The Northeast Reining Horse Association (NERHA) kicked off their first show of the season April 15-17 at the Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds in West Springfield, MA. Admission was free to watch the premier reining horse competition in Massachusetts known as the Northeast Spring Spin Banquet of Champions & Pro-Am Event. There were a total of 118 horses, primarily of the American Quarter Horse breed, displaying how responsive and in tune they were with the rider by performing precise patterns of circles, spins and stops. The top performers earned cash purses of up to $500 or points towards an end of season total to earn the right to be called a champion.
The show’s first day kicked off with The Banquet of Champions which consisted of an awards dinner to honor the 2015 NERHA champions. Several different classes of reining competition took place throughout the next two days ranging from amateur to professional levels. The show closed the second day with a fun Pro-Am team tournament consisting of one professional and one amateur using the same horse to complete half of the judged pattern in the arena. Also new this year was a Ranch Horse Pleasure Class. The idea was taken from Quarter Horse shows and consisted of riding patterns that were different and less intense than the regular reining patterns.
For those not familiar with the concept of reining, it is a judged equine event designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch type horse within the confines of a show arena. Contestants are required to run one of 13 association approved patterns. Each pattern includes small circles, large fast circles, flying lead changes, roll backs over the hocks, 360 degree spins done in place and exciting sliding stops that are the hallmark of reining horse competitions. Judges look at a combination of technical and stylistic elements coupled with consideration of degree of difficulty.
The scoring system in reining is unique in that all riders start with a score of 70. Each class is assigned a pattern to ride. Individual maneuvers within the pattern are scored in 1/2 point increments from a low of –1 1/2 to a high of +1 1/2 with a score of 0 denoting a maneuver that is correct with no degree of difficulty. Riders can lose points for any mistakes made during maneuvers.
Darlene Deptual-Hicks has been showing reining horses since the 1990s. She now serves as the Vice President of the NERHA and alternates roles as show manager and show representative between the three shows that her affiliate puts on each year at the Eastern States Exposition. “It’s such an adrenaline rush to have horses perform all these fast movements while being willfully guided by the rider,” she said.
The NERHA is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1975 with a mission to promote and encourage development, participation and public interest in the sport of reining in the Northeast. This is the fourth year that the NERHA has held their Spring Spin show at the Eastern States Exposition Coliseum. According to Deptual-Hicks the Spring Spin is one of the oldest reining shows in the country and one of the older affiliates of National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), which was founded in 1966.
NRHA numbers have more than doubled over the last 20 years with approximately 19,000 NRHA members and more than 1,400 youth members. So what is the reason that the discipline of horse reining has grown so popular? Long time trainer Tom Hoyt of Manlius, NY, believes it’s the comradery among riders and the various divisions of competition which allows riders and horses of all levels to compete.
“We make it easy for people to start and there is place for everybody at every level from the greenest rider to the most experienced,” Hoyt said. “Everyone here is really friendly and supportive. You can walk up to any rider or trainer and get their help and feedback.”
Hoyt also noted that some of the largest growth has come from riders of other equine disciplines such as western pleasure crossing over into reining. Western pleasure is considered a good discipline for beginners. It is different from the fast paced individualized competition of reining as riders all go into the arena at the same time and ride around the rail showing the horse at slow, smooth gaits.
Ray Belle of Rowley, MA, came over to the sport of reining following a short stint where he was calf roping during rodeo events. Both he and his wife have been showing together at reining horse shows for the past eight years.
“I like fast stuff and wanted to get into something different,” Belle said. “When it comes to reining I like the individual performance part of it and the challenge of riding a pattern using speed.”
Deptual-Hicks and Hoyt both believe it is only a matter of time before horse-reining competition will be in the Olympics. They pointed towards the inclusion of people with physical disabilities into the sport called para-reining as well as increasing overseas interest in reining.
“The Paralymic Games are something that most everyone has heard of and Para-reining may be the avenue through which horse reining competition gets to the Olympics,” Hoyt said. “This is the first year that this group has had to actively qualify for titles and will soon become part of well-known horse associations like the American Quarter Horse Association.”
“In the last five to 10 years the number of affiliates have increased exponentially all over the world,” Deptual-Hicks said. “There are a lot of European people who want to get involved in horse reining competition so they are coming to the U.S. and becoming apprentices with professional million dollar riders like Tim McQuay.”