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A Show Jumper Goes Reining

Amateur Owner Jumper rider Philip Richter trades in his breeches and tall boots for Wranglers and cowboy boots as he tries reining for the first time at the Cowboy Capital Classic in Stephenville, Texas.

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 fiancée 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.

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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.

Philip Richter on CupidVis-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 ½ 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.

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