Reining Competitions at the Del Mar National Horse Show

Western week at this year’s Del Mar National Horse Show is coming up and will be hosting many exciting events. One of the favorite classes this week will be reining. In this particular event, horse and rider are judged by a series of maneuvers such as spins, circles, and sliding stops, the latter of which is a crowd favorite. The judges look for a horse that is attentive and compliant to his rider. Reining is often seen as the “dressage” of western riding in the sense that the horse and rider pair must perform certain maneuvers with precision and control.


Throughout the history of the Americas, dating back to the earliest Spanish settlers in what today is Mexico and the Southwestern United States, including Texas and California, ranchers needed to manage cattle from horseback. Cattle were frequently moved, branded, doctored, and herded in open spaces, with little to no fencing to enclose them in. Thus, cattle horses were used to act as a barrier between the cattle and the open range. Cowboys needed a horse that was attentive, nimble, could quickly change directions, and stop on a dime. According to the United States Equestrian Federation:

“The modern reining horse’s roots date back to the bygone era of the Old West where horses were a vital part of every working livestock ranch. Horses needed to be sturdy, quick, responsive, and agile to be able to herd and move cattle and other livestock across the range. A reining competition essentially shows off the skills and athletic abilities necessary in the working ranch horse, but does so within the confines of a show pen and the movements you see in competition today have become extremely precise and highly refined.”

Reining Competition

reiningNowadays, ranchers have fences to keep their livestock within range, and hardly need their cattle horses for the purpose of herding. These cow horses have evolved from being used for certain maneuvers to herd cattle, to utilizing these tactics in reining competitions. The reining pattern includes an average of eight to twelve movements which must be executed by the horse. These patterns require the following movements: circles, flying lead changes, rundowns, sliding stops, backing, rollbacks, spins, and pauses.

Scoring is on the basis of 0 to infinity. 70 is considered an average score where a horse showed no errors, but also did not perform the movements with a higher level of difficulty. Points for each maneuver are added or subtracted by 1/2, 1, and 1 1/2 point increments for each of the 7 to 8 maneuvers in the designated pattern. Each part of the pattern is judged on precision, smoothness, and finesse. The “degree of difficulty” for each maneuver, typically related to speed and agility, is also assessed. Increased speed increases the difficulty of most movements and the potential for a high score.

Western Week and Reining at the Del Mar National Horse Show

So Western Week begins April 16th, and it’s time to put on your boots and hats, take your lady or man, and certainly the kids, and head off to a week of competition and good times at this year’s Del Mar National Horse Show. Here’s a bit more history about Western Week and reining. Hope to see you there!


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