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Chasing perfection: Henderson performance horses seeks to grow reining in Wyoming

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Cheyenne –  “The reining bug bit me the very first time I saw a freestyle at the National Western Stock Show,” says Justin Henderson, founder of Henderson Performance Horses. “I can’t remember the year, but I remember in detail Drake Johnson on Genuine Cowboy Jack. I knew I wanted to do this.” 

Justin, a longtime cowboy and horse trainer, grew up in Limon, Colo. and followed ranch jobs north to Wyoming. After working a few ranch jobs, he settled in Cheyenne and began working full-time training horses for the public.  

“It means a lot to me to be able to have a barn somewhere like Cheyenne, where reining isn’t as popular,” he says. “I want to help grow the sport in the area and provide top-notch horses.” 

Reining basics  

According to the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), reining is a judged event designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch type horse within the confines of a show arena. In NRHA competitions, contestants are required to run a pre-selected, approved pattern, included in the NRHA Handbook. 

Each pattern includes small slow circles, large fast circles, flying lead changes, rollbacks over the hocks, 360-degree spins done in place and sliding stops.  

The NRHA Judging System is recognized as the leading format for judging an equine event which combines technical and stylistic elements coupled with consideration of “degree of difficulty.” Many segments of the equine judging discipline have openly embraced the NRHA Judging System. 

Reining perfection 

“The perfection of reining horses really draws me to them. There is a strive to always be better,” Justin says.  

Justin notes he loves to have a bad ride every now and then. 

“I absolutely love the fact I can have a bad ride on a horse,” he says. “I will lay in bed and think and think and think about it, and I will dissect the ride so hard trying to figure out what to do to make the horse perfect.” 

Young horse focus 

Although he trains horses of all ages, Justin notes his pride and joy is young horses. 

“I really like to focus on the futurity babies,” he says. “I like young horses because I get to watch them progress rather quickly. One day they are learning to just ride around and they pick things up so quickly. Before I know it, they are doing sliding stops and spinning.” 

“My assistant trainers start the colts and then they move up to my string,” he explains. “In their three-year-old year, if I can hit a 70 or above, I feel like my futurity horses are right on target. Some of them will stick around or the owners will show them in the derbies, but a few of them will stick around in the derbies.” 

Justin notes one of his proudest achievements is he has only shown one finished horse he bought.  

“I take a lot of pride in getting these young horses going,” he says. “The key, however, is patience.”  

“Trainers have to challenge a young horse and also understand they are still in kindergarten,” Justin says. “I am a very patient person and can keep asking until I get what I want and what I am looking for but patience is a big thing when it comes to training babies.” 

For more information about Henderson Performance Horses, visit their Facebook page @HendersonPerformanceHorses.  

Callie Hanson is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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