Father Mack’s Musings #5 - Is This the Epitome of Cross-training?

While trying to muster some patience as we stood amongst the thousands of people who attended the “Reining Freestyle” that closed out the reining portion of this WEG, I saw standing nearby a fellow journalist, Ms. Sarah Jenkins of the UK publication “Horse & Hound.”

“So,” I asked, “what will your readers across the herring pond make of it when you report that three-time Olympic gold medalist Anky van Grunsven was sliding and circling in a cowgirl getup?” She responded, “Many of our readers barely know what reining is all about, and those who do will have a difficult time imagining Anky without her shadbelly having exchanged it for all that ‘bling.’”

As we continued down the cattle chute-like exits of the Alltech Arena, I mulled over Sarah’s remark.  For my part – as one who does know the basics of reining – the far more difficult concept about which I am trying to wrap my mind is the fact that a supremely accomplished dressage rider is participating in this sport at all. And then, as if in a lightning flash, it occurred to me that Ms. Van Grunsven has pointed the way toward what may be the ultimate in cross-training.

Both Sarah and I and perhaps many others who were leaving the stadium that night knew full well (as do regular readers of HorsesDaily, Eurodressage and other worthy publications) about Anky’s avocation for reining.  Already at this WEG, she and her partner, Whizashiningwalla BB, had put in a surprise appearance between Steffen Peters and Ravel’s concluding ride in the team competition and the presentation of medals. What none of us who witnessed that exhibition on Tuesday anticipated were the cross-over talents of this duo.

Yes, show jumpers who wish to perfect their craft, seek out knowledgeable dressage trainers to assist them with their flatwork so that the jumping horse may with ease make a ready change of lead when distance to the next jump is tight.  Three-day eventers, of course, come across the Rubicon to the dressage side of the divide as they must excel in the first of their three stages of competition to have a prayer of winning. But how often have we heard of dressage riders crossing the river in the opposite direction? Much less to that far-flung province called “Reining?”

Which brings me, at last, to some particulars about Thursday evening’s reining exhibition.  The so-called “freestyle” is not a part of the reining competition proper (well, at least not yet . . . this exemplar could lead to a change I suspect).  We were treated to a total of fourteen riders who had been selected from the throng of entrants in the previous three days of the contest. Each of these riders was given carte blanche to create his/her contribution to the final presentation of reining. Each of the fourteen rides was nothing if not unique.

We in the assembly admired Samba dancers and a Samba dancing quarter horse.  Another of the invitees both literally and figuratively flew around the ring having equipped her mount with angel’s wings. (I can only imagine what may have been running through the mind of our friend the horse given the additional drag this get-up must have created on his shoulders!)  And then, to the befuddlement of many if not most of the hard core reining enthusiasts in the arena, came Anky.

By comparison with many of the reiners who preceded her, Anky’s attire was demure, Pace, Ms. Jenkins!  When placed alongside the white-clad angel back rider, Anky’s attire was decidedly un-blingish.  What Anky and her steed were was a bevy of what I can only call inside jokes.  In the world of reining the maneuvers that extract the loudest “Yee-hahs” and most reverberant of “You go, girls” are the sliding stops, the dervish-like spins, and the great loping circles at madcap speed.  Yes, Anky executed all of these and she presented them (as we who know her from over a decade of excellence on our side of the partition) with absolute panache.  What stood out for disciples of the “true faith” were the elements that (I expect) baffled the reining buff.

Yes, there they were – snuck in between a sliding stop and an impassioned rein back – a sequence of thirteen one tempis!  Midway through this string of precise flying changes I glanced to my left and to my right.  It was as if I had been temporarily given the gift of extrasensory perception.  “What,” I could read in my fellow attendees’ minds, “is this crazy lady doing?”  My telepathy failed me entirely when Anky launched into not one but two perfectly executed canter pirouettes.  (I suspect that my loss of the transitory gift was caused by the mental overload heaped upon the folks wearing cowboy hats and oversized belt buckles.).

One tempis?  Canter pirouettes?  Yesindeedeedo!  There they were for anyone who knew what they were to see as plain as the nose on my face (a not-insignificant proboscis). I do not expect that Edward Gal and Totilas will be working on their rollbacks when Friday’s freestyle has reached its climax, but for those four minutes of Anky’s ride in the Alltech Arena we in the crowd were shown what was probably the definitive example of equestrian cross training. Yee-hah, y’all!  (This is Kentucky, after all!)

Photos by Ruth McCormick