The spotlight focused on true teamwork as Midway College of Midway, KY stepped up to offer their horses, guidance and a capable student support crew for a trio of para-reiners competing at the 2015 Kentucky Reining Cup. Pulling off a catch rides calls for adaptability and experimentation, something para athletes are well acquainted with but the learning curve went both ways.
“None of our students had any idea that Para-Reining existed and were shocked at the willingness of physically handicapped people to get on a horse they have never ridden before and be able to compete with just a few warm up rides,“ said Lance Hayden whose extensive reining background and precise coaching generated the positive teamwork necessary for success matching students and school horses with each para rider.
“As a concept, I think reining horses are one of the best suited of the western disciplines,” says Hayden. “They are expected to give the rider only what he or she asks for and nothing more.”
For Midway College, it was just the right event, at just the right time. “Our equine program had fallen off but our staff has been working feverishly for the past nine months to start the rebuilding process.”
Midway, a private all girls college campus with a coed online student body offers an equine studies program that caters to the horse industry with real world applicable courses in farm operations, equine science, rehab, management, business and internships. Recent hires along with guidance from Operations Manager Danielle Wells are dedicated to raising the bar. “We heard from many alum on how proud they were of the program making a comeback,” said Hayden.
USA Reining’s Brad Ettleman has pioneered Para-Reining support at the Kentucky Reining Cup and the AQHA World’s Show in Oklahoma. Cargill’s Nutrena Brand again sponsored the Para-Reining class, along with the AQHA and National Reining Horse Association, all recognizing the opportunity to open the door to more riders wishing to compete.
Para-Reining As Cross Training
"Cross training is as important for the rider as it is for a horse," noted Dale Dedrick, a London 2012 Paralympian. She should know. A life long dressage devotee, her varied career includes foxhunting, driving, Saddlebreds, and exhibition riding. Her picture hangs in the Kentucky Horse Park Saddlebred Museum for competing her ASB mare, Peavines Magestic Heritage to Grand Prix in the 1980s.
An orthopedic surgeon before Lupus ended her career, Dedrick discovered the value of using reining as a tool at the last year’s Kentucky Reining Cup’s inaugural Para-Reining class to lighten up her dressage. Laughing, she said her trainer at home in Michigan Rosiland Kinstler strongly encouraged her to participate again for the carry over confidence booster. Dedrick found her Midway College mount Bo Diddley’s gaits smooth enough to lope through pattern 12 even though she hadn't been strong enough to canter her own dressage horse for the past year.
“Everyone should try it,” she says. “Cut loose, there’s a lot to be learned using your body, not your hands.“ Although the core body position and balance mirrors dressage, she enjoys the freer feeling of the horse carrying itself. Similar to dressage, the pattern that showcases gaits, control, athleticism and harmony. Dedrick also appreciated the atmosphere of support with people interacting, taking and sharing pictures, or striking up conversations by the in gate and warm up area. A strong proponent of the value of all Para sports, Dale takes every opportunity to explain Para sports and encourage others facing tough challenges to persevere and have hope.
Frederick Win, a practicing attorney with a passion for horses has an interesting resume. Born without a complete right leg, he grew up learning skills as a trick rider and show jumping in his native Burma. He’s competed in para-dressage but finds a real cultural connection in reining.
“For me, reining is not just a sport, it’s emotional therapy. Through this sport, we can explore and enjoy freedom and the spirit of American culture that a person with disabilities may otherwise not be able to." Win discovered reining in 2013, when invited to take part in AQHA World Show in Oklahoma City. “Since then, I've been hooked. It makes me push the edge, it’s a challenge and thrill I won’t be able to feel unless I’m able-bodied,” he says.
He also doesn't feel like he’s changing disciplines from Para-Dressage. “Elements of compulsion, finesse and power from the hind legs are essential in both disciplines, with speed and excitement added to reining,” says Win, nicknamed Fast Freddie by Hayden.
“I highly recommend any equestrian rider try reining.” He especially recommends any Para-Equestrian try competing in Para-Reining events. “I can assure you that American Quarter horses are well broke and balanced enough to take care of riders with disabilities. It’s safe and a challenge at the same time.”
For Win, the focus is squarely one’s ability and he knows how horses help level the playing field. He sees himself as an ambassador for para-reining. “It’s important for me to help advance this reining sport. I want every local show to add para-reining classes and ultimately, for this to become an FEI level sport to be established at the international level.”
Bling It On
For myself, I’ll admit I didn't really get the appeal of reining at all until I was in the driver's seat. After sitting on a few pro-trained caliber horses, it’s hard to resist the beauty of fine tuned horse waiting for your cues, the cool helicopter spins, the freeing feeling of loping around the arena, with the equally smooth laser run down, perfecting the right timing for stops and rollbacks. It’s harder than it looks, which makes it addicting. Burn injuries and amputations from a carfire make it simpler for me to ride one-handed over dressage, which requires full contact but without any fingers, Tamra Kyle helped me experiment at last year’s Kentucky Reining Cup with a little duct tape to fashion loops on weightier Romel reins that allowed easier neck reining. Thanks to Midway College student Casey Meiners who worked over the last year to transform her assigned charge, Time Makes Me A Radical, a chestnut mare with formerly “strong opinions” into a calm, responsive ride to win the class.
“As a rider, I’m inspired and as a spectator, I enjoy watching the trust riders have in these horses,” said Cappy Dryden who also assisted in coaching the riders with pattern practice. I think they are the perfect horses and the perfect discipline for a Para athlete due to our horses being so trained based on voice and leg with no bit contact necessary, and their kind nature.”
In 2010, the former hunter/jumper competitor veered into reining after cheering on the U.S. gold medalists at the Alltech WEG in Kentucky.
“Their passion was contagious,” she said and she asked friend Mandy McCutcheon to find her a horse.” That horse, West Coast Smarty, taught her the ropes. “I rode him Freestyle night in 2012, as my first show, bridleless, under spot lights. Nothing like jumping into the deep end! He was amazing.”
On a deeper level, Dryden witnesses daily the benefits of equine therapy, both physical and mental. Her father suffers from Parkinson's.
“He has a young horse but his breeding (by Gunner) makes for a very quiet horse that naturally does the maneuvers with ease. He’s been instrumental in helping my father. He also rides one of our less lazy mares, and on some days, that's easier for him,” she notes. “My father wouldn't be riding any other type of horse, they are wonderful animals.”
Para-Reining shows great potential to grow as an accessible sport in both the U.S and overseas. The Western community has long embraced riders with intellectual, learning, or physical difference recognizing horses are the great equalizers. Call it people willing to think outside the box, or simply western practicality but the it takes teamwork to get any rider to the arena.
This year’s Kentucky Reining Cup collaboration with Midway College, sponsors and affiliates marked another step forward to boosting visibility and awareness for this exciting, emerging sport.
USA Reining and USPEA are affiliates of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), which serves as the National Governing Body for Equestrian Sport in the United States, and are striving to ensure Para-Reining rules and competitions are in line with events hosted at stakeholder shows. AQHA has added Para-Reining into its existing and thriving Equestrians with Disabilities Program. NRHA has done the same with a newly launched Adaptive Reining program, now renamed Para-Reining. This allows Para-Reining events to be multi-approved by any or all of the interested groups, allowing athletes a variety of options for competitive development.
For more information about Midway College vist www.midway.edu