do Reining Riders Wear?


Like many other western disciplines, cowboy hats are a popular accessory for riders in this field. These hats can most commonly be seen in white, black, or tan. Reining is a western sport and it is in western sports that the ‘cowboy hat’ is seen

Button Up Shirt

A button-up shirt is a common shirt to wear when performing reining at the professional level. It makes a rider look more professional. In most reining classes and shows, all riders will wear a plain button-up shirt.


Boot-cut jeans are actually one of the only pairs of pants worn by riders in this area. They are durable and comfortable pants to ride in making them very popular.


Cowboy boots are the shoe of choice by ropers. They can have a pointed, rounded, or square toe and have a riding heel as opposed to a walking heel seen on other boots.

Reining Tack

Just like other styles of riding, reining horses are fitted with a specific type or style of tack that best matches their discipline. The tack used by reining horses includes:

Leg Wraps

Leg wraps are used on reining horses to help support their legs when the horse is running, spinning, performing a sliding stop, or doing other maneuvers. Wraps keep the legs safe from any potential injury that may occur.

Reining Saddle

Reining saddles are specially made for the reining sport and only these saddles should be used for the job. In reining, the reining saddle has a deep seat, a low cantle, and a higher made pomme;. This is because the rider needs to sit back and deep into their saddle when a horse spins.

Saddle Pad

A decently padded saddle pad should be used when reining to keep the horse from getting rubbed by or sore from its saddle. When competing in reining, a simple colored or plain saddle pad should be the only one that’s used.

Breast Collar

Breast collars are a good accessory to have when reining becasue it helps keep the saddle more secure on the horse when the horse is sitting back on its hind legs to perform a sliding stop. Not all reining horses will use or need a breast collar, but it can help.


A bridle is used in this discipline in the western style. The bit used in these horse’s mouths isn’t usually very harsh. The most common bit used in this style of riding is the curb bit. The bridle used is a western bridle which doesn’t come with a noseband.

What Do Reining Horses Do When Their Career Is Over?

There are many things that these horses will do once their reining career is over.

If the horse is a mare or stallion (a horse able to be bred) and has had a successful reining career, they are often used for breeding to create a new generation of top reining horses.

If the reining horse is injured, but still able to get around easily, a retirement at stud or in a pasture is the retirement for them. These horses are not able to be ridden because of their injuries so a relaxed easy retirement is usually where these horses will end up.

Some reining horses that are still sound and healthy are retired and become general riding or lesson horses. My old horse was a reining horse and later became my horse and is now a lesson horse. He does great outside of his career as a reiner and is now enjoying a less intense career in his old age.

Famous Reining Horses

The most successful reining horse in the world is a horse names Wimpy’s Little Step. This impressive stallion is owned by Michael and Michelle Miola out of Silver Spurs LLC. This horse is a gorgeous Palomino Quarter Horse stallion that has earned over $13,000,000 (USD) in his lifetime. He is now retired from reining and is currently standing at stud in Scottsdale, Arizona USA.

FAQs On This Sport

is there a reining horse association?

Yes! There is definitely a reining horse association. This association is known as the ARHA or the American Reining Horse Association. The ARHA contains mainly Quarter Horses as it is the Quarter Horse that is the most popular breed used for this sport.

Hailey Sipila

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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