The program: The National Reining Horse Association's new "starter levels" of competition, which debuted in 2010, welcome riders of all backgrounds and abilities to the sport of reining. The Green Reiner class in particular takes the pressure off if you're at the very beginning/introductory level of the sport, and wouldn't feel comfortable in NRHA's more competitive Rookie Reiner division. Green Reiners compete at one of two levels depending on prior points and monies earned, so that the more advanced Green Reiners aren't mixed in with the newest of the newbies. Moreover, once a rider earns 100 Green Reiner points, he or she is no longer eligible to compete in that class, making it truly an entry-level competitive opportunity. NRHA's complementary "Ride" and "Slide" classes offer small steps up to slightly tougher competition, creating an inviting ladder by which you can improve your performance in the sport.
Players: All types of riders. You need only an NRHA associate membership ($20) to compete in any of the entry-level classes, and you needn't even own the horse you show. For both the Green Reiner and Ride classes, neither non-pro declarations nor competition licenses are required.
Other Advantages: Patterns are tweaked to make first experiences less intimidating. In Green Reiner classes, for example, you can ride with one or two hands, plus choose between simple (through-the-trot) or flying lead changes. Ride classes may also have reduced pattern requirements. You don't need fancy gear or attire, either—just a long-sleeved shirt, a hat or helmet, boots, and a Western saddle and bridle.
Good to Try If: You've always admired reining but thought it was "above your pay grade." In these classes, the atmosphere is supportive and encouraging, and you'll always be competing against riders with about the same level of experience as you.
Success Tip: Work with a trainer or a knowledgeable friend to learn the basics, watch how the pros and experienced non-pros do it to absorb their knowledge and techniques, and ride a veteran reining horse if at all possible. "A seasoned horse allows you to learn how to rein versus trying to school a green horse while you're learning yourself," recommends Butch Human of Advance, North Carolina. Butch earned his Green Reiner buckle in less than six months aboard his "old war horse," Mr Jerry Jac. "My wife and I started riding green horses and we struggled. With this gelding, I could go into the pen and think about what I needed to do, instead of worrying about my horse."
The Buzz: These entry-level classes provide more than camaraderie and the satisfaction of learning and improving. They also offer the chance to win great prizes. By accumulating Green Reiner points at NRHA competitions, riders can earn trophy jackets (50 Green Reiner points) and Montana Silversmiths trophy belt buckles (100 points).
And for the Wee Ones: Youth riders can participate in the entry-level classes they qualify for, and for the smallest fry, there's the short stirrup class. It uses NRHA Pattern No. 11, created especially for this class. The pattern calls for slower speeds and eliminates flying lead changes. As in the new entry-level classes for adults, the youngsters needn't own the mounts they ride, making it easier for those great old reining horses to teach the sport to the next generation.
Learn More: All approved shows and NRHA affiliates are listed at nrha .com; (405) 946-7400.