Celebrity reining made its Rolex FEI World Cup Finals debut in Las Vegas in April 2009, showcasing stars of dressage and show jumping in the fast-moving Western discipline. Some of the participants, such as three-time World Cup show jumping titlist Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil, who is also an Olympic gold medalist, were novices to the sport. Others, like nine-time dressage World Cup winner and three-time Olympic gold medalist Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands, had a smattering of experience with spins and sliding stops.
The reining exhibition followed in the hoofprints of previous successful cross-training celeb outings, including barrel racing and hunter derbies, held since 2000 during the international competition at the Thomas & Mack Center. The crowd, composed primarily of folks who ride English, really got into the reining, hooting and hollering at the appropriate moments.
While the newcomers' spins weren't necessarily dizzying and not all their stops created the requisite clouds of dirt, their enthusiasm made up the difference between the few lessons they had and the benefits of experience.
"That was really fun. This was a real nice change for me," said Olympic show jumping gold medalist Will Simpson, who was at home in cowboy boots and jeans on Arapaho Sailor.
"I've spent most of my life in tights and a velvet hat," he explained with a grin, noting Western duds were more his style.
Will loved the reining horses' precision.
"They were unbelievable to work with," he commented, citing the animals' "incredible" lightning-quick responses.
The exhibition was a team affair, as dressage and show jumping Olympians joined up with top reiners for the fun competition. Will rode on the winning USA team with Olympic dressage bronze medalist Charlotte Bredahl-Baker, who looked the part in a sparkling Western shirt aboard Reeboks Rerun.
"I've had the most fun I've had in a long time. I'm a little bit hooked," Charlotte admitted happily.
The star of the international team was, appropriately, Ann Fonck, the reining open champ who rode Whizle Fritz to the high score run of 147. She was teamed with Rodrigo on Pine by Boomer and Anky with Dun Its Chico, the American Quarter Horse Association's reining champion. They got a total of 407, leaving the deciding run up to the USA anchorman, National Reining Horse Association President Rick Weaver and Dun Its Manhattan. Their mark of 144 clinched the honors for his squad, which finished on 413.5 to take the International Reining Celebrity Challenge.
The challenge may have been the flagship of a new era for the World Cup finals in the U.S.
There was great sadness when word came that the World Cup show jumping/dressage combo would not return to Las Vegas until at least 2014, since fans had come to count on a Cup happening there every two years. But there may be a ray of hope. Some discussion ensued about pairing the dressage Cup with the reining World Cup before then, and the enthusiasm with which reining was greeted helped sustain that hope.
Rick noted it is possible to arrange the footing to accommodate the needs of both disciplines on one weekend, noting there's no reason the two couldn't work together for a whole new Vegas attraction.