At the 2010 North American Junior and Young Rider Championships in Lexington, Kentucky, last summer, young Canadian reiners showed the world exactly what they could do. Not only did Team Alberta capture the Team gold, the Canadians also swept the individual medals with gold going to Nancy Pratch, 19, of St. Paul, Alberta, on Rooster Kicker; silver to Darcy Wilson, 18, of Port Perry, Ontario; and bronze to Vanessa Strotmann, 19, of Salmon Arm, BC. NAJYRC is the top equestrian competition in North America for riders ages 14 to 21, and reining was added to the schedule in 2008. Gold medalist Nancy Pratch talks to Horsepower about herself, her horse, and the sport of reining.

When did you first start riding, Nancy?

I was horse-crazy from the get-go, even though horses were not initially part of our family farm. My parents were convinced that I would grow out of it and that it was just a stage. At age five I started taking riding lessons from a neighbour, and when I was about eight we brought home the first of many horses. I can certainly say that I didn’t grow out of it! My family has been there every step of the way, helping me achieve my goals.

When did you get interested in reining?

It was through a clinician in my early 4-H years that I first became enthralled with the concept of reining and the level of training it presented.

Tell us about six-year-old Rooster Kicker. How long have you been working with him? Do you compete on other horses as well?

“Kicker,” as he is known around the farm, is a warm, loving, lazy individual. He isn’t very big, but he’s full of personality and definitely has a knack for getting himself into trouble. I’ve only been showing and riding Kicker for a year, but I’ve known him since he was a two-year-old. We’ve gone through some learning curves in the past year, but it really came together for us in Kentucky.

I do rein with other horses, including my aged mare Casino, and a four-year-old mare that I show in ranch cutting and cow horse. Of course, there is always something in the pen that I am working on and dreaming about.

You had an incredible score of 215 at the NAJYRC. How is the competition scored?

In reining, you start with a score of 70 and from there you are judged on each of the seven or eight maneuvers, depending on which of the ten approved patterns is performed. The NRHA (National Reining Horse Association) handbook outlines what judges are looking for in the performance of a reining horse. Kicker and I excelled in our circles and stops down in Kentucky, and that was critical for the success of our runs throughout the competition.

What about the special shoes needed for reining?

Having the proper equipment in reining is essential for your success. We use special back shoes designed to allow our horses to “slide” to their stops. The shoes have a smooth and flat surface. Slick grass and gravel are not recommended for horses that have sliders.

What was the atmosphere like at the NAJYRC?

There was a lot of team spirit from both those that came down with us to Lexington, and the many supportive people who were cheering us on from Alberta. It was also amazing to see the camaraderie in the barn between the other teams from Canada and the United States. We made lots of new connections, not only with fellow reiners, but also athletes in other disciplines.

My own strategy for competing at this level was to represent my country first, my province second, and myself third. It was an honour on all three levels, and I am humbled by the outcome. There was a lot of positive energy surrounding the event, and I would encourage any young rider to take this opportunity, because the benefits reach far further than just the win.

What is Reining?

Reining had its start on working cattle ranches where cowboys had to gather, move and hold cattle on the open range. Their horses had to be quick, agile, and responsive to a very light rein. Informal competitions to determine who had the best horse were common, and included impressive displays of stops and turns. In today’s formal competitions, trained judges score the reining horse based on its execution of maneuver groups required in a specific pattern. Some reining maneuvers are:

1. CIRCLES. Circles, performed at a lope, are run in a designated location at a defined speed and size and with a common center point.

2. LEAD CHANGES. Lead changes must be performed at a lope with no change of gait or speed, be performed at the exact location specified, and take place on both the front and rear legs in the same stride.

3. SPINS. In this thrilling maneuver, the horse is asked to turn his front end around in a series of 360-degree turns, executed while the inside back foot remains in one spot.

4. SLIDING STOP. The rider, while loping, cues the horse to stop. The horse brings his back legs up underneath in a locked position that will cause him to slide from ten to thirty feet, or even further.

5. ROLLBACK. The horse runs to a stop and rolls the shoulders back in the opposite direction, thus completing a 180-degree turn, and then departs in a canter.

6. BACKUP. The horse moves backwards in a straight line at least ten feet.