If you compete: Speed transitions are essential parts of reining and horsemanship patterns. Make your horse’s extended lope a “plus” maneuver.
If you don’t: Working through all gaits, including at extension, hones your control and handle, building your confidence in the saddle.
In reining, we go from small, slow circles to large, fast circles and back down in every pattern. Horsemanship riders are often asked to extend the lope in their patterns. In both cases, higher speeds indicate greater degree of difficulty, and so these transitions can make or break a score.
Here, I’ll explain how I work on upward and downward transitions at home to ensure that my horse is ready every time we show. Solid transitions require practice to build trust, confidence, and control, so be sure to work on these drills regularly.
1. A solid transition starts with guide—I must be able to rein my horse, and he must respond to my cues—before I can add speed. Here, I check for that guide, to ensure that he’ll give to pressure from the bit. Without guide, adding speed just leads to a runaway.
2. I start at an easy lope, so I can check that he’s light on his forehand and responsive to my cues. If he’s heavy on his front end, he won’t have the athleticism required to lope at an increased speed. He must lope correctly, in a good frame, before I can ask him to kick it up a notch.
3. When I do ask for speed, I do it incrementally. I don’t ask for full speed right away. I also keep my horse guessing, so he won’t anticipate a transition at a certain place in the arena, such as the middle of the pen, and take off on his own. Here, I ask for gradually building speed as we lope down the long side of the arena. I want him to pay attention to my cues to speed up; this keeps him alert, rather than just going through the motions. I work on speed transitions on straight lines for two reasons: to keep the horse’s shoulders up and to teach the horse to stay straight, so he’s ready for whatever comes next, such as a lead change.
4. I’ve cued my horse to slow down by sitting deeper and slowing the rhythm of my seat. I avoid using my hands to slow him down, because I want the cue to be unnoticeable—this is true for both reining and horsemanship. I want my horse to hunt for the slow-down cue because loping faster is more work. And just like cueing for speed, I vary the location in which I ask him to slow down.
5. My horse didn’t respond quickly to my body-position cues, so I re-inforced the cue by raising my hand. I want to minimize use of slow-down cues from my hands in the show pen, because a points-earning transition requires cues that are nearly undetectable by the judge. As soon as my horse slows, I’ll release my hold on his face.
6. Here I’ve given my horse a lot of rein, just to test what he does. I want to test his ability to maintain his speed and focus. If he loses collection, runs off, or slows way down, I’ll correct him immediately and then go back to loping on a long drape to test him again. I give him the opportunity to make mistakes and use them as trainable moments and tests to see where his holes lie.
7. Here’s how the final product should look: My horse is relaxed, willing, and collected; the picture looks effortless. I have a slightly forward body position to encourage his motion, and my reins are on a nice, but safe, drape. This all comes together for a horse that willingly guides on a symmetrical circle. He’ll hunt for my body to slow, indicating that he can slow down, too. And that earns us class-winning points. n
Devin Warren, Franktown, Colorado, has won numerous reining titles from APHA and NRHA events. He trains reiners of all ages and coaches non-pro and youth riders.