Thru The Pattern: Reining Tips from Bob Avila
By Nadia Aslam
If you’ve ever followed the sport of Reining, then this guy needs no introduction! Bob Avila, sometimes known as “The King Of Schooling” is known far and wide for his prowess with the Reining horse. And notably, his unique ability to take a sour horse and train them to love showing again. Bob’s approach has the horses well being and happiness as number one priority, and that gets a big thumbs up from us!
We chatted to Bob and got some tips on the different maneuvers that make up a reining pattern.
I always like to think of the pattern starting as soon as the horse walks through the gate. Judges are human so as soon as they see your horse they’ll make a decision on whether they like him, remember that next time you walk in the ring!
We all have some nervous energy when we’re showing, and your horse is no different, he knows that he’s going to do a job. Sometimes I’ll go in the pen, sit there and straighten my hat before we start our pattern, and that’s not because my hat needs straightening – it’s just to give my horse time to relax.
Something that people often make the mistake with is their circles, going into a circle – don’t go full blast all the time. I used to have a race car driver as an owner that rode with me. I said how many times can you stick your foot to the pedal before you blow the car up? The horse is no different. If you rev him up too often, you’ll wear him out and have a lot of work getting him back to how he was before.
The absolute most important thing is to keep everything really, really, really precise.
Most non-pros and even trainers don’t have to go full blast in the arena, if you go in and try to plus by adding speed but end up sacrificing quality – you’ll do the exact opposite.
Sometimes I’ll say to my riders – just go in and mark a 70, and let’s be clear – that’s not easy, because you need everything to be precise to zero on everything.
I try really hard to make nice lead changes, and the best way to do this is to ride them on a straight line. If I’m riding a circle that calls for a lead change in the middle, I’ll turn that circle into a D shape. So as I come round to the middle of the arena my circle goes from rounded to that straight line. If you teach your horse to do a straight lead change, then you won’t get problems such as dropping a shoulder, it’s when you don’t keep him straight that these problems start to develop.
One of the biggest issues we see on run downs that you might not have noticed, our horses sometimes learn to lean towards the fence. Why? Well, every time we run down and roll back, we’re turning towards the fence, and they start to anticipate that. So if anything, we guide them away from the fence as we come down to our stop. And remember, the run down should be a gradual speed change, you’re building up speed as you go, your fastest stride should be the one immediately before you stop.
STAY AHEAD OF THE GAME
Be ahead of yourself, when you’re loping your circle think about the next lead change. To use cars as an example again, you can’t drive your car for that moment you have to think ahead of yourself.
I train horses and treat them like they are 3 year-old children mentality-wise, but they are, of course, a lot smarter than people give them credit for. This mare I’m riding now, for example, we raised her, we put a million hours on this mare, but without the maintenance all that is going to deteriorate.
DON’T PUSH THEM TO THEIR LIMIT IN THE PEN
If every time I go in the pen I ride my horse the hardest, then why is he going to want to go back in? I gallop my horses harder in the warm up pen before and after I show. If every time I went to work it was constant hard work and when I got home, I could put my feet up and have a martini – I’m not going to want to go back to work.
Now, I don’t know if I can make going in the show pen as relaxing for my horse as having a martini – but why not try!
RETIRING ON TOP
I’ve had a lot of phenomenal studs in my life, and I’ve had the reputation of quitting them on top. I love retiring show horses on top and hate watching them go downhill, but you know what, if you have the right attitude towards your training and your horse then there’s no reason they can’t keep on showing for years to come. Horses are expensive to train, and they’re pricey to buy – so just for the sake of your bank balance, it’s important to keep your horse happy and healthy!