Show Horse Reining Success Depends On Stops And Rollbacks

Stops and rollback are the basics to winning a horse show reining competition.

Al Dunning, world renowned Quarter Horse trainer from Scottsdale, Arizona, made that emphasis as he demonstrated his procedures for perfecting those fundamentals during his Saturday morning presentation at the EquiFest of Kansas in Wichita.


“Whoa” is the most important element in a horse’s training, according to the 1996 American Quarter Horse Association Professional Horseman of the Year. “Once your horse learns to stop, then he is ready for the next command,” Dunning explained.

The rider must be seated when asking for a whoa. “When I set down on my butt, I expect him to stop. I never pull on him, unless he doesn’t respond,” Dunning demonstrated. “I give him a chance to do right, and if he doesn’t, I’ll take a hold of him. Nobody trains mystically. Reins are meant to be pulled when necessary.”

Horses are not born light in their mouth and maneuvers. “They’re born free and want to do what they desire to do,” Dunning detailed. “It takes time for a horse to learn you are in command. Don’t wave your hands, but pick him up logically.”

Commands are made 50 percent by the rider’s hands and 50 percent by his feet. “They direct his body and thus control his mind,” according to the Dunning, who with his students has won 32 world and reserve world titles in reining, cutting, working cow horse and Western riding.

Actually, the legs control the back end of the horse, and the reins manage the front end. “When a response is asked for, I expect a reaction,” Dunning commented. “If there isn’t one, I’ll bump him, not scare him, but get his attention. He’ll likely remember the next time.

“It takes a long time to get a really good stop on a horse. Even the best horse will test you sometimes,” Dunning insisted.

What was called a twisted light snaffle was used in the horse’s mouth, with a running martingale in place to help keep his head in a lowered, working position.

When it’s time to ask the horse to turn left, right or back, the rider’s feet must be dropped down and leg pressure exerted as a cue for the action, Dunning said.

The fence is an excellent tool to use when beginning to train a horse to make a rollback, showed Dunning, who has given training seminars worldwide, written books and articles and produced numerous videos.

“In order for the horse to turn square, the horse must have his back end straight under himself,” Dunning stated. “When he stops straight, then he can come around square, too.”

Three different horses were used in the presentation, and after changing mounts, Dunning spent time warming each one of them up. “This is Lucky. He’s ready to go,” the trainer evaluated. “He’s really charging, so I have to pick him up and rock him, so he’ll pay attention.”

Mature trained horses often anticipate what their next move is going to be, and Dunning worked the horse in a variety of maneuvers in all locations around the arena. “He has to stop when I ask him to, stand still, but be ready for the next action. I must be the boss,” the trainer qualified.

On his third mount of the session, Dunning made Tiger run down the arena at a fast pace and stop at various locations upon request. The rider alerted, “I don’t want him to get all jazzed up. I want him to be dead straight to stop, back and turn when I ask
him.”

In conclusion to the hundreds of spectators filling the bleachers, Dunning summarized, “Think of your horse first. It isn’t about you; it’s about your horse. Treat them right.”

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