A Show Jumper Goes Reining

The son of legendary equitation/hunter trainer Judy Richter, Philip Richter grew up riding and showing hunters and jumpers at Coker Farm. He regularly shows in?Amateur Owner Jumper classes at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Lake Placid and other top venues. Philip has enjoyed great success with?Glasgow,?a former top show jumper ridden by Norman Dello Joio. Needing a new challenge, Philip decided to try reining, with the help of some world-class friends. Here’s his story:

Stephenville, Texas
Stephenville Cowboy Capital Classic
Altitude 1280 feet; Longitude/Latitude 32 13′ 31″ North, 98 10″ 54″ West.

In Stephenville I’ve discovered there is only two kinds of music: country and western.? As such there are only two functioning radio stations on the entire FM spectrum;? 92.1 “Hank” FM and 95.9 “The Ranch” FM.?? Hank is more classic country while The Ranch is somehow more progressive.? I arrived late Wednesday night after leaving my Park Avenue office around 3 p.m. ?It was an easy flight to Dallas and the drive to Stephenville took about 2 hours. ?Stephenville sure doesn’t look anything like midtown Manhattan!

My fianc?e Sarah Willeman and Tom and Mandy McCutcheon have been here all week preparing the horses and getting ready for the Derby on Saturday.?? As usual, I arrived at the last minute to get on and show.? My casual laid-back approach to riding has always served me well with my jumpers.? My old reliable seeing-eye dogs Glasgow, Firefly and Ray Ray carry me around safely and have a combined age of 51.

Reining, however, is another story altogether.

I bought my first reining horse last fall, and her name is One Last Corona.?”Callie,” as I nicknamed her, is only 5 and is the last baby out of Corona Nita. Normally I would never step my foot in the stirrup of a 5-year-old, but in the reining world she is considered a seasoned gal.?Callie is a sweetheart.?She is small, cute and classy and has a certain innocence in her expression.?Tom calls her a “church girl.”?Callie doesn’t show until Saturday.

Today I showed ?Sarah’s horse Ruf Hearted Jac, or “Cupid” as he is known around the barn.? Stephenville is my first reining horse show ever.? Despite having the best trainer in the country, I really have no idea what I’m doing. Practice would probably help me, but despite lots of invitations I have had limited time to come down to Aubrey, Texas, and practice at Tom McCutcheon’s ranch.

Vis-a-vis show jumping, everything about reining is as backward and foreign as driving in London during rush hour traffic.? In the reining world, it is desirable to have a horse that is a great stopper.?When somebody tells you, “Wow, that horse can really stop!” it is about as big a compliment as you can get. Not so in show jumping!

The ring is called the pen.?Cantering is called loping.?The course is called “the pattern.”?Your order of go is called the draw. When you are one horse out you are “in the hole.” You add leg to slow your horse down.?You show with a loop in your reins and don’t touch the horse’s mouth.?Showing a reining horse is an exercise in the power of persuasion.?You don’t tell a reining horse what to do. Rather you suggest.?It’s all feel.?I can’t help but think that learning the various hallmarks of good reining aids can only help me become a better and softer rider in the Grand Prix ring.

The scoring system in reining is more complex and far more refined than anything we have in the hunter, jumper or equitation ring.?Ultimately, your score is based on how well you spin, lope, and slide.?Your maneuvers need to be done with conviction and style.?Your score is determined by one, two or three judges depending on the event and level of prize money. You enter the ring with a base score of 70. Each maneuver can be a -1.5 to a +1.5 with half point increments. There are also penalties involved. If you are at a lope and you trot it’s a 2-point penalty.?If you trot out of a roll back it’s a half point penalty.?If a horse rears, kicks out, or refuses its a -5 point penalty. You can get +1.5 points for a great stop. If you turn big you can get +1.5.?If you turn below average it can be a -1.5.?If you over-spin you can get a negative half a point or a full point.?If you over spin more than a quarter turn you get a zero. If you back up too far after a slide you can get a zero.?You can get a 2-point penalty if you slide before the white line.?If you drag the lead on a lead change it’s a ? point penalty. If you turn fast you normally get positive points.

Let’s keep it simple. Basically the way I think about it is that if your horse turns and runs and stops well you get plus points.?The vernacular is that you really want a “dirt in a skirt” slide.

In my 41 years of being around horses and being at horse shows this is easily the most civilized horse show I’ve ever attended. There is only one ring.?After trying to find ring 9 in Wellington last weekend for the low Amateur Jumpers, having only one ring is a welcome surprise. Unfathomable in the show jumping world, the reining crowd actually stops the show for a lunch break.?The lunch break is considered a basic courtesy to the judges and a welcome rest for riders.?Lunch lasts for?a half?hour.

Overlooking the ring, there is a heated bar area with pool tables and ping-pong.?Apparently there is a big pool and pong tournament that goes on during the entire week of the show.? Some of the show’s generous sponsors include The Hard Eight Pit Bar BQ, Riggs Machine Welding, and Priefert Ranch Equipment.?Before the show begins, the National Anthem is played followed by a prayer to bless all the horses and riders competing in the day’s events.

