I got to take a Quarter Horse for a spin – literally – at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
By Katie Navarra
Watching Saturday’s Round 2 of the Team Reining competition at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games was exhilarating. It was thrilling not only to watch some of the world’s most accomplished horse and rider teams compete, but also because I knew a few hours after the event, I would have the opportunity to “Ride a Reiner,” too, in an event sponsored by the National Reining Horse Association, an AQHA alliance partner.
The rides, available to anyone at the games with a bit of riding experience, are being held in the John Deere Reining Arena, which is also where AQHA is offering test rides to anyone – even those who’ve never been on a horse before. Both options use American Quarter Horses as the mounts.
Mine was Riminic N Melody, a veteran reining mare who goes by the nickname “Butch.” I mount up and direct her to the rail to walk a few laps before Brett Walters, an AQHA Professional Horseman and reining judge, begins to coach me and two other riders.
At first, Butch and I both have a few jittery nerves. She jigs a little, preferring to jog, rather than walk. Pulling back on the reins and asking her to stop instead signals her into reverse, but we settle into each other’s habits while Brett gives an introductory explanation to the crowd, noting how similar reining and dressage are. For example, he points out that both disciplines ask the horse for a turn on the hindquarters, though the events vary in how the movements are incorporated into a horse’s performance.
Then Brett poses his first challenge – a series of spins to the left. The crowd starts hooting and hollering with excitement as we accelerate with each rotation. Five, or six or seven rotations later (I lost count), I say “Whoa,” and Butch halts immediately. My head doesn’t stop oscillating when she does, but Brett has the perfect cure: “If you’re feeling dizzy after a spin, back your horse up and then walk forward.”
That does the trick!
Professional reiners make loping the large fast circles and slow small circles look like the easiest part of the pattern. But steering Butch through the four points of a round, smooth circle is harder than it appeared.
“Move your hand forward, toward her ear,” Brett instructs, and it helps guide her around the circle. With seemingly little effort I “clucked” her forward into a faster lope. When it was time to slow down, I sit back, deep in the saddle, hum quietly, and she immediately downshifts gears.
Learning the sliding stop is the most fun, but also the most challenging. Butch lopes off in a single stride. As soon as she has the final cone in sight, she knows what is coming next. Anticipating a “whoa,” she prematurely drops into a slide, bouncing me in the seat a few times. Riding to the fence, squeezing the entire way is the remedy. Glancing over my shoulder, I look for the perfect “11,” the trademark track left after a sliding stop. Brett says true reiners always look for that signature left in the dirt.
Spending a half hour riding Butch was a great introduction to reining. Each time we performed one of the key movements in a reining pattern, the crowd cheered us on, and I felt the surge of excitement that professional reiners must feel every time they ride. Maybe when I get back to Upstate New York after my trip to the World Equestrian Games I can find a trainer willing to give lessons to a beginner.
Brett serves as vice president of the Indiana Quarter Horse Association and was past president of the Arizona Quarter Horse Association. He specializes in training youth and amateur all-around horses, including reining. “I really enjoy the pattern part of all classes. We do excel at those events because everything has to be so precise in reining,” he explains.
The “real” reining action continues Tuesday at the World Equestrian Games, when contestants have a second chance to qualify for the individual reining finals on Thursday. America’s Horse Daily will have the full results, plus we’ll be posting on Facebook and Twitter at @AQHA and @americashorse.