The fancy footwork reining horses perform when they streak to a stop from a flat-out gallop or spin in circles like a whirling dervish draws enthusiastic hoots from today’s spectators, but to a reiner it’s all in a day’s work. How else is a horse supposed to persuade a herd of cattle roaming across thousands of acres to go where the rancher wants?

Despite its utilitarian origins, reining is sure to be one of the most popular events at the glitzy Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy. (The games run from Aug. 23 to Sept. 7. The reining competition, which serves as the sport’s 2014 world championship, is set for Aug. 25 to 30.)

For reining enthusiasts, the games can’t come a day too soon. Europe in particular has become enamored with the sport, which has long been dominated by the United States. In recent years national reining teams from every region of the world have started knocking at the door.

Say perhaps, a Swedish reining team? You bet. (Remember when people scoffed at the Jamaican bobsledding team’s debut in the 1988 Winter Olympics? Attitudes changed when the team became the inspiration for a major motion picture, “Cool Runnings,” in 1993.) “The interview we did with the Swedish reining team was our most popular episode of the whole 2010 games,” recalls Glenn Hebert of Ocala, Florida, whose Horse Radio Network broadcast a long-running program about the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.

Indeed, Texas rancher Fredrik Thomsson, who medaled for Sweden at the last edition of the games four years ago, drew a cheering crowd this April when he competed at the Kentucky Reining Cup and qualified for the 2014 games. At the event’s conclusion, the United States named its team for Normandy: Shawn Flarida and Spooks Gotta Whiz; Mandy McCutcheon and Yellow Jersey; Jordan Larson and HF Mobster; and Andrea Fappani and Smoking Whiz. Alternates are Troy Heikes and RSD One Hot Deal, and Tom McCutcheon and Dun Git A Nicadual.


Reining is one of eight equestrian “disciplines,” as the different types of riding contested in the games are called. Considered the most athletic of all the western equestrian disciplines, reining incorporates a series of set maneuvers performed at different tempos. For example, the horse accelerates to a gallop before coming to a smooth stop; changes direction in an instant, then sets off again at a canter; and spins on its hind legs at high speed and then stops suddenly for a moment’s pause. These changes in rhythm are seamless, with no obvious commands from the rider. With each pattern lasting about five minutes, there is no room for improvisation.

Overall, reining is a thrilling event to watch. The performances are intense and fast-paced, with regular surges in adrenaline, and the patterns are performed to music. Spectators are encouraged to embrace the spirit of the sport in every way, from donning cowboy hats and western garb to boisterously cheering the competitors on.

The unique allure of reining aside, the theme of the games is unity. “Our idea is not to organize eight world championships but to organize the World Equestrian Games,” said Michele Pfender, reining manager for the Normandy event. As do other officials and organizers, Pfender sees the 2014 games as an opportunity to showcase reining on the global stage. Reining has only been included in the games since 2002, when the first FEI World Reining Championship took place during the FEI World Equestrian Games at Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. There the USA’s Shawn W. Flarida became the first world champion. His compatriot, Tom McCutcheon, shone at the 2010 event in Kentucky, winning both individual and team gold medals.

As of this May, 72 national federations had declared their intention to participate in one of the disciplines in Normandy. (In addition to reining, the games includes: dressage, para-dressage, jumping, three-day eventing, combined driving, vaulting and endurance.) The number of declared entries for Normandy is an all-time high and represents a 10 percent increase over any of the previous editions of the games. Aug. 14 is the deadline for the final list of definite entries.

Reining will be held at the Exhibition Center in Caen, France, which will be the epicenter of the games. It will also be the location of the Games Village, a versatile complex of nearly 80 acres smack in the middle of the city that will include food, shopping, entertainment, exhibits, demonstrations and a trade fair, as well as equestrian competition.

“It is very important for reining in Normandy that the Exposition Center is in this central location,” said Pfender. While some of the other disciplines are being held at off-site venues, she added, “This will keep everyone together, so lots of people will get to see reining. We hope it will attract more people to the sport. Maybe they will go home thinking, ‘That looked like fun!’ and decide to try reining.”

The spirit of the reining contingent reflects the goal of Fabien Grobon, CEO of the Normandy games. He agrees with Pfender’s view that “We don’t want to organize a one-shot event, but to create a heritage event.” As they point out, the region, the state and the French national federation are providing large sums of money to fund this edition of the games. “This is not just an event,” said Grobon. “It is an investment in the future.”

For ticketing and other information visit www.normandy2014.comend mark

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Darlene Ricker
Equestrian Authors, LLC