The vehicle of choice here at the Cowboy Capital Classic is the four-door diesel dually pick up.? Chromed-out King Ranch luxury Ford pick-ups crowd the parking lot. I’m thinking I need one of these to really fit into the scene down here.??Jeans of choice are Wranglers. Boots of choice come from the famed boot maker Rios of Mercedes.

The weather down here can only be described as volatile and severe. We woke up today to a balmy 75 degrees.?It felt like a humid March morning in Wellington. By 11 a.m. the wind had a sharp arctic bite.?Temperatures continued to plunge all afternoon.?The only time I ever experienced anything like it was on my trip to New Zealand where the microclimates cause radically varied temperatures.?By the afternoon, teeth were chattering and rain and hail pounded The Lone Star arena.

The footing here at the Lone Star Arena feels just super. They drag the ring regularly as all this spinning and sliding takes a toll on the footing.?The Kiser Dragmaster drag they use here is a really ingenious mechanism.?It has four wheels toward the back and a water tank situated north/south.?It’s truly the drag of drags.

Unlike the jumpers where we start schooling our horses ten out, I got on Cupid about 45 minutes ahead of my draw to practice loping and spinning.? Cupid is a big horse in comparison to Callie.?He is also a stallion.?He is super responsive and is an old pro, having won over $112,000 in his short 13-year career. In a sense, riding Cupid reminded me of putting my leg over the likes of Glasgow.?When I was about five horses out we moved from the large schooling area on the east side of the pen to the smaller westward facing ring that adjoins the in-gate. I practiced a few more lopes and one more spin.

Barbara, my coach, walked me through the pattern.?The pattern for the Rookie Non Pro was as follows:? Walk in the ring to “center ice” facing the judges. Let the horse stand there for a few seconds and relax, taking your time not to rush it. Lope off to the right and make two fast circles and one small slow circle. After loping to right stop in the middle facing the judges and spin four turns to the right.?Then do the same pattern to the left. After finishing the spin to the left lope off on the right lead and do a fast figure eight around the ring. Slow down around the corner after crossing center ice for the second time on the right lead.?Coming out of the turn along the long side of the ring slowly roll on the throttle across center ice and get low and fast and then slide after the third white marker.?Rollback and do a second slide along the other side of the ring.?Rollback for the final big slide and back up ten steps.?Exit the ring.

The whole McCutcheon reining warm-up process lacks the Dello Joio drama of jumping wide oxers and tall verticals. There is a noticeable absence of random horses coming straight at you and there is also no proverbial yelling of “heads up oxer!” The schooling area in Stephenville is actually a Zen-like calm and peaceful place.?I felt really confident going in the pen on Cupid.

The ground support from Team McCutcheon is unparalleled.?Indeed, it takes a village to prepare a first-time reiner and A/O jumper rider for the pen.?Tom and Mandy kept a watchful eye on my overall pre-pen preparations. Barbara helped coach me through the various details I needed to keep in mind while in the pen.? She told me to keep my hands low when I asked Cupid to stop.?She reminded me to get out of the saddle for my fast lope. She reiterated that I needed to take my time on the spins.?Brandy and Terry made sure Cupid was turned out in top form.?Terry gave me a couple of pointers right before I went in the ring.?At the end of the day, it was truly a synchronized team effort getting this city jumper rider into the pen!

As I went out of the hole and into the pen, I felt good about my preparation and pattern.?Cupid strutted into the pen like an old pro.?At center ice I paused and let Cupid stretch his big neck.? A little left leg and Cupid walked a few steps and automatically shifted into a nice forward lope.? I got up out of the saddle and put my hands forward. He continued to accelerate around the turns, giving me a comfortable feeling of modest centrifugal force. On my second circle I really let him open up.?One slow small circle and I leaned back in the tack and said WHOA and he stopped on a dime. I gave Cupid the signal and moved my hand across the neck to the right.? Immediately he began to do his thing. One. Two. Three. Cupid was getting lower and faster with every turn.? Whoa!? I nailed my first turn. I paused and let him rest just as Barbara told me.

I put my right leg on him and gave him the signal with my hand.?Two fast lopes and one slow small circle. One. Two. Three. Whoa.?He did a perfect spin to the left. I loped off to the right.? He automatically did a great figure eight. I changed leads and slowed down to the right in preparation for my slides.?As I turned down the long side of the ring I really let him get long and low.?I counted to myself: one, two, three, whoa!!!!!? Cupid’s hind end dropped as he slid forward with momentum.?I picked up the reins and he did a quick accurate rollback.?His next slide was even better.?The final slide I really opened him up and he slid like he was on ice. What a horse!

Sarah Willeman and Philip Richter with the spoils of victory

My first reining class was unforgettable not only because I won it but because it was so much fun. I am so grateful to Team McCutcheon and Sarah for making it all happen!?The city cowboy from New York bested over 30 rookies and slid to a good score of 70.?After winning rookie non-pro class we added $85 to Cupid’s six-figure lifetime earnings tally!? Today was not only a first for me; my first time in the ring and my first rookie non-pro victory.?It was also a first for Cupid as today was the first rookie class he has ever won.??Truly a great day in Stephenville!? Everyone here could not have been more welcoming to this City A/O jumper rider.? I’ll write more tomorrow after I show Callie in the Limited Non-Pro Derby.

Read more about Philip’s reining experience here.

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