Flashback: National Reining Horse Association

RuthKuhl 1976Columbus-NRHA web

Written 10 years after the NRHA’s inception, writer Peter Phinny captivates what the association is all about.

By Peter Phinny, written September 1977

Every seat in the coliseum C was filled with enthusiastic spectators, but the event was not a football game or a basketball game. It wasn’t the Boston Bruins squaring off against the Chicago Black Hawks, either. Instead, it was a National Reining Horse Association event.

Bill-Waterman 1976ColumbusNRHA web
Ruth Kuhl and I’m A Sharpy won the 1976 NRHA ladies reining at Columbus with stops like this one. There were 64 entries. Photo by Harold Compton

Cheers and whistles bounced off the ceilings and walls as each horse worked. He would enter the arena, calmly walk toward the starting position, and then explode into action-executing circles, lead changes, roll-backs, long sliding stops, spins, and quick and precise backs … all of this with controlled energy.

My guest that afternoon, a newcomer to this type of event, was puzzled. “I don’t really understand it. What is it all about, anyway? I mean, I like it and it’s exciting, but just what kind of sport is it?”

I explained that it’s a reining horse contest, and one of many sponsored by the National Reining Horse Association.

“But what is it really? I mean, are there patterns, or prescribed routines, that they must do?”

“Yes, exactly. And that’s not really the whole story because to train a horse to work correctly takes months and years.”

“The National Reining Horse Association, huh? Why haven’t I heard anything about it. You know, on television or in the papers?”

“I guess you’re not really looking for it in the right places, like the good horse magazines and the breed journals. But it’s a young association, about ten years old. Started in the fall of 1967 in Ohio by some really top horsemen.”

“It’s strictly pro then, huh?”

“No, not at all. There are pros competing, of course. But this is an open reining here, for example. That means open to any breed of horse, and to any rider-owners, trainers, kids, amateurs, women … anyone who wants to give it a try. Naturally the pros are the best and they place highest, as a rule.”

“Seems unfair to the kids and the amateurs.”

“Well, wait a minute, let me finish. The NRHA has events for amateurs, and even ladies. They give trophy saddles and bronze statues to the amateur champion, just like the open and futurity winners. The association’s very much aware of the amateur.”

“But what constitutes an amateur?”

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