Covering Quarter Horses and beyond at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Today, I’ll admit it: I’m tired.
Since September 23, when I flew into Lexington, Kentucky, I’ve been running on adrenaline and caffeine. No matter the amount of walking — and there was a lot — no matter the long days and sometimes-short nights, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, held for the first time in the United States. Zero complaints here.
As part of AQHA’s sponsorship of the Games, the Association loaned a staff member (me) to the WEG press office, so as such, after reining was over, I was put to work covering dressage, show jumping and vaulting. Especially with vaulting, I had a big learning curve, but the good news is that horse people, no matter their discipline, l.o.v.e. to talk horses and horse sport, so I had no trouble finding knowledgeable people willing to fill me in. Plus, the vaulters’ enthusiasm was contagious, and you can now count me among the sport’s fans.
Throughout the 16 days of the Games, there were so many amazing moments. I’ll list a few:
I was wowed to see some of the dressage and jumping horses in the flesh. These warmbloods are much bigger than you realize when you see photos of them, and their incredible talent is wrapped in some very tightly wound muscles. I actually had to follow Dutch team dressage gold medalist Hans Peter Minderhoud on his way back to the stables (there were journalists waiting to interview him who were afraid he was “escaping”), and he was very gracious as he answered some questions while holding the gorgeous-but-antsy mare, Exquis Nadine. I’m impressed by the level of horsemanship it takes to channel that energy and electricity … and I’m also very appreciative of my Quarter Horses!
Eventing trainer Jim Wofford wrote a great blog comparing the breeds found at WEG: “These reining horses are to die for. … They walk flat-footed into an arena full of cheering fans, with a ho-hum look on their face. … ‘Yup, just another arena full of 20,000 screaming fans.’ Next thing you know, they are spinning like a top, then going lickety-split around the arena, doing flying changes across the centerline, with some world-class sliding stops to top it off. When they finish their performance, they walk out and stand by the out gate while the TV cameras get a quick interview with the rider. The riders all step down, drop the nearside rein on the ground, and the horse stands there, ground tied and puffing 60 to the minute while the rider does their thing for TV. Near as I can make out, these reining horses have the personality of a Golden Retriever. Pretty cute.”
The reining horses’ riders are pretty cool, themselves. When Shawn Flarida’s stirrup leather broke during his individual finals run, effectively taking him out of medal contention, he left the arena with his trademark grin in place and not a hint of bitterness. He may have missed an individual medal (although he did win team gold), but if there were a sportsmanship award at WEG, he would definitely have been on top of that podium.
Shawn is the winningest rider in the history of the National Reining Horse Association, and then on the other end of the spectrum, there were riders who were representing their country for the first time ever at a World Equestrian Games — and it was equally amazing to talk to them. Colombia’s Hernando Jiminez leased a horse from AQHA Professional Horseman Pete Kyle, and he was so sweet and appreciative of being at WEG. There was a language barrier between us, but Hernando never failed to come over and say hello whenever he saw me. When he asked me to send him a photo of him and Pete, I was more than happy to do so.
I love to see our reiners — very humble people — being treated like rock stars! AQHA Corporate Partner SmartPak held an autograph session with team and individual reining gold medalist Tom McCutcheon, and someone commented on his Facebook page that the people in the photos on his autograph page looked like they were meeting the Beatles. Love it!
There were other ambassadors for our breed in the Equine Village, which was the massive expo held as part of the Games. I’m a fan of Larks Home Run (whom AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm is showing in dressage), who seems to have the affable personality of his sire, my all-time favorite Rugged Lark. I met a handful of AQHYA members who were demo riders for Dan Grunwald in his clinics on proper show strategy and presentation and were thrilled to be riding at the World Equestrian Games. (Look for a story on them coming soon in one of the AQHA publications.) And I met Chris Newbert, riding Smart Chics Are Rare in some very impressive “western dressage” demonstrations. I know there were other Quarter Horses and AQHA peeps in the Equine Village, and I wish I’d had more time to meet them all. In many ways, I hated to see WEG come to a close, because there was so much I wasn’t able to fit into the 16 days.
Because WEG is dominated by English disciplines (reining is its only western one), the bulk of the trade show was made up of English retailers, many of them quite high end. But AQHA had its own Quarter Horse Outfitters booth there, and it was cool to see our AQHA caps and “official reining breed” T-shirts at other competitions. (AQHA was both the official breed sponsor of reining and an official sponsor of the Games as a whole.)
Danvers Child, who helped coordinate the farriery effort at WEG for the American Farrier’s Association, told me on the last day of the Games that he couldn’t think of a single negative thing to say about his experiences there. I was in full agreement. And then the thought occurred: “My feet hurt.” Today, as I’m traveling home, it’s time now to walk less, reflect more … and (the other thing I sorely missed while at WEG), spend some time with my own American Quarter Horses!