Reining with Kyle Schurig
By Ingrid Edisen

Say the name Kyle Schurig and you’ve spoken of a working horseman who shuns the spotlight but trains reining horses full time.

Reared in New Braunfels, Texas, Schurig began his horse education under the tutelage of the renowned late Walter Chapman, known as “Chappie.” At first 12-year-old Schurig was allowed to walk horses to the hot walker in between his job of painting fences. Chappie dealt a lot in training Arabians. In fact, Chappie is best known for training Casole for the horse’s staring role in the movie “The Black Stallion.” At Chappie’s, Schurig was soon allowed to start riding and within a year showed horses under his boss’s coaching. He did all the divisions of Arabian showing–everything from Park to Western Pleasure. Once on his own, Schurig performed a lot in American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) horsemanship competitions and training clients’ mounts.

About ten or twelve years ago, Schurig found his calling and migrated to reining. “The horses are more free flowing,” he explained. “They’re less restricted and seem to be happy.”  He and his wife and their growing family decided to move to Austin from New Braunfels because commuting to her demanding job as an attorney in Austin had become too onerous.

Today, they reside less then ten minutes from the southern edge of Austin on a 56-acre working facility that bustles with equestrian clients. Since he has permission to ride on the adjoining 500 acres, he makes use of that as well to help season his charges. Sedrick Chase assists Schurig with the training. There are two nice new barns that have eight stalls in which Schurig houses his reining projects. Spread over the softly rolling low green hills beyond the barns are spacious turn-out paddocks filled with even more clients’ horses. Some clients merely want him to put a handle on their roping horses. And others are desirous of his sacking out their youngsters to make the horses solid citizens on any trail–which he can do by merely riding on the rugged adjoining back country. Schurig commands $675 a month for training and this includes board and at least five training sessions a week.

He has a round pen and a simple big rectangular sand arena set at the foot of the barns. For reasons well thought out, his arena is not bound by any fencing. Reining horses must guide well, he explained and for him to have a fully fenced arena means that the horse would be looking to a perimeter fence for some guidance rather than relying on the rider. Of course at either end of the arena are two plain white portions of fences that sort of remind one of a pared down compressed soccer goals. These are used only after the horse has been with him for several months. The process of “fencing” a horse is done in stages–at first passive stops in front of the fence, then riding up to the fence in a more confrontational manner and finally, the rider would pick up his hands as the pair approaches the fence, asking for collection which would be a finishing touch on any sliding stop.

Schurig noted that riders seem to be happier with reining as a sport overall. He’s observed that folks appreciate reining as it such a learning process. The sport has come into its own over the last ten to fifteen years, he said. Not everyone can afford a $70,000 to $100,000 horse, he noted, but explained that even those who make a mediocre score in reining still have a good time and if they have a good ride, they are happy and even more happy with the horse. There is good money in the sport, too. The top futurity reining horse won $150,000 for the year and you might see 450 futurity contestants in one class.

His favorite conformation for reining prospect is a horse that stands approximately 14.3, no more than 15 hands high. It would have knee action to help enable it to walk out of a sliding stop. He likes to see a neck that ties up high into the chest with a short underline and a longer topline as this will facilitate the horse bending its back to tuck under as it comes to a stop. Another thing he looks for is a deep mouth as this will aid him later on in the training. It will help as he collects up the horse and allows the horse to hold the bit better as it tucks it head and stretches over its poll. Being cow hocked is not necessarily a bad thing in all this, he said. He will be looking for a horse that can stop deep and fold its hind legs well. Good dental care is also a necessity, he observed. Normally it takes twelve to thirteen months for him to instill a solid reining education on a horse, from start to finish.

