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Article Archive: A Clinic With Charlie Smith

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Last spring, Charlie Smith gave a clinic for the Eastern Pennsylvania Reining Horse Association. The focus of the clinic: becoming a better showman.

This article highlights some key points covered in the clinic.

Know the penalties

If you know what mistakes cost, you might be less likely to make them. Read the NRHA rulebook to find out what will cost you half a point, what will cost two points, what earns you five points, and what will give you a zero.

Every maneuver is a new event

Every maneuver is scored separately, so if you have one bad maneuver, it doesn't mean that the rest of your pattern is going to be a mess. Put whatever went wrong (or right, for that matter) behind you and focus on doing the best that you can in each maneuver.

Stay smooth

Judges want to see a performance that is pleasing to watch and will mark for smoothness, so concentrate on flowing from one maneuver to the next.

Avoid a pulling match

When you pick up on the reins, take, and then release. When you steer, do the same thing: steer, release, steer, release. Think of every release as giving your horse a new mouth and encouraging softness and responsiveness.

Go for zero

Most people minus a maneuver because they over-try. Often, if you go for a zeo, you'll end up with a plus half. If you go for a plus half, you'll end up with a minus half.

Always Hit the Middle


Think of the center of the pen as the "scanner" that records yhour purchases at the grocery store (for practice, you might want to put a piece of paper on the ground in the center of the pen). Every time you go through the center, you want to hit the "scanner" and turn in your score. It's important that your mental "scanner" be in the exact center of the pen: you'll lose points if your circles don't hit center, as well.

Also, think of the "scanner" as your receipt for every maneuver: every time you complete a maneuver, you hand it to the judge like an item in the checkout line at the grocery store: "here it is, add it up, mark it up." The jduge give you a score (like a scanner marks up the cost of an item) then yo ugo on to the next maneuver, when you finish it, you give it to the judge to mark, and then you put it behind you and go on to the next. The basic idea: each maneuver is judged on its own and just because one is not good doesn't mean you should not try to get the next one right. But you need to focus on the manuever, complete it, and go on to the next.

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Take your time

You own the four minutes in the pen that your run will take. Take you time. Don't allow yourself to be hurried or distracted. Think of it this way: you have rented the judge's attention for four minutes.

Be precise

A lot of points are lost for small lapses of attention--such as missing center. To help you make the center marker on your circles, imagine a line across center underneath your horse. Start your circles straight and come across the middle straight. Initiate movement (say you're going from a stop to a cricle) in a straight line and then choose your direction.

Ride every stride

Most mistakes happen when people stop directing the horse and stop riding their horses. The central rule of reining is to dictate to the horse with every stride.

Get it right the first time

In the show pen, there are no make overs. In practice, you should be able to--at any time--make a small slow and then go to a large fast. Each time you do a maneuver, judge how your horse reacts. Can you ask for more speed? Or would more speed make you lose control? Read your horse. Act in accordance with what your horse tells you.

Clean up your maneuvers in practice

As you practice, hit middle, use the pen (make your large fast circles LARGE and fast). Focus on making round circles. Don't over- or under-direct your horse. The focus is on accuracy and precision. If you don't clearly dictate to your horse, he'll get confused and then try to make decisions on his own.

copyright Cathy Herbert