A Show Jumper Goes Reining: Part II

Read Philip’s account of his first days at the Cowboy Capital Classic here.

While I have a lot of material to cover concerning the last two days of showing, the priority really needs to be a deep dive into the Hard Eight. I spent Friday in Dallas visiting clients and seeing some of our money managers in the DFW area. One of them inquired as to what else I was doing and seeing in Dallas. Well, there was no short way to explain that I was also in town to show at the Stephenville Cowboy Capital Classic.

High above Dallas in the palatial conference room I was explaining to a hedge fund manager the technicalities of the spin, lope and slide. He perked up immediately when I told him that the show was in Stephenville. “Stephenville!” He exclaimed. “Home of the Hard Eight Barbecue!” In an animated tone he gave me the details of what sounded like the best barbecue joint on earth.

Apparently he and others have driven the hour and a half from Dallas to Stephenville multiple times over the last few years just to enjoy the barbecue. Driving back from Dallas I was not sure if I was looking more forward to jumping on Callie for the Non-Pro Derby or dragging Team McCutcheon to the Hard Eight for a grub-a-thon fest of ribs, chicken, kabobs, steak, and of course beer. All the better that the Hard Eight is a sponsor of the Classic.

Before getting into the details of Saturday and Sunday I have to rewind and cover some important news that was somehow omitted from my blog on Thursday. In all my excitement over Cupid’s win I failed to mention that Sarah not only won the big Non-Pro class on Thursday but also was second! Sarah and Darlin’s Not Painted (Darlin) scored a 73.5 to win, and Sarah was 2nd with a 72 on Chic Olena Starbuck (a.k.a. Latte).

Darlin and Latte are Sarah’s favorite mares, too old for the Derby classes (which are for four- to six-year-olds), but still great show horses, and they’re the dams of some of the foals back home at the ranch. Latte is the dam of the first reining horse Sarah bred, a filly that’s now three years old and getting ready to show in this year’s futurity. Darlin and Tomon last year’s FEI World Reining Finals, so of course Sarah was beyond excited to have the chance to show her and came out of the pen raving about how much fun she was to ride. Suffice it to say Sarah and I both had a great day on Thursday! As my mom would say, Thursday definitely qualified as a “favorite day.”

One of the really fun things they do here is make a big deal over the win picture. They have a Texan winner’s circle of sorts, outfitted with a big sign that says “Stephenville Cowboy Capital Classic” with two six shooter guns on either side as well a life sized artistic metal cactus. When you win a reining class you get lots of fun booty, including a bronze sculpture of a reining horse “going to ground,” as they say. For my class, I won two plaques that immortalized my fame as Rookie Non-Pro winner.

The winner’s circle is fun and inclusive for everyone. If you happen to be standing near the winner’s circle at photo time you can just jump into the background and get into the photo. I mounted Cupid and Sarah mounted Darlin and we got our photo taken together with about a dozen people who I’d never met before. The photo is a top ten; it’s just terrific and basically says it all.

Saturday I officially showed Callie for the first time. If Cupid is the Aston Martin of reining horses, Callie is more like a pink go-cart with small wheels. She has a high RPM cadence yet her lope is so smooth I could have easily held a full martini in my right hand all the way around the ring. The Non-Pro Derby’s pattern was spin left, spin right, lope off right, big fast circle, small slow circle, big fast circle, change leads, same three circles on the other side, change leads then run down and stop on the right lead, rollback left, run down on the left lead, stop, rollback right, then stop again on the right lead and back up. It was a good pattern.

The photo is a top ten; its just terrific and basically says it all | Photo Courtesy Fletch Photos & Design

We scored a 69 because my spin to the right was flustered. I didn’t take my time and I rushed the poor church girl into what felt like a catastrophic out-of-control spin. It wasn’t anything dramatic like an Indy car careening into a retaining wall at 200 MPH, but it sure wasn’t pretty and the judges dinged me for it. Following my ride, Barbara said, “You can’t rush her. Take your time between spins, there’s no hurry.” Lesson learned. Don’t rush. Just suggest and don’t over do it.

