DeRosa Daily - Learning Lessons From the Reiners

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Some of the dressage and show jumping riders had a chance to test their skills in the reining world on Saturday afternoon.  It was a national and international face-off and each team had one veteran reiner and two other riders who were top in either show jumping or dressage.   In the end it was a joyous U.S. team that took the win. The international team consisted of Ann Fonck the NRHA Open World Champion who started out riding dressage before she got on a reining horse.  She later admitted she found reining “more fun.”  Her two teammates were Dutch dressage rider Anky Van Grunsven and Brazilian show jumper Rodrigo Pessoa.   Anky is a nine-time FEI World Cup Dressage Champion.  Rodrigo is an Olympic Gold Medalist. 

They were facing off against the U.S. Team of Rick Weaver, NRHA President, with teammates Will Simpson, who was a member of the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal Team, and Charlotte Bredahl-Baker a Dressage Team Olympic Bronze Medalist. 

Watching the dressage and show jumping riders dressed up in cowboy attire was pretty cool and then seeing them skillfully take up the reins of a new discipline was an eye opener.   They all did an amazingly good job riding a discipline the know very little about.  It showed just what talented riders they all are. Later they talked about the experience with a bit of humor.  “I love the outfit,” commented Will.  “This was a nice change for me.  Normally I wear those tight britches.” Will and all the riders were very impressed with the horses.  “They were unbelievable to work with and the response from the horses was wonderful.  I had a great time.”

Naturally, we wanted to know how much training they had before entering the reining world.  Will confessed that he had done all his own training over the years so the three days of practice they were allowed leading up to this event he used “to unlearn what I had taught myself.”

Charlotte had done some lessons about five or six years ago and when she knew she would be entering this event, “I took some lessons locally.  The horses are great and so much fun.   I am a little bit hooked,” she admitted. There was one obvious mistake that even the audience was able to pick up.  When Ann Fonck did her spin she stopped on a dime but in the wrong direction.  “I was having so much fun.  The crowd was a amazing and I got out of my concentration somehow.  I don’t know what happened.”

Talking Candidly with NRHA President Rick Weaver

For Rick the event was an eye opener.  “Just going through the whole experience to share some time with excellent horsemen in other disciplines was educational.  We all have a common bond in that we love the horse.  In Ann’s defense we almost had too much fun.  When you are running patterns you have to stay focused.  Our teammates were focused but we were having fun.  There is a difference between practice and showing.   There is training, getting ready to show and showing and you have to separate the three.”

Rick was truly impressed by how well the other riders had done.  “They did an outstanding job.  I’m sure we wouldn’t do as well in their discipline. The quality of the horsemen is something I will take away from this. ”

After all the riders talked for a bit I wanted to ask Rick a few more questions.  I was curious about the comparison between his discipline and the others.  How about the crowd, the scoring, the noise and anything else he could offer. First off he made me aware of the fact that big crowds, noise and excitement is something the reining world is used to.  “In our Futurity Finals and some of our larger events we have 20,000 people that will come and watch our events.”

I asked Rick what the other disciplines (namely show jumping and dressage) could do to draw a crowd.  He focused on the fun Pas de Deux that took place the day before where our dressage riders and judges were having fun laughing through the ride and after it. “That’s what it takes to get the people to come and watch that stuff.  People come to see a horse and be entertained.  What we dare do is we push things out to the end with our patterns and our speed. “

That said I commented to Rick that watching the patterns I saw today was fun but I’d get just as bored with that as other riders get with watching dressage if that was all that I saw.  But at the reining events they interject fun in between just the way they did in the World Cup.

Rick also went on to explain that their events often start with about 600 competitors who are narrowed down to a Finals with 30 competitors and on top of that the money is huge.  The first place winner not only gets $150,000 but a Breeder’s Futurity brings even more money to the plate.  So that is another incentive that creates drama.

That all said it was the final conversation that captivated my attention the most.  Rick in a very diplomatic way started to talk about the judging in the reining world.“I would suggest that you take a look at NRHA’s judging system because it is the best judging system out there.  It makes judges accountable for every maneuver that we do.  We have spent a lifetime defining what it is that we want exactly.  It’s very clear what is expected at the different levels.  We have spent a lot of time educating our judges.  We provide them with very concise guidelines so that they can be consistent.”
While Rick didn’t say it out loud it was clear to me that there is a need especially in the dressage world for our system to be tighter so that there is absolute consistency in the judging. 

Rick made a final comment explaining that whether it’s the crowd, the judges or even the riders themselves, when they are doing a pattern they know the judge’s scoring system so well that even they could say what marks they were going to get if asked.

It’s not as emotional with the reining.  Everyone is so educated that in the end there are no surprises.  You are scored based on what you do that day.  And “when you make a mistake 20,000 people know you made a mistake,” he concluded.