Reigning is an event where a number of movements are built into a set pattern, and horses are judged on how well they obey their rider's commands while performing the routine. It should not seem as though the rider is jerking and pulling the horse, but rather should appear as though the horse is doing the moves on his own. (Though the horse is being judged, it is the skill of the rider that makes the horses movements look good.)
Think of it as the equestrian version of figure skating. Normally, riders are required to perform preset patterns like the example below, but there is a form of reigning known as Freestyle Reigning where one is allowed to create their own pattern and perform it.
There are a number of reigning patterns approved by the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). Below is an example of one such pattern.
In this pattern, horse and rider would first advance to the center of the arena, there they will perform four spins to the left and the right. Then, riding to the lower part of the image, they will perform a sliding stop followed immediately by a rollback. Riding to the opposite side of the arena, they will again perform a sliding stop and rollback, followed by another performance of the two moves, then back step to conclude the performance.
The pattern can be separated into a number of parts:
In a gallop or jog, horse and rider will move in a manner to create two forms of circles. The circle is a difficult and important move, with a clean circle often separating the winners from the losers. The more even the circle on either side is to the other the better, and better still if you are able to move quickly for the large circle and slower for the small ones.
If you observe a horse in gallop, you will notice they run by extending their right leg then left, right leg then left and over again (right lead), or the opposite of left then right (left lead). It is natural for a horse to run in right lead while circling right, and left lead while circling left. In competition, you are penalized if your horse fails to do this. The horse changing his lead from one to the other is what is known as a lead change. Watch the horse as he comes to the center of the ring and changes direction, and you will notice him do this.
This is a sudden stop from a jog or gallop. The hind legs of the horse stop moving and slide to a stop, hence the name. Docks of points will be made should the horses hid legs seem to hop as he stops.
A 180-degree turn using the hind legs as an axis. This move is performed immediately following the sliding stop. It is a dynamic and uniquely western move used when a head of cattle you are working suddenly changes direction. The crowd often claps and cheers when a competitor and mount nail a sliding stop and rollback.
Competitors are initially given 70 points to start with, and as each part of the pattern is performed, points are either added or deducted depending on the execution. If a mistake in the performance is made, that is also grounds for deduction. Thus, a performance which was neither good nor bad would receive a score of 70 points.
However, should a competitor perform a movement not included in the prescribed pattern (doing five turns instead of four for example) they are disqualified and given a no score for their performance (this is actually quite common).
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