Q: After I reverse my horse in rail classes, he always anticipates the lineup and tries to go to the middle of the arena. I correct him, but judges frown on that. How can I eliminate the problem--or at least correct him less obviously?
A: Seasoned horses have a tendency to anticipate the lineup, where they get a "reward"--the chance to stand and rest with other horses. It sounds as though your horse's anticipation problem has escalated to the point that he's trying to end his work in a class before he's even performed in the second direction.
Your correction will include both mental- and physical-control fixes. You need to control his mind to prevent him from calling his own shots and heading to the center of the ring. You need the physical control to keep him positioned on the rail with nearly invisible cues, and to block the possibility of inward drift.
First, the mind control. Take your horse to several schooling shows. Get permission from officials there to school him in the show pen. Turn your number upside down so the judge knows you're not there for a prize. When the announcer calls for the exhibitors to line up, keep walking your horse along the rail. Once the other horses have lined up, guide him to the out gate and exit.
Should he at any time try to join the others in the center, correct him instantly by turning him sharply into the rail. Turn him around several times in that direction, then stop him, and continue to walk along the rail. Repeat this maneuver whenever you feel that inward drift.
When you show for real, make your horse wait until you say it's time to head to the lineup. Stay along the rail until all but the last one or two horses have lined up. Then, turn him toward the rail and circle once or twice, stop, and join the others.
Now for the physical fix. To cut to the center of the arena, your horse must drop his inside shoulder. Practice at home to hone his responsiveness to your inside rein and leg cues, so you can hold his shoulders on the rail with feather-light cues.
When you show your horse, stay sharp to prevent him from cutting in. Ride with stronger contact through your inside rein than on the outside one to block any inside shoulder drift. And "scissor" your legs a bit, holding your outside leg behind the cinch to prevent his hindquarters from swinging out, and positioning your inside leg slightly in front of the cinch to keep his shoulders up. You can also shift a bit more of your weight to the outside stirrup to help hold him to the outside of the ring.
Check your position, too. If you're constantly looking at the judge in the center of the pen, you're shifting your weight to the inside, inviting your horse to cut in. Fix your gaze on your horse's outside ear and eye. This sends him a subliminal signal to stay on the rail. If you have to look at the judge, glance at him out of the corner of your eye. Then, ride to win.
Bob Avila, top reining horse trainer, has won junior and senior reining titles at the AQHA World Show.
Adapted from an article in Horse & Rider, November 1999.