I hear myself say quite often how important it is to have a solid foundation on a reining horse, or any horse for that matter. But I do sometimes forget that not all of us understand just what a solid foundation is and just how it correlates to the finished product of an event horse. Therefore, I have decided to write a series of articles that discuss the fundamentals and explain how these fundamentals are used to teach the horse more advanced maneuvers. In this article, I would like to address the spins, how I take a young horse into the beginning of the spins, and how the fundamentals help me to teach the horse the correct way to spin.
First and foremost, it is important for a young horse to learn to be comfortable and confident in the walk, trot and lope on a loose rein.
Secondly, I want to see one learn to follow his nose. By that, I mean that when I place his nose in a certain direction, his entire body follows the imaginary line that I’ve put him in. For example, if I ask for him to go to the right at a walk by pulling him to the right, then his entire body should follow. His head should not be going right and his shoulder and hip leaning to the left or the opposite direction as he resists with his head and leans his body in. A good indicator of this from the saddle is that if his lead leg is not stepping in the direction of his nose, then he is not following it. If I have him turning in to the right, the more that I direct him in to the right the deeper to the right his front right leg should step. Eventually, I should be able to direct his nose at slightly more than a 45 degree angle to the right and his lead leg should start to almost step back to the right at the same angle that his nose is pointing. I would like to point out that at this stage it is not important that the horse plant his back inside leg. What is important is that he keeps forward motion and that his second step always crosses over and in front of his lead leg. If you do not have forward motion at all times in the spin, your horse will never be fluid in the spins. He will question you when you get to the point of teaching him to begin the spin from a standstill which you will need to do in competition.
Thirdly, the horse must yield to leg pressure willingly at both the shoulder and the hip. Without this, I cannot motivate for speed or ask for more collection and more importantly, I cannot correct him if his body is out of alignment. For example, if he is turning to the right and stepping around nicely but starts to lean his shoulder out of the spin or begins to swing his rear end out of the spin, I need to be able to push (with leg pressure) his body back into proper alignment.
Finally, the horse must have a good understanding of rein pressure. Eventually, I want the horse to be able to move and stay moving in the spin with outside rein pressure. I should not have to constantly be required to pull the nose in order to spin. Here is a very helpful hint which will make you happy that you read this whole article: When teaching rein pressure to a young horse–if they question you as to what the outside rein pressure means–rather than pull harder across the neck, slide your reins up closer to their ears. This will provide more bend in the neck and will help them understand more quickly than pulling harder would. Along with getting more bend in the neck, they will tend to put their nose in the correct direction in which you are wanting to go.