Rate or speed control can be difficult to maintain in horses, especially when they perform repetitive maneuvers as reining horses do. But it’s an essential skill to maintain because bad habits are hard—sometimes even impossible—to break.
[READ: Prevent a Runaway Horse]
Here I’ll explain what “rate” means for reining horses, which can be applied to any pattern horse, from ranch riding to horsemanship. I’ll then discuss schooling techniques to keep your horse’s rate on point.
Your rundown is part of your stop maneuver in a reining pattern, so its execution plays a large role in your score. Ideally, your approach is a gradual build of speed all the way down to your stop. I compare it to watching your speedometer when you accelerate your car—it gradually moves up from zero; it doesn’t jump from zero to 80 in one moment.
If your horse blasts off halfway down the approach, you might get away with it a couple times and even get rewarded by the judge. But it builds a bad habit in your horse. Sooner than later, he’ll start shorting you (stopping before you’re ready) right after he takes off. That’s extremely difficult to fix and never completely goes away once a horse starts doing it.
Some horses decelerate during their rundown. This means he’s lost his power source—his rear end—and will start pulling himself along with his front end. When you cue for the stop, his front end is the first thing that hits the ground. A correct stop doesn’t begin on your horse’s front end; it’s initiated in his hind end.
Body position—straightness, in particular—is another key factor for your rundown and its rate. We subconsciously teach our horses to lean toward the fence because we rundown, stop, and rollback toward the fence. After we do it so many times, our horses look for the rollback and begin leaning that way. When your horse leans into his rundown, his body isn’t straight from nose to tail as he builds speed. When you say “whoa,” the first thing to hit the ground is his front foot in the direction he’s leaning.
This steady build of speed on a straight line sets you up for a correct stop, which should get you a reward from the judge. A big stop with a bad approach is unlikely and is a wash on the judge’s card. An OK stop with a poor approach is going to lose points.
All rundown issues, in particular rate, are best schooled in the show pen. Your horse probably doesn’t show the same behavior at home—it’s specific to when he knows you won’t fix him in the show pen. To resolve the problems discussed above, be prepared to donate some entry fees and take a zero, if necessary. (More on that later.) For the best results, you have to bait your horse. Let him come around the corner for a rundown and dare him to run off, lean, scotch, slow down—whatever. You’ll have more success by letting your horse make a mistake and fixing it than you will protecting him from making a mistake.
[READ: Control Your Horse's Speed]
If your horse decides to blast off, pick up your hand and hold him until he’s soft. Then let him lope off again. If he takes off, pick up and hold again. You don’t want your horse to be scared in the show pen, which can happen if you draw him into the ground when he takes off. If he decelerates in his rundown, kick him up to the speed you want him to go. If he shorts you out, that is stops sooner than you ask, run long. Ride him out past where you’d usually stop, on the other side of the slide tracks left by the previous horses.
I have strong feelings about showing respect for your judges and for the people in the stands when you’re schooling. (See the bonus info at the top of this page.) You never know who’s watching you these days, so you must always be aware. By respecting the officials and the audience, you’re also respecting your horse.
If you know you’re going to school your horse, you can grab the reins with both hands when you enter the arena. This lets the judge know you’re taking a zero and he doesn’t need to track all the penalties you’ll rack up while you tune up your horse.
[READ: Basic Body Control of Your Horse]
Reiners get a lot of flak for their schooling habits, but it’s really the only way to keep our horses fresh and honest. We need our horses to know that they won’t get asked to give the run of their lives every time they walk in the arena. If that was the case, they’d come to resent their jobs and the show pen.