Discover reining with Francesca Sternberg

By Julie Harding on |



If you think that reining looks like fun, but is inaccessible and the preserve of cowboys living in the American West, where it all began, think again.

Francesca Sternberg, who has been riding western horses for 25 years and has represented Great Britain at every World Equestrian Games since 2002, is the highest money earning reining rider in the UK. She says that it is really easy to take up reining in the UK.

Reining is one of the fastest growing equestrian disciplines in the world, and the UK reflects this rapid expansion with centres and trainers all over the country, from Scotland to Cornwall and across the water in Ireland. Here is how to get started:

Starting points

There are plenty of places in the UK where you can find an accredited trainer who will pair you with the perfect horse so that you can give reining a go.

There is plenty of information online to kick off your quest, and the ideal starting points are the websites of British Reining, the Western Equestrian Society and the American Quarter Horse Association.

Because reining has been an FEI discipline, and part of the World Equestrian Games, since 2002, you will also find plenty of information on the FEI website.

The right instruction

When you are learning reining, never stint on training. By finding an accredited trainer you will not only receive the right kind of tuition from the get-go, but you will also be provided with a trained horse.

“I once tried reining with an event horse who was able to do pirouette. My sister laughed at me and the horse definitely couldn’t do it,” says Sternberg. “The manoeuvres we do in reining are different to any other sport, which is why it is so vital to use an approved centre and the right horse.”

The Western Equestrian Society provides entry level instruction for people wanting to try western riding generally, but it also caters for reiners, as does British Reining and the American Quarter Horse Association.

The right horse

Reining horses are usually American Quarter Horses — although they can also be American Paint Horses or Appaloosas — who will have been backed at two and trained up to a reasonable standard to do all the required movements by the age of three. There are 5.5million American Quarter Horses registered, making this the largest breed register in the world.

“America Quarter Horses are billed as the most versatile horses in the world. They are also very fast to mature and very sensible,” says Sternberg.

If you have gained some experience and are looking to buy a reining horse, the asking price is likely to be a little higher than for a comparable jumping or dressage horse, largely due to the hours that will have gone into training it.

“Once you have purchased the horse make sure you continue to have proper training,” advises Francesca. “Think of it like a car. If you lack experience and crash the gears often soon there will be no gearbox left.”

What happens during reining?

All reining patterns are executed in canter and include extended canter and collected canter, flying change on X, rundowns, sliding stops, 180° turns and four consecutive spins in each direction.

There are 14 different tests, which contain all those manoeuvres in varying sequences. Each manoeuvre is scored by one or more judges (one at the lower levels and up to five at major competitions), with everyone starting with a score of 70 points, which can go up or down, depending on whether penalties or credits are accrued.

How difficult is it to switch to western style?

If you have good hands and a centred seat, riding in a western saddle will be no different to riding in an English one.

The major difference is letting go of the contact, which can be a bit of a leap of faith. Having a horse canter a circle with only one hand on the reins is a very skilled manoeuvre, but, as always, the best in the world make it look deceptively easy.

Do you need experience to try reining?

As Katie Price’s Pony Club, a new reality TV show to be aired shortly, demonstrates, you can start reining at any age or with any level of experience — or no experience at all.

Some people say that by not having ridden English style, you begin with a blank canvas, which can make western style easier, but Sternberg disagrees: “I feel the fact that I had done dressage and eventing beforehand helped me enormously when I tried reining. It helped me to be precise.”

Taking it further

There are competitions for all in Great Britain and abroad, including plenty in Europe. As a beginner, you could start at Green as Grass and Rookie level (see British Reining), and then progress on through the ranks to Limited Non-Pro and Limited Open and beyond.

You don’t need points, so in theory, if you wish to, you could compete against experienced riders from the word go at Open level.

“Reining is a very friendly and accommodating sport and the classes reflect that,” says Sternberg. “Riders don’t feel so under pressure as they might turning up to a dressage show.”

Rules and regulations?

You will need to wear a neatly ironed long-sleeved shirt with collar and cuffs, a western cowboy hat, a smart pair of jeans and jodhpur or cowboy boots. Chaps are optional.

You can colour coordinate your outfit with your horse’s tack. In fact, there is a whole industry that has spawned to furnish Western riders with incredible outfits, but start saving as one designer shirt could set you back a cool US$3,000.

Image: reining by Edward Dalmulder via Flickr, CC BY 2.0


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>