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NRHA Handbook Maneuvers & Pattern Descriptions

With perspective from Corey Wilson

May 10, 2018  

Each member of the the NRHA has complete access to how the judge will look at and score patterns based on the guidelines provided in the NRHA Handbook.  This handbook is also available online for everyone to reference.  Take the time to read through the Judging Guidelines, Maneuvers, and Pattern Descriptions of the handbook, and learn about key steps that can launch your show pen experiences and positively change your score cards. 

The following is taken directly from the 2018 NRHA Handbook:


Section 1. ... The NRHA Handbook specifies the rules under which all NRHA Reinings will be conducted and the rules by which reining horses will be judged.  The following is intended as a guideline for the application of the rules for the judging as specified in the NRHA Handbook:
Section 2.  The NRHA Handbook includes specific patterns which the reining horse must execute exactly, and it also 
contains certain specific rules involving the penalties which are applied if a horse fails to perform these specific patterns as required.  The NRHA Handbook also, under Rules for Judging, Section A, describes in detail the standard by which a reining should be judged.  This description remains unchanged throughout the evolution of the NRHA, and because of its importance in evaluating the reining horse, is reprinted in full…. 

Take a brief break and look at some mighty words in Section 2:

"...specific patterns which the reining horse must execute exactly"  and  "penalties...are applied if a horse fails to perform these specific patterns as required."        
These can seem like some terrifying words, however, you have the "cheat sheets" that give you the exact patterns to follow.  These words tell you when and why the judge can add or deduct maneuver points and penalty points.  Sometimes, there is the thought of "why that deduction?"  When you go back and look at your pattern replay, do the clarifications from the NRHA Handbook fit with your maneuvers and match your performance?

Continuing 2018 NRHA Handbook:

Section 3. “To rein a horse is not only to guide him, but also to control his every movement.  The best reined horse

should be willingly guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely.  Any movement on his own must be considered a lack of control.  All deviations from the exact written pattern must be considered a lack of or temporary loss of control; and therefore, a fault that must be marked down according to severity of deviation.  After deducting all faults set here within, against execution of the pattern and of the horse’s overall performance, credit should be given for smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness and authority of performing various maneuvers, while using controlled speed which raises the difficulty level and makes him more exciting and pleasing to watch to an audience.”

Wow!  What an exciting explanation and insight for showing reining horses!  Can it get any clearer and confusing at the same time?  Absolutely!  The time it takes to build a reining horse is relative to each individual situation which includes the horse (his abilities, mindset, willingness), the owner, the time spent on training, the acclimation to becoming a show horse, even the exhibitor's time in the saddle.  A horse doesn't become a reining horse without effort and consistency, and they don't perform without effort, consistency, and maintenance.  There are (definitely) differences in show horses with the quality of breeding, physical characteristics, training, and the abilities of the rider.  Building a reining horse is a process that takes commitment, and having a solid program behind you and your horse is vital.

So then, how can you get your horse to be a "reined horse...willingly guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely?"  It's not easy.  We are all after this.  Yet, it's a guideline to strive towards in every facet of your journey.  Taking regular lessons with your trainer is pivotal, because your trainer knows you and your horse.  He can provide exercises for building each maneuver to become stronger.  Older, seasoned show horses can sometimes anticipate or "think" for you in the show pen.  Your trainer will be able to help you with different practice approaches for the successful completion of patterns.


There may be maneuvers your horse isn't 100% solid in.  Hitting key points of each maneuver can allow for a smoother pattern overall and grow you as a rider.  Just breaking down each maneuver and doing your best to get as close as you can to performing them well, can make your patterns cleaner.  You can make sure your large fast circles stay even in size and speed (same on boths sides of the arena).  You can push to get the speed transitions and small slow circle sizes equal.  You can be sure to go past your markers during the stops, and practice practice to get your spin start-ups and shut-offs smooth.  These are areas that will make you a better showman and allow your horse to show well.  You have to "know your horse" and show their strengths inside the show pen while working on improving, together, outside the show pen.  

Reining is a great sport and atmosphere to be involved in.  As we dig into the NRHA Handbook and access a deeper understanding to showing, keep pushing and get in the saddle.  Don't be afraid to ask questions.  Don't be afraid to make mistakes.  Don't be afraid to learn.

Next week we will cover Sections 4 and 5 of the Judges' Guide and Penalty Applications.  We are very excited to go through the NRHA Handbook with you and hope that it provides some definite direction for improving all of our experiences in the show pen.  Even further, this information goes well beyond the show pen with an awareness of how to work on maneuvers in the practice pen.  High fives to everyone putting in the efforts!

Continue to Week 2

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