Founded in 1966, NRHA has dedicated itself to promoting the athleticism of the reining horse. Through affiliate programs and breeding, the sport has jumped overseas where the talent in both horse and rider has continued to thrive.

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Franco Bertolani rode Inferno Sixty Six at the 2015 NRHA Futurity. Bertolani, from Brazil, is the head trainer at Cardinal Ranch in Aubrey, Texas. Photo by Katie Frank.

Throughout the past 50 years, the National Reining Horse Association has influenced riders and horses to push themselves in terms of horsemanship and showmanship in the sport of reining. The sport has not only grown and strengthened stateside but also internationally.

NRHA ended 2015 with a tremendous growth in membership of more than 4.6% totaling more than 15,300 members worldwide. Of that, 6,000 was from international membership (including Canada). The last time NRHA membership exceeded this number was back in 2008.

Western Horseman recently talked with NRHA Commissioner Gary Carpenter about the association’s involvement overseas. Carpenter, who has been involved in the equine industry for more than 30 years, has worked for the American Quarter Horse Association, The Jockey Club and the Arabian Horse Trust, and spent 10 years as executive director of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

This week, NRHA celebrates its 51st futurity in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where the association is based. The event begins November 24 and concludes December 3 with the open finals. For more information, visit nrhafuturity.com.

Why do you think reining has been successful overseas?
From personal experience and traveling in Europe when I was in college, the cowboy is an iconic figure over there. I think part of what they fell in love with in reining in the beginning is the cowboy hat. You don’t need cattle to participate, and you don’t really need anything fancy. I truly believe that’s what set it off about 25 years ago.

We have affiliate international regional championships in Europe and Australia. In Europe this year, we had the championship in Poland. I went to it and remember sitting watching this Appaloosa horse being ridden by a lady from Russia, and I thought, here I am in Poland watching this. It’s astounding. In the rookie non-pro [class], there were riders from nine different countries. These are talented riders with talented horses.

In the last 15 years, since 2002, the World Equestrian Games has had a big impact. That’s such an enormous stage for our sport to be on. It’s been very helpful and brought a lot of excitement. Being in the company of the other Olympic disciplines has brought a lot of energy.

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NRHA Commissioner Gary Carpenter says international involvement benefits the sport of reining in many ways. Photo by Ross Hecox.

What types of bloodlines did you see, and how does it impact the NRHA Futurity Sale?
In Poland, for example, there are plenty of sons and daughters of Topsail Whiz. And you certainly see name-brand horses over there that have both been bred over there either through frozen semen or frozen embryos, or bought in the United States and exported. The Europeans and South Americans bring a lot of juice to our NRHA sale during the futurity. That’s the unique position that our sale has. It has the a.) energy of the futurity and b.) the international buyers.

What is the membership demographic like?
Number-wise in Europe, we have the most members in Italy and Germany. It’s been that way for quite a while. But in Belgium, although smaller in size, the team won the Fédération Equestre Internationale team championship in reining. They’re tough. The French equivalent of United States Equestrian Federation has about 600,000 members. France has 200 racetracks. Even though the population and landmass are smaller, the level of activity [in horse sports in Europe] is incredible.

Why do international trainers make the move to the United States?
One trainer said to me, “The [National Basketball Association] may be international, but if you want to play in the NBA you come to the United States.”

There’s been a lot of back and forth through the years, and our trainers have gone over there, and their young people come over here. They tend to be so driven. [They are] willing to fly over the pond and learn a new language. Think about all they have to go through the get the learning they need to be accomplished. They are certainly willing to fight through any barriers.

Andrea Fappani, originally from Italy, rode several horses at the 2015 NRHA Futurity, including Thebettertohearuwith. Fappani now trains out of Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo by Katie Frank.
Andrea Fappani, originally from Italy, rode several horses at the 2015 NRHA Futurity, including Thebettertohearuwith. Fappani now trains out of Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo by Katie Frank.

What do you think the international involvement brings to the association, in and out of the show pen?
From a marketing point of view, having international involvement adds stability. For example, right now, Brazil’s currency is off quite a bit, but we still have players from Brazil that are involved. Germany’s economy is very strong, while some of the other economies are down a bit. It adds stability to the marketplace.

It also elevates the level of competition. We Americans tend to be competitive. And surprise, surprise, most of the Europeans are pretty competitive, too.

Who would have thought when the NRHA founders were at Mickie Glenn’s kitchen table in Columbus, Ohio, that reining would have such a big presence of the sport over in Belgium? There’s no way you could predict that. But it says a lot about the sport—that it is really is a universal language.

 

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