Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games

From Dressage to Reining

October 8, 2010

Top dressage competitor Anky van Grunsven takes a spin in the reining pen at the World Equestrian Games.

By Holly Clanahan of America’s Horse

Anky van Grunsven and Whizashiningwalla BB. Photo by Jeannie Blancq Putney

Anky van Grunsven’s list of honors is seemingly endless, topped off by three Olympic gold medals in dressage, eight World Cup dressage championships and two World Equestrian Games gold medals in dressage. She has been associated with big, scopey warmbloods like Salinero, Bonfire and Painted Black. Until now.

Anky withdrew from the Dutch dressage team after her best horse, Salinero, suffered an injury and wouldn’t have been in top form for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. So this top competitor – who has lately been learning the sport of reining – donned boots, bling and Wranglers, and saddled up the little palomino American Quarter Horse Whizashiningwalla BB for a spin in the FEI Reining World Championships, presented by John Deere as part of the World Equestrian Games.

In reining, Anky turned in a score of 211, which wasn’t good enough to get her into the individual finals. She knew, however, that she has some work yet ahead of her.

“I’m a bit more nervous because I feel I’m not ready for this,” she said after her run, “but I had my personal best, so I was at the right moment. I know I’m definitely not the best here, but this was my best ride so far, so give me another year.”

This hard-running, fast-paced sport – with whoops and hollers from the crowd – is very different from the hushed dressage ring, where precise, tightly controlled movements are the order of the day.

“It’s exciting,” Anky says. “Everybody starts to yell, and I’m not used to that. I’m normally so focused and quiet, so it’s a different thing, but it makes you like ‘Yes, yes, I’m going to do it!’ I really like it.

“I am very happy that I was here, and that I did the equestrian games in reining. It’s a new challenge. My circles (were the best part of the pattern). That, I have still from my dressage, just not so fast. My spins, I was a bit disappointed in because they were so much better in the warmup,” she says.

Some of Anky’s fellow dressage riders also were on hand to cheer her on, including Hans Peter Minderhoud, a member of the 2010 gold-medal-winning Dutch dressage team at WEG, and Sjef Janssen, Anky’s husband and Dutch national equestrian coach.

“All my dressage colleagues that didn’t have to train are here. I said ‘Never mind, never mind’ but they are here, so it’s fun,” Anky says. “And everybody thinks I’m crazy, but I don’t care. I think it’s great.”

Anky performing a canter pirouette.

In fact, Anky has become somewhat of an ambassador for the sport of reining. During the team dressage medal presentations, Anky entered the ring in her western saddle aboard Whizashiningwalla BB to do a reining demonstration. She later performed in a freestyle reining exhibition, in which she and her Quarter Horse performed classical dressage pirouettes and tempi changes before segueing into reining spins and sliding stops.

“I love it. It’s different … and I love my shirts,” Anky says, gesturing to the sparkly orange custom-designed shirt worn by the female members of the Dutch reining team.

Anky’s horse was loaned to her by Belgium reining competitor Cira Baeck, and the 7-year-old gelding by Topsail Whiz has more than $50,000 in National Reining Horse Association earnings.

“I like him,” Anky says. The horse’s experience “didn’t make it easier for me because he’s a bit too smart in the beginning, but I’m really happy.”

Anky is coached in reining by her WEG teammate Rieky Young-Van Osch.

“It’s really a lot of fun to work with Anky because she’s so knowledgeable, so we can talk and discuss things,” Rieky says. “A lot of things are the same (in the two disciplines), and a lot of things are a little different. Sometimes she’s a little stubborn, but that’s OK, too. So am I, so that works out pretty good.”