Many competitive events—from ranch riding to horsemanship, reining to working cow horse—require at least one spin in the pattern work. The ability to precisely shut down your horse’s momentum on target, as directed by the pattern, makes a big difference between a clean run and one with penalties.
Here I’ll share my four secrets to stop your spin on target, each and every time.
Know Your Limits
It’s all too common. A non-pro rider tries to get more done in the show pen than she can actually handle or control. It’s just a guess, but I’d bet that if you looked at judges’ cards, there are more penalties handed out for over- or under-spinning than any other maneuver. Overspinning is most often a factor of more speed than the rider can effectively stop. Under-spinning is simply
a rider error, due to
lack of attention; or because you’re afraid of overspinning.
John Slack used to say, “If you’re going to show fast, you have to school fast.” That’s especially true with spins. If you’re not comfortable going full-throttle at home, then you can’t expect your horse to put in that extra effort at a show. When you’re overconfident in the show pen and ask for more than you’ve practiced, your horse will give you the speed. But you won’t be able to stop him precisely.
Show how you practice at home so you can define your speed threshold ahead of time.
Know Your Horse’s Limits
As a horseman, you should recognize your horse’s abilities (and limitations). For example, if you show a reiner and know he has a plus-half turnaround, don’t try to make it a plus-one. Or if he’s a zero spinner (meaning no penalties, but no credit), show to that level. A clean run will usually be in the money at the end of the class.
Pushing your horse past his abilities will likely land you in the penalty box. It also leads to frustration for you both. Watching horses show at a big event this fall, I saw many professionals push their horses past what they were ready to execute. Horses young and old can start out with a solid turn and then come apart when they’re pushed too hard for extra speed that they can’t handle. Uncontrolled speed can bust your run at any level of competition.
Use the Right Cue
There are a variety of cues to stop your horse’s spinning. As with all other maneuvers, you must know the one your horse responds to best. You might have to slightly lift your rein hand to stop, offer a verbal “whoa,” or lower your hand toward his withers. Some horses require you to literally stop them with your hand, which can be the hardest to time perfectly for a precise stop. Or you might use any combination of those or other cues.
Get to know the cue that shuts down your horse’s momentum most effectively, then practice with it, and cue with it every time in the show pen. Be sure that you and your trainer or anyone else who shows the horse uses the same cue, too. This familiarity is key for the horse and rider.
If you work within your and your horse’s limits, your practiced cue will work every time. If you go trying something new at the show that you’ve never tried, success is unlikely.
Always Pick an End Point
Whether you’re in the show pen, warming up at an event, or practicing at home, pick a stopping point every time you work on a turn. Find a banner, a cone, a jacket on the fence—it really doesn’t matter where or what it is. Have an end point that you can watch for. This predetermined spot means you’ll cue your horse to cease spinning rather than letting him dribble to a stop. It helps reinforce that, no matter where you’re practicing or showing, he has to stop spinning when you give the cue.
Consistently driving home that “stop spinning” cue will build your horse’s confidence in his ability to follow your cues. It’ll make you surer that you’ll get the response when it matters most, too.
Bob Avila, Temecula, California, is an AQHA world champion, three-time NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity winner, NRHA Futurity champ, and two-time World’s Greatest Horseman. He's been named the AQHA Professional Horseman of the Year. Learn more at bobavila.net.