It has been a long time since my last trip to the USA but in 2015, I was invited to go to view some brood mares for sale at the NRHA Futurity with a long-time friend. He managed to purchase two nice mares in foal, but more of that later as they should arrive before the next issue.
Suffice to say that I had a great time at the show, catching up with a lot of old friends and enjoying the company of many Brits and other Europeans. The sales were well attended and, whilst I haven’t seen average figures, many were in the $8,000 to $15,000 bracket. Some of the horses in the Futurity prospect sale fetched high ‘silly’ money. If that is what they are selling for then, so be it. But, one wonders when according to records a stallion in the top five reining stallions list has progeny of competitive age who are averaging under $9000 in earnings and yet that same stallion had two-year-olds fetching anywhere between $100,000 and $200,000. One might consider that extravagant or one hell of a gamble in the light of twelve months extra training fees, keep, vet bills, etc. before the horse starts competing for the big money! I have been reliably informed also that some horses have been pre-sold for a figure but still run through the sales to run up a higher price for publicity purposes!
The open finals were fun to watch and the resulting runoff after a tie for first place added to the excitement and tension, nail-biting to the end. I was at a meeting for some of the non-pro finals but what I did see was entertaining though someone informed me that they thought it was a little weaker than previous years.
It was interesting talking to my old pal and mentor, Larry Kasten. When you consider how many of the older top stars were taught by him at the University of Wisconsin, in the horse programme, and how many of them are passing on his teachings to the modern stars, it is quite amazing. Surely a contender for the nomination to the reining hall of fame. I am so glad that he was one of my tutors too.
Whilst there I came across a headline concerning the reining industry which was ‘Reiners - Tidy up your act or lose your sport’! Powerful words! So, I decided to investigate a little further. I am sure that some of the following can apply throughout the equine industry, especially when money and fame become the motivation and many rules are stretched or ignored but here are some of the things that I have witnessed or that have been mentioned to me.
Not long ago, there was a public outcry that went viral on social media about someone aggressively fencing their horse in the warm up arena, necessitating welfare rules being introduced by NRHA Germany and the FEI. Another welfare rule brought in by Germany and adopted by the NRHA USA was to stop the practice of abusive riders using their spurs aggressively and causing blood on horse’s sides, wiping it away, and then using hoof black to stem the flow! Two rules that shouldn’t have been needed, yet because of stupidity and of riders adopting a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ policy, they had to be brought in before these practices were considered the norm!
Then we have tail deadening and other drug abuse with a rider recently stating that he would rather “write a cheque for the fine than change his ways”. The NRHA have also had to include a total number of eight fast spins at a time for the rules of the warm up pen because of the of some riders who just continued to spin endlessly. Now those horses will, at least, have a chance to get their breath back, however, it is more than a little sad that we have to ‘police’ the sport to stop someone starring in a youtube clip for all of the wrong reasons.
There seems to have been a problem on the management side of NRHA too with an executive director leaving overnight and a few unsavoury tales about his sudden departure.
Lastly, there is the matter of two-year-olds. Years ago they brought the two-year futurity prospects into the arena, jogged them, and loped them around for prospective purchasers to view. Now, they are fully fledged reiners, spinning at plus half or more, sliding 20 to 30 feet, galloping fast circles, etc. They have yearlings advertised with 30 plus days of riding on them. And the attending veterinarians just to keep these babies sound. Routinely injecting hocks in competition horses seems to be the norm. Is this good for a horse’s welfare? You be the judge, but I know many of you will be horrified. If the ‘anti’ voices get stronger, not only reining, but all western disciplines would be tarred with the same brush.
So let us all resolve in 2016 to keep a watchful eye out and report to show management the few who try to ruin it for the rest of us.
May your success come wrapped in a blue ribbon.
Happy New Year - onwards and upwards.