USEFnetwork), I thought it might be a good opportunity to give a concise overview of how the sport is judged.
In a nutshell, in a high-level event like this there are three judges, all scoring independently of one another. The thought being that the scores from three independent judges will combine and the average will even out the potentiality of one judge scoring a movement a little higher or a little lower than the others. All three scores are added together and taken as the final, which is why you're seeing 200+ point scores.
There are essentially 10 patterns in reining, each consisting of the same movements: stops, circles, rollbacks, spins, lead changes, straight lines. However, the flow is different from pattern to pattern, so the judges have a scoresheet with a section for score and/or penalty notation for each movement. They also have scribes, similar to dressage, so that they never take their eyes off the rider/horse combination.
The reason why reining tends to be SO MUCH more objective than dressage is down to the fact that every horse and rider combination enter into the arena with the exact same starting score. The assumption is that you will execute a correct ride. I mean, that's the ultimate goal, right?! So, everyone starts from a completely equal footing -- a score of 70. Then, over the course of executing your movements, you can either earn more points (in 1/2 point increments up to 1 and 1/2) or lose points (also in 1/2 point increments up to -1 and 1/2) for every movement. The main idea is simply to be correct -- execute the movements by the book and you'll exit the arena with a 70. Great, right? And there is no score for perfection. You can simply really impress the judge with a spin, for instance and he might think, "heck, this person did that so great I'm going to give him 1 and 1/2 extra points." There is no comparison to other riders really, since you're essentially just trying to impress the judge at that very instant. It's such a simple, pure system that as a competitor, you really do feel like you're helping the judge (hopefully) give you the extra points. You don't feel, as is the case in a lot of dressage, that somehow the judge is holding back a little to see what the competition is like, before giving out those 8s or 9s.
It comes down to my simple belief in this statement: If your baseline (like in dressage) is perfection -- a 10 -- then you're already at a disadvantage. It stands to reason that judges are less likely to give out top scores with that sort of benchmark to compare against. You feel pressure to give high marks only to spectacular rides; the onus is on the judge to have a rationale for doling out an extra point here and there. However, if your baseline is simply "correct", then, yeah, it's a lot easier to want to give out the extra points, to praise people for a bit more finesse (if it exists, of course).