Oklahoma City, OK - The atmosphere was electrifying at the 2014 American Quarter Horse World Championship Show. On Nov. 15 the Jim Norick Arena at the Oklahoma State Fair Park welcomed not only the best reiners in the business, but also six high performance para-equestrians to demonstrate the developing discipline of para-reining, including two-time U.S. Paralympian and Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games athlete Becca Hart.
This was the third opportunity for spectators, organizers and athletes to experience para-reining on an international stage. The 2013 event was the pilot event for the discipline, and USA Reining and the United States Para Equestrian Association (USPEA) are working together to develop the discipline even further for 2015 and beyond. Hart was among the riders who competed at the American Quarter Horse World Championship Show in 2013 and returned for more in 2014.
"It was quite impressive to see the growth from 2013," Hart said. "The discipline is still in its development stages, and USA Reining and USPEA are still working on the classification system, but it has been quite impressive."
Each of the six riders was paired with a top reiner and worked alongside them to learn the ropes. Hart's trainer was Martin Muehlstaetter, a member of Team Austria at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France. Hart rode Spookanne, owned by Rosanne Sternberg of Sterling Ranch.
"The American Quarter Horse Association and National Reining Horse Association have been so supportive of this initiative, and inclusive in Para," Hart described. "It is really nice to have the support of the community behind us. The audience was on their feet, and they all know what they are looking for. These top reiners, they make it look easy out there. It definitely isn't."
Hart continued, "It was so much fun to go out there and try it. There is definitely a lot to it, and the horses were amazing. They were so understanding and they tried to figure out what we, as para-equestrians, need."
USA Reining took steps to ensure that the riders were able to utilize many of the same staples they use during their dressage tests, including adaptive reins and rubber bands. The associations are working together to develop the classification system for the different levels, and they are using high technological research to correctly identify the proper patterns and abilities of riders in each of those classifications. As a part of an on-going research study undertaken by USA Reining, motion capture technology is being used with the able-bodied reiners, allowing researchers to see the key physical elements needed in order to perform certain movements.
Hart admitted that this is something that she sees herself pursuing in the future, but first she has to dig a little deeper into the developing discipline.
"It is all about balance, fluidity and harmony, very much like dressage. Even though you are doing it in a western saddle it is the same principles. Instead of doing a pirouette you do a spin," Hart smiled. "I can definitely see myself competing in this in the future. This has been a fantastic taste. It is everything I love about dressage with speed added to it-it adds adrenaline."
Hart concluded, "A big thank you to Brad Ettleman and everyone for hosting and promoting the sport. I think it has a good place in the horse world, and I am excited to see it go further. To do it at the inaugural event was very special. I also want to say thank you to the AQHA for opening their arms to the para discipline by hosting the event at their World Championship Show. Anytime we can grow the para-sport is spectacular."
For more information on Becca Hart and Cherry Knoll Farm, please visit Cherry Knoll Farm's website at www.cherryknollfarminc.com.