By Anna Munie
Winner of the SmartPak Reining Royalty Contest
Friday- The Kentucky Reining Cup
My reining royalty experience began 1st thing Friday morning. Excited to be on-site and look around, my guest Jamey and I were on the grounds and parking at the Alltech Arena by 9:00 a.m. In retrospect I’m sure the parking attendant got a good laugh out of us, considering that reining didn’t start until 6:00 p.m. that night and the Alltech Arena is probably a good mile away from the main Rolex and Horse Park areas. For those of you that have never been to the Kentucky Horse Park (and it was my first time) it is beautiful but BIG. This may seem like a no-brainer, considering the number of horses and buildings the Horse Park houses, but let me tell you- you don’t truly understand the size of the place until you have to walk across the entire thing. Thankfully, a volunteer with a golf cart took pity on us about ¾ of the way there and we at least got a ride up the hill to the Rolex competition area.
We had collected our SmartPak gear earlier that morning from our SmartPak contacts – what fun! The only drawback was that as we walked the trade fair, especially the SmartPak booth, we realized that if we stuck around much longer we would probably start getting technical questions from spectators; we looked just like employees. While I can speak on my own horse’s SmartPak, I am by no means a Product Specialist, so we decided our talents were better spent at the dressage ring. After all, one of the goals of the weekend was to learn more about three day eventing- I called it “A Reiner Goes to Rolex.”
Jamey and I were back at the Alltech Arena by noon, again after making puppy dog eyes at a friendly volunteer with a golf cart. The reason we were back- access to the open warm-up and paid warm-ups for those that would be competing in the Cup that night. For those unfamiliar with reining, a “paid warm-up” is a prescribed amount of time (usually 5-10 minutes) where a single horse and rider get access to the show pen to practice their reining pattern. As a reiner myself, it is something I frequently take advantage of when competing; it allows you to work through problem areas, mix up the order of maneuvers so that your horse doesn’t start to think for himself, and get yourself and your horse in a competitive frame of mind. To see riders like Tom McCutcheon do some of the same things I do in a paid warm up was extremely rewarding, plus educational as they also used some different exercises that I can now take home and work on with my horse. It was a great experience getting to sit there and watch everything, and as usual reiners are some of the friendliest horse people you’ll meet, with Tom and Mandy McCutcheon saying hello to us as they rode by.
Later that afternoon it was time for the real deal- the Kentucky Reining Cup. Our royalty experience included suite tickets up above the arena- what a view! Both the stands and the arena looked ready to hold another World Equestrian Games, and our seats were at a perfect vantage point right off the center of the arena. Equipped with our “Team SmartPak” signs, we were ready to cheer on Tom McCutcheon, Mandy McCutcheon, and Pete Kyle in true reiner style (except for the fact that Jamey and I are two of the few reiners who can’t whistle, one of the hallmark cheering styles seen at every reining event).
As for the reining itself, what can I say? Many of the top horses and riders you could ever hope to see were there competing- riders who had won over $4 million, horses that had won over $400,000, and horse and rider combinations that had been winning together for years. I’ll try and just create a sense of the excitement of a world-class reining like this: That first surge of crowd electricity when a horse lopes into the arena….. the explosion of sound during that first big sliding stop……the sometimes absolute awe that these horses are athletic enough to spin that fast……..knowing the horse is feeding off the cheering crowd as it flies around the edges of the arena……the communication between horse and rider as all these maneuvers are conducted on a loose rein…….and the buzz that fills the arena between the end of a pattern and the announcement of the score…..
I know, I’m a reiner, I could be considered biased. But this level of competition is truly something to see, and you can only benefit from the experience. I know I did.
Saturday- The World Championship Freestyle
Saturday’s activities started a little bit slower, due primarily to the fact that after a full day on Friday my body refused to begin functioning again until I had eight hours of sleep and what amounted to a caffeine IV via three cups of coffee. Since reining activities started at noon with a demonstration by Tom McCutcheon and Tim McQuay, we didn’t get as strange a look from the parking attendant when we pulled in with our reining pass at 10:00 a.m. We spent most of the morning on the cross country course, and I can summarize that time in two words- AMAZING and SUNSCREEN. After retreating under a tree for lunch, we were asked to come to the SmartPak booth, where Tim and Tom where giving out autographs after their demonstration.
Trying to get up to the SmartPak booth was like trying to fight the tide- why were there so many people? Turns out there were two reasons- Phillip Dutton, a top eventing rider, was signing autographs at one end of the sponsor row, and Tom and Tim were doing their autographs at the other end. As a reiner it was gratifying to see quite a good sized line for the “cowboy hats” in the midst of the Rolex competitors and fans- proof that all of us horse people appreciate talented professionals, regardless of discipline. Once we finally made it there, Jamey and I were able to chat with both guys for a little while, get our picture taken, and have our “Team SmartPak” signs autographed. Thanks to both Tim and Tom, and to SmartPak, for taking time out of their busy schedule to give us this one on one opportunity.
Saturday evening’s reining event, the World Championship Freestyle, was something I had really been looking forward to since I was picked for this contest. I have done some very basic freestyle demonstrations for local 4-H groups or “open barn” events, and was excited to see it at the top level. As someone who doesn’t even sing in the shower for fear of sending her cats up the wall, freestyle is a chance to combine music and reining without having to use my non-existent singing talents. I apparently was not the only one interested, as the Alltech Arena stands were nearly packed by the event’s 5:30 p.m. start time.
Everyone that night was treated to a wide variety of music and freestyle- everything from traditional country in the form of “Desperado”, modern country with “Beer for my Horses” (complete with a horse drinking beer), Top 40 during “OMG”, and even a stirring rendition of a Kentucky Derby call put to music. Competitors are also allowed costumes and props during this event (one of the most fun parts of a freestyle reining) and the World Championship Freestyle did not disappoint there, including horses with afros, blinkers and a racing saddle, and at times no bridles at all. Cheering for all the different competitors and their routines was a lot of fun; the crowd was as enthusiastic as if they were doing it themselves.
Some of the biggest cheers were for Rolex three day eventers who crossed over for the night and tried their hand at reining. They did an excellent job- as the announcer stated during the event, a “horseman is a horseman”; although it is a big difference going from holding back a sport horse during the cross country gallop to letting it all hang out during large fast circles and sliding stops (keep your hand low and in the center during turnarounds guys, I know it doesn’t make sense but they’ll spin faster!). The eventers were great sports about it, and it also showcased how highly trained the reining horses were as they helped pilot their riders around.
At the end of the freestyle championship, there was just one last stop to make. Back at the SmartPak booth it was time to thank everyone for how friendly and helpful they had been during the entire weekend, and how much I appreciated everything that had been provided. This truly was a once in a lifetime experience, and once I won’t forget anytime soon.