When Stacy Westfall performed her championship run at the National Reining Horse Association Futurity in 2003, the crowd was impressed by her control without the use of a bridle or neck rope. But after the competition, the question Westfall heard most: “How did you do a rollback without reins?” Husband Jesse Westfall says he hasn’t seen another rider perform a rollback without a bridle in a winning program. So how did she do it?
“The rollback is my favorite maneuver to perform bridleless,” Stacy says. “You run down, say, ‘Whoa,’ and you feel all the momentum from that long run and slide. You have lots of energy to redirect and keep you moving in another direction. You feel the ‘hook’ of the move and it’s a rush.”
Rolling back without reins isn’t something to try without lots of practice with the help of your hand aids. If you’re up to the challenge, practice elements of the rollback (as detailed in this month’s Western Horseman) while using your reins. Concentrate on your leg cues, as you might eventually rely on them if you choose to go without a bridle.
Initially, Stacy practiced gradual turns and sharp turns in slow motion. In her book, Reining Every Day (available at www.westfallhorsemanship.com), Stacy teaches how to increase your leg-cue pressure while having your reins handy. “Ask your horse to move forward by cuing with both legs simultaneously,” she says. “Keep your legs in a neutral position – not too far forward or back. Your horse finds balance between your legs. To turn gradually to the right, maintain rhythmic pressure with both legs. Increase left leg pressure and reduce pressure with your right leg. If your horse doesn’t catch on, increase your leg pressure and guide him with your reins.”
For a sharper turn, Stacy used her feet, as well as constant leg movements. “To turn to the right at a walk, turn your left toe out, placing your spur directly behind the girth,” she explains. The sudden and sharp cue results in a sharper turns.
Stacy practiced a lot of cloverleaf patterns to improve her leg cues with Can Can Lena – her futurity partner. Stacey rode small, connected circles to improve her steering. She often rode with a bridle – up to 90 percent of the time. However, she tested herself to see if she really needed her hands. She tied her reins to the saddle horn, so they were handy – just in case.
If you’re thinking of riding without a bridle, Stacy recommends teaching your horse verbal cues and using them every time you perform a maneuver – even when your reins are present. Stacy’s horses know that “whoa” means “stop now” and a kiss means “move on now.” Her verbal cues along with her constant leg cues give a horse the information he needs to perform with or without a bridle.