When asked about his training process, he said that he takes much of it from Dell Hendricks, a famous reining trainer. But before he gets to that part of the schooling, for about the first five days he might take a horse that has never even had a saddle on its back and start working with it in the stall. Gradually, the saddle would be introduced and on the first day, the haltered horse would merely wear the saddle for a while standing in its stall. Then, on the second day, the saddle would be put back on and he and his assistant would put some pressure on the stirrups. On the third day, the horse would be gradually mounted, still in the stall. During the last part of the week, a bridle would be added and the idea of turning to two-handed rein guidance would be added. After that process, the horse would be brought to either the round pen or to the actual open arena and more guiding skills would be slowly introduced, along with walk, trot and lope. The horse would be worked in circles of varying sizes for the first three months. He incorporates the idea of neck reining from day one in his training by gently including the pressure of the outside rein as he or his assistant “plough” direct rein a youngster in the beginning. At least then, the horse starts to associate the idea of outside rein pressure against the neck in turning which will later be part of its more finely tuned guidance system. If he finds that a horse does not follow the true path of a circle, then he cuts the horse back through the circle and continues on the line of the circle and repeats this process as needed. Added pressure from an outside leg helps stabilize the horse’s shoulder or rib cage should those pop out and if the horse loses its balance and tends to fall in instead, then what Schurig does is simply lift the inside rein a big and add his inside leg. Roll backs are used later too by having the horse cut through the circle in half. Lead changes are part of the regimen only after six months or so. Also at this point, a “little slide plate” may be added to the horse’s skills. And, riding straight lines and the process of fencing also becomes part of the schooling as well at about this point.

Schurig never uses the word “whoa” until after working with a horse for about 45 days. About four to six months into the training, he incorporates backing up into the “whoa.” A youngster mentally becomes accustomed to the thought process that “whoa” or halting might mean backing. This is an easy way to encourage the horse to collect as he halts which will be a paramount balance skill later on. After the horse stops, Schurig may opt to give him a loose rein as reward. In that case, because the youngster is thinking that he may need to back up, then he at least he will have stopped more under himself than if left to his own devices of coming to a stop.

It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? To meet the man, and get a feel for why he is so calm and matter of fact about “backing” a horse, one gets the sense that this sometimes traumatic event in a horse’s life probably goes very smoothly at Schurig’s place. Schurig strikes one as a man who is direct and grounded much like a Buddhist monk, although given the fact that he is a contemporary of modern American life, he probably has earned this equanimity over time. The horses must be able to feel it, however and such centerness extends to their experience as well.

He designs saddles too as he tends to prefer a more free swinging stirrup than is found on traditional Western saddles. Leaning towards simplicity in the bit department, he basically uses two styles. Younger horses might get a shanked, ported snaffle. Older horses might have a solid mouth piece such as is found in the California Pro Cutter bit. “But this is not always the case. It depends on the horse,” Schurig said.

Schurig had just returned from the Houston Stock Show in which he’d won the open reining on a horse named Lynx Leo Money that he’d trained and is now owned by client Lee Knox. When asked about some of his other accolades, he listed such accomplishments as top 15 in the 2003 American Paint Horse Association (APHA) World Show Senior Reining competition; 2000 Reserve World Champion in the Palomino Horse Breeders’ Association (PHBA)/National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA) three-year-old snaffle bit futurity; Reserve Champion in the Senior Reining Competion at the Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC) 2000 National Show; 1999 PHBA World Champion in Junior Reining; 1999 PHBA Reserve World Champion in Western Pleasure; top 10 in the 1999 ApHC World Show Junior Reining competition; 1998 PHBA World Champion in Junior Reining. To boot, he’s also been long listed for the United States Olympic Reining Equestrian Team and trained many other qualifiers for World and National shows. In 1997, one of his students riding a horse that Schurig trained won the PHBA Golden Horse award which is an award for the horse who has the most points in all of the events at the PHBA World Show. Another of his students won an entire college scholarship by winning a reining competition.

Schurig provided a quick description of reining scoring. “You start off with a score of 70 before you even enter the ring.,” From there, as you perform different parts of a reining pattern, the judge(s) deduct or add up to one-and-a-half points for each section. I tell my students that if they can finish up a ride and still leave the ring with a 70, then they’ve done just fine. Of course, winning scores of 84 to 85 are very good.

Folks who want to trailer in for an “a la carte” lesson may do so by setting up an appointment with Schurig. For fifty dollars, one can spend a half a day being coached by him while he trains on his grounds. His phone number is (512) 632-5770 and address is 14605 Old San Antonio Road, Buda, TX 78610.

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