We asked a reining trainer to explain those showy horse scenes on Yellowstone, and it all makes so much more sense now.
“I grew up in Montana, raised very much as an outdoorsy kid,” begins Secora Rose. Secora fell in love with horses early on in life. By the time she was 9, she’d already bought her first horse (for $1) and was learning the ways of reining. From there, her youth would be spent in the arenas, ranches, and bunk houses of this fascinating equine world.
But for many Yellowstone fans, the question remains: What is reining?
With the onset of Season 4, Yellowstone fans would begin seeing masterful horse trainers – including co-creator Taylor Sheridan himself as Travis Wheatley – showcasing incredible yet baffling equine maneuvers. Whether in the arena or on the Dutton Ranch proper, the scenes have become a focus for the show.
Indeed, Yellowstone has been doing a whole lot of horse sliding, spinning, and everything in-between. Little to no explanation is offered to viewers on what is actually happening, however.
As Secora explains, Yellowstone is mostly highlighting the sport of reining. There’s no “first g” in the spelling, as the sport’s name refers to horse reins, which are part of the tack/riding setup.
According to FEI, Reining is a judged event designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch-type horse within the confines of a show arena.
Occasionally, she says, the show also includes reined cowhorses, or “the ones you see working the cows down the fence and cutting as well as being able to perform reining maneuvers.”
Reining Explained: Intent and Scoring
It sounds like a lot, but here’s the intent of reining:
“When actually showing, all reining patters consist of at least 4 spins each direction, 2 large fast circles and 1 small slow each direction, a lead change each way, 2 rollbacks and a stop and back,” Secora explains. “Depending on the pattern, you will sometimes see some variants like a purposeful 4 1/4 spin in order to line up with center or a run in patter that starts with a stop and back meaning you will get one extra stop in the pattern.”
Like traditional sports, scoring is also involved in all reining events. “When the horse and rider enter the arena they start with a score of 70,” Secora details. We don’t typically see this scoring on Yellowstone, though, just the resulting paydays.
“As the rider and horse go through their pattern, each maneuver is judged and awarded a score on correctness. If a horse performs the maneuver correctly, with no extra degree of difficulty or not faults, they get a score of zero for that maneuver,” she continues. “This means their base score stays at a 70.”
If a maneuver is performed poorly, however, then the duo can be docked points. “Say, -1/2 or -1 for the maneuver, making the score a 69 1/2 or 69,” she says. Again, not typically seen on Yellowstone, but an integral part of reining nonetheless.
“In the other direction, if they perform the maneuver and exceed expectations they can receive a plus score,” Secora notes.
Maneuvers: Spinning, Stopping, Circles & Lead Changes
This is where Yellowstone fans will truly appreciate some clarity. All the spinning and sliding and circling featured on the show is, well, a lot. Knowing what these maneuvers are and how integral they are to reining, however, will hopefully allow for fans to enjoy their showcasing all the more.
“Spinning is a maneuver you see a lot of in the show,” Secora offers. “It is a flashier movement which is why they show it off. You want to see minimal traveling with the horse’s back feet as they spin. As they add speed, which adds difficulty a little more movement is allowed.”
Balance is paramount in spinning and reining as a whole, she says, “as the sport initially came from comparing good cow ponies.”
Yellowstone fans also see horses sliding a lot on the show. This, Secora says, is Stopping.
“Again, you are looking for a horse that performs the maneuver in a soft, collected – think the right balance and frame of the body – way. Adding speed adds difficulty, which can add points.”
As she notes, “There’s a ton more that goes into it including correct timing on the rider’s part but again, in judging they are looking for balance, willingness, and degree of difficulty.”
Circles and Lead Changes:
And finally we come to Circles and Lead Changes. “We don’t see these much on the show because they aren’t ‘flashy,’ but the ability of a good reining pony to carry itself correctly and guide easily makes them really, really nice all around horses,” Secora explains. “A good reining horse learns to use its body like an athlete. A lot of this comes from learning to circle well. A lot of the drills and corrective movement we do with these horses to prep them for any and all of the maneuvers also help to give them a handle that most just don’t have.”
In the end, Secora feels beyond lucky to have grown up in this world. Yellowstone‘s heavy featuring of the event is simply the icing on the cake.
“It’s definitely a specialized sport,” she says, “but there are useful things that you can take away just to train your every day horse to be a better, softer, more athletic animal.”
And now, Yellowstone fans, we know.