Lexington, KY - For the first time in the history of the Western saddle sport of reining, a collection of the world's best reining athletes slid into the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, to contest the inaugural five-star reining competition known as the CRI5* - the Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup. When the dirt in the arena settled, it was Shawn Flarida and KL Lil Conquistador who laid down a spectacular pattern to take the title on a score of 226.5 in this the highest level of reining competition in the world.
From a country music icon to the current USEF Equestrian of the Year to the four-member U.S. Team that rocked the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games with their Team Gold and two Individual medals to a three-member family show down, this was a night of reining that won't soon be forgotten. Reiners from three nations (United States, Canada and Mexico) took part at the event which was held concurrent with the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event sponsored by Bridgestone. In addition to the Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup CRI5*, which offered $50,000 in prize money and is this year's only five-star reining event in the Western hemisphere, there will be the first-ever World Championship Freestyle competition on Saturday.
The level of competition was expert, and performances these Western horses and riders put in thrilled the crowd. In fact, three of the four members of the Gold-medal WEG team were the top four riders.
Flarida, who missed out on a possible medal at the 2010 FEI Alltech World Equestrian Games when his saddle strap broke during his round was happy with his first-place finish tonight aboard. Tonight's win was a sort of birthday present as Saturday is his birthday.
"There were a couple of places where tonight could have been better," he said. "That horse has been absolutely great for me his entire career. I feel honored just to have the opportunity to ride him. This horse looks forward to showing and he's so much fun to ride."
He continued, "Anytime you can go and compete against guys that are this talented, it's fun."
Craig Schmersal finished second aboard Miss Lil Addy Tude (owned by KC Performance Horses) on a score of score of 225.
"This was the fifth time I've been on the mare," he said. "She's a tough little mare, she's really cute and she's like a little motor scooter out there and zips around and does her job. She's a lot of fun."
With his third-place horse on a score of 224.5, Mister Montana Nic (the 14-year-old bay Quarter Horse stallion who he rode to an Individual Bronze-medal at the 2010 WEG), Schmersal came to superlatives.
"I don't know what else I can say about him. He never lets me down and hangs with those little six-year-olds and just keeps on knocking them out," he said. "I'm very, very lucky to have a horse like that in my barn."
Tom McCutcheon, who was the only American double-Gold medalist at the 2010 WEG, has taken reining to new heights over the past year. Tonight, he was in fourth, but happy for his fellow WEG teammates and their scores tonight.
He guided Turnabout Farm, Inc.'s Chic Olena Starbuck (a seven-year-old, sorrel Quarter Horse mare) through the pattern to end on a score of 222.5 and a fourth-place finish.
"It was a great crowd here, and the ground was great, and it was just fun to come here," McCutcheon said. "My horse felt really good, but she's not a really big turner, but a good thick stopper and she circles good. She went out and did all that stuff for me. She didn't turn as good as I would have liked, but she went out there and did what she could do."
McCutcheon also spoke of the importance of tonight's event. "I think the diversity that this event brings to our sport following up behind the WEG Games is a great opportunity for us to showcase our sport. Right now, I think we are in a spot of growth...we are getting out to a new group of people, and it's important that we go out and put on a great show."
Competing as one of the Non-Pro competitors was Grammy winner and country music star Lyle Lovett piloted his Smart and Shiney (a seven-year-old Palomino Quarter Horse stallion co-owned with Tim McQuay) through the pattern to an excited audience. He finished admirably in his first ever five-star competition.
"Just to ride in this arena with so many fans is an incredible feeling," said Lovett, who compared the sport of reining to his career in music.
"It's very similar, because even though it's a competition and the top reiners in the world are here, you watch them helping one another, and they are all associates and the team spirit among the competitors is just incredible," he said. "Nobody in reining likes anything better than to see somebody have a great run. When someone has a great run, everybody in the stands and in the barn is cheering for that rider and that run."
When it comes to reining, the "Royal Family" of the sport has to be the McCutcheon clan. And, Mandy McCutcheon (daughter of Tim McQuay and wife of Tom McCutcheon), had to be feeling a bit of a divide while rooting for her father and her husband, all the while doing her best to throw down the gauntlet and show the men just how it's done.
Contesting two mounts - Don Julio Whiz (a nine-year-old chestnut Quarter Horse stallion owned by Rosanne Sternberg and Chexy Dun It (a 10-year-old, Palomino Quarter Horse mare owned by Turnabout Farm, Inc.) - Mandy had her work cut out for the night. In the end, she finished in fifth with 222 and tied for 11th on 218.5, respectively.
Team Sponsor's Competition
Event organizer, Brad Ettelman of HorsePower, Inc., explained the importance of the Team Sponsor event. He applauded them for coming on in a big way and said that the event wouldn't have happened without them. He went on to explain the Team Sponsor concept.
"At World Championships like the World Equestrian Games, you have national teams ride for your nation. We thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we got some sponsors because this is a five-star and a big event.' We wanted to recreate the team atmosphere, and the sponsors you heard called out tonight helped to support us in that effort. We had a team structure under sponsor banners rather than national flags."
Among the various sponsors - SmartPak, Purina, Ariat, ProEquine Equipment, Clark Oil - the sponsor team with the highest combined score was Team Clark Oil with 662, followed by Team Purina with 660.5. Team Clark Oil consisted of Sam Smith aboard Paid by Corona; Mandy McCutcheon aboard Don Julio Whiz; and Tim McQuay aboard Rudy Dun It. The second place team was sponsored by Purina (Lyle Lovett aboard Smart and Shiney; Lisa Coulter aboard Western Whiz; and Shawn Flarida aboard KR Lil Conquistador).
The Inaugural World Championship Freestyle
Tomorrow, the Inaugural World Championship Freestyle winner will be named at the Alltech Arena. The Freestyle Championship will award $25,000 in prize money - the world's largest purse for a reining freestyle to date.
The Freestyle Championship begins at 5:30 p.m. (EST), and tickets are $20.
Developed from the ranch-type work performed by horses, reining was born of the great American West. Power, agility and speed couple with a calm demeanor are at the core of this Western saddle sport. Always a crowd favorite, the sport has spread worldwide with more than 40 countries on six continents participating at the FEI level.
The event and HorsePower, Inc., would like to welcome Ariat as the title sponsor and Official Apparel and Footwear of the Kentucky Reining Cup. Joining Ariat as sponsors of the inaugural event are the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), SmartPak and Markel Insurance.
Visit the Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup Alltech Arena Trade Fair on Saturday from 3:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. EST.
For more information about the event, including ticket sales, visit http://www.kentuckyreining.com/.
For streaming and press releases about the event, visit http://usefnetwork.com/2011KYCupReining/.
Photo Credit: Shawn Flarida and KL Lil Conquistador. Photo by StockImageServices.com