Jacksonville, FL - Five years ago, Shannon Rafacz was the very first show manager to offer para reining classes at the Florida Reining Classic. In fact, it was her good friend's 12 year old daughter, Saxon Norton, that was the catalyst to first reach out to NRHA about modifications for a disabled rider to compete. That foresight is now bearing fruit by attracting returning and new riders with more shows and sponsors jumping on the bandwagon.
Jennifer Hoyt, Chair of USA Para Reining, the United States Equestrian affiliate, was on hand to coach three riders Cole Jacobs from NY, Jennifer Flanagan from SC, and Holly Jacobson from MA to the Jacksonville Equestrian Center.
Canadian Paralympian Lauren Barwick, well known for her para dressage accomplishments, resides in FL and has eagerly supported the burgeoning para reining movement for several years. She competes as a Grade 2 rider, which uses trot patterns with a lope option.
Louis Zamboli who competes in Grade 4 (that uses full patterns), also trekked south from NY, and was thrilled with his personal best score of 70.5. He was quick to credit working with trainer Joan Palmer of Palmer Performance Horses for the past year.
Interest in para reining is palpable with organizations and participating shows now seeing growth. USA Para Reining is actively working with the National Disabled Veterans Association to promote the benefits of accessible sport and the therapeutic aspects of partnership with the horse.
Both USA Reining and World Para Reining (WPR) offer classes for points towards year-end awards in Grades 1-4. World Para Reining, a nonprofit based in Texas, promotes para-reining and training internationally, along with a year-end point series.
For 2017, USA Para Reining is offering a one show and your in to all riders to qualify for the National Championships taking place at the 2017 AQHA Congress in Ohio in October. Shows are still being added to the current schedule as well as sponsorships for added monies and generous prizes,
The 2017 WPR Championships will be held in the Netherlands.
Promoting Ability, Freedom
The American Quarter Horse Association has a tradition of inclusive competition with the equestrian with disabilities classes. Para reining now offers a new avenue for serious competitors that showcases the exceptional versatility of Quarter Horses to accommodate a wide spectrum of disabilities.
USA Para Reining requires riders to be able to ride independently. Patterns include a walk only, trot with lope option, and full patterns. Saddles may be modified and extra equipment such as whips for legs cues can be approved for use.
As this new discipline gains traction, rider classifications, rules and pattern requirements are evolving.The goal is to mirror the success of reining from the local to national and eventually, the FEI level.
Para reining sends an impressive, uplifting message that really resonates with able-bodied riders and spectators alike by showcasing ability over disability. With wheelchairs, crutches, and other issues left behind, riders are transformed once in the saddle. Horses bless us with their power and freedom, and we are reminded how riding is good for the soul.