While the miscommunication on the spin was a deduction, there were other parts of my pattern where I gained back some points. My final score was a 207. There were three judges, so the base score is 210 (a 70 from each judge). Sarah showed her four-year-old mare Frances for the first time and had a 214.5. It was a fine score and the run definitely gave Sarah a good sense of what she needs to do when they get to the big derby at the NRBC in April. The highlight of the day was that Mandy McCutcheon won the Non-Pro Derby on Shiney Enterprise with a big score of 223.5. It was a totally incredible run!

On Sunday Cupid threw down another fantastic run for me. We bettered our score from Thursday and marked a 71. Terry got on Cupid about 45 minutes out and really got him round and quiet. By the time I got on he was “like butta.” Tom and his team are just so professional; they know exactly what each horse needs in order to show at their best.

I had the lucky “post drag draw” which meant they dragged the pen right before it was my turn to show. Being first in the ring following the drag is an advantage in the sport of reining. It may be partly a psychological advantage, but I think it is more than that. The traffic of five or more horses spinning, sliding and stopping can put huge ruts in the footing. This wear and tear makes it hard to find a good place to execute your slides.

We were talking yesterday about how important the footing was when Tom won the WEG aboard Sarah’s Gunner’s Special Nite. Fortunately for Tom, his draw coincided with the pen being freshly dragged before he showed. Tom said it’s definitely an advantage to be the recipient of post drag good luck. As Cupid and I walked into the ring the freshly dragged pen felt super. The footing beneath me in the Lone Star Arena felt all at once fluffy, firm, and soft. Walking into the pen on Cupid felt a little bit like being the first one out on the ski mountain after a good 10 inches of snow. Fluffy powder! It felt great!

Over the last few days, I have built a real connection with Cupid. He really wants to do well for me, and I can feel him trying to make it easy for me. Stepping into Cupid’s stirrups and settling into the plush Kyle Tack saddle is akin to what Roger Moore must have felt when he slipped behind the wheel of his Aston Martin in the Bond movies. Cupid is a total gentleman. A good horse is a good horse, but a great horse is altogether different. Cupid is a great horse.

I just tried to think about staying out of his way. It all reminded me of what Michael Matz used to tell me years ago when he trained me: “Just stay out of his way and let him go clear.” Just like hunter and jumper riding, reining is about feel and finesse. Suggest, don’t insist, as Barbara told me. It can be hard to sit quietly and just suggest a maneuver like a spin, fast lope, or slide, but that’s what’s often required.

After a terrific spin Cupid just stood there motionless like Michelangelo’s David. He didn’t fidget. He didn’t chew the bit. He just stopped off the spin and stood waiting, totally relaxed. I think he has taken a liking to me. I’ve certainly taken a liking to him. When I dismounted and walked Cupid out of the pen, an older gentleman standing by the gate said, “That’s some rookie horse!”

Reining is really a fun sport but it sure isn’t easy. A case in point was the mistake I made on Sunday showing Sarah’s “starter-reiner” Dundee. I blew the entire round because I allowed him to change leads. It happened fast, and I’d thought I was prepared. In an instant my score fell to a 64. One thing that makes the sport so challenging is that it requires total precision, and you have to guide the horse using invisible aids. It takes a lot of feel.

The breeding aspect of the business is also very attractive to me. The reining community is deeply interested and dedicated to bloodlines and breeding. This is an aspect of the sport that show jumping lacks in the United States. Most of my competitors in the amateur jumpers have little interest or knowledge about the breeding of the very horses they own and compete. To me, this aspect of reining is an important one in that it makes the business more sustainable, sophisticated and interesting.

Finally, my favorite aspect of reining is the people. They were all very welcoming. I got a taste of this years ago at the Festival of Champions in Gladstone the first year reining became recognized by the USET. I was walking back to Pine Meadow and strolled past the stabling area where all the reining barns were located. Some random friendly group flagged me down to have a beer in their tack room. I ended up talking to these friendly reiners for over an hour, and being at Stephenville brought back that fond memory from over ten years ago at the Festival. Well, ten years may have passed buy nothing has changed; everyone made this Park Avenue rookie feel right at home at the Cowboy Capital Classic.

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