Reining reigned under torrential rain at Gladstone, NJ on Saturday, June 23 at the Festival of Champions. The raindrops began in the wee hours and increased as each hour passed with light rainfall part of the time and horrendous downpours at other times, flooding the grounds. But in the riding world the show does go on. And so it did - eventually that is.
When the $10,000 USET Invitational Freestyle took place it was almost free of raindrops until the last rider Drake Johnson came in on Genuine Cowboy Jac. You would have sworn the gods were angry by the amount of rain they threw at Drake and Jac. Unfortunately, their chance at victory slipped away, literally. As they went galloping into a turn, Jac lost his footing and in no time the pair melted into the mud barely visible when they emerged all covered with the mucky stuff. But in true cowboy spirit they continued the ride and displayed some of the nicest spins of the day.
But, by then it was clear that the first competitor, Pete Kyle aboard Bear Cat O'Reilly had won the class, an honor Kyle had accomplished two years earlier on Dun It The Hard Way.
Freestyle reining is similar to freestyle dressage and freestyle skating in that riders perform a choreographed routine of movements to music. And in this class, the reiners came dressed for the occasion. Mickey Mouse was there, and so was the military. The winner Peter Kyle, rode to the beat of "Mambo Number Five," and was dressed in true Vegas style, while dancing girls added to the aura of his performance.
Kyle, who has earned a number of honors during his riding career, including being named AQHA Professional Horseman of the Year, is also the Chairman of the USET's Reining Riders Committee.
While everyone was anxious to hear Kyle's view on his victory ride, they were even more interested in the footing that had eliminated Johnson.
"The ground was really stable for all of us but Blake," explained Kyle, who along with his wife Tamra runs a full training and breeding business in Texas. "He watched us and felt secure but for his ride the water started running off and it got slippery."
Fortunately, when Kyle, who was first to go, competed, everything went beautifully and despite the rain a decent size crowd clapped, cheered and did a little mamboing on the sidelines.
It was obvious by the reaction of the crowd to all of the rides, that the Freestyle has become a welcome addition to reining. "The freestyle is fun because the crowd can be involved. In some of the other classes (dressage for example), you have to be quiet, but not with reining. It's very important because it is so entertaining," commented Kyle. "Yet, we still have to be precise with our reining movements. It's a good way to break people into the sport and it's brought in a lot of people. This brings us all together. Reining is now worldwide. And the more exposure the better it will be for reining."
Thinking back to his ride and the welcome reception of the crowd Kyle's face showed how pleased he was with his victory. "I'm fortunate to have that horse," commented Kyle about the six-year-old registered Quarter Horse. "I think the best thing was my horse's stops. He is a dynamic stopper and he turned around really good."
While it's true his stops were superb, it was the whole routine, from the movements, to the music, to the attire that earned him his win.