Not every run in reining is a perfect run. In order for our horses to run honestly in the show pen you have to make sure that they do not read your pattern. It is one of the biggest reasons why we do not run complete patterns very often at home.
Unlike most other events, in reining the place in the pen that causes the most worry for the reining horse is the center of the show pen. Because it is the place where the most things happen. It is where most spins are, all lead changes, most lead departures, and sometimes stops. Not to mention, that not only are they asked to perform most maneuvers here but, it is commonly rushed in the show pen as opposed to the work done at home.
I try to spend most of my time schooling on my horses at a show that sells paid warm-ups. This is where a show sets aside time for the main show pen to be used by people who have purchase an allotted amount of time in the show pen, usually 5 to 10 minutes. This allows for the trainer or rider to take their horse into a show environment and not let their horse get away with problems. It also allows you time to settle your horse and not feel rushed, which in turn if you are not rushed neither is your horse. It also allows for the trainer to help fix problems with horses without worrying about anything but what is best for this horse.
The concept of schooling or paying for a paid warm-up is much like scoring cattle in roping. Why is it that we do this. Well it is to settle the horse in the box and let them relax in the box. Why? Because the box is where we put the pressure and where everything starts from. The same concept is applied to the schooling run. This is something that we will continue to work on with our horses until they no longer compete. This same concept can be applied to every discipline. Consider barrel racing for a moment. If I were to take the horse I was riding and approach the gate of a pen that I am about to race in, and upon entering the pen, I gig the horse and chase him to the first barrel. I do so until he is out of the pen, and continue this for several shows. What is he going to do? There are a couple of possibilities, one being refuse to enter, two is try to rush the beginning. Another is lean in the direction of the out gate because that is where the pressure stops. If I am to expect this horse to willingly participate in the activity with confidence I have to spend just as much time taking the worry out of the pen.
Here is an example of what I would do with a horse that I have shown several times, and it is starting to rush himself in the show pen. I will enter the pen just as I would if I were being judged. I would stop in the middle and allow the horse to settle, relax, and take a breath. When I feel that he has sat for a while I will sit a little longer. I will then begin a lead departure and make him stay bridled up until he has relaxed at a lope. I will not change leads in the center of the pen. Instead I will make him wait and counter canter at least ¼ of a circle in the opposite direction. In my rundowns I will make him wait on me to say go. If he decides to rush into his speed, I will pull him into the ground, and lope off again continuing this until he relaxes and waits for me. Once he has relaxed and is ready to be stopped, I will send him down the pen and will not stop him until he has utilized the entire length of the pen. This will keep him from judging the distance at which I am stopping him. There are several other things that you can do to fix certain problems. These are just a couple of general things that I will want to have a horse thinking about. Basically I am trying to take the rush and worry out of the show pen and fix problems that are occurring in the show pen.
One last thought, the practice or schooling run is for the benefit and longevity of the horses show career. It is not a place for reprimand but a place to build confidence and undo what you have been doing. Take some of the run out, relieve some pressure, make them like to compete. If you were to show up to work everyday and were rushed and pushed with out relief or reward you will burn out too.