Rein Makers: $15,000 Dodge Invitational Reining Competition Wows NWSS
Colorado loves the sport of reining, and nowhere is that more evident than during the $15,000 Dodge Invitational Freestyle Reining Competition at the 2008 National Western Stock Show (NWSS). The knowledgeable, sold-out crowd rocked the stands while seventeen contestants did their best to impress.
Since it was a freestyle competition, competitors were allowed to wear costumes, use props, and choose their own music and lighting styles. With background music from country to hip-hop, the presentations were colorful and varied, just like they should be. Judging by the crowd’s decibel level, they loved every minute of it.
“I think it was probably the best competition we’ve ever had,” said NWSS Horse Show Manager, Brad Ettleman, answering questions after the conclusion of the contest. “We had lots of big scores. We haven’t had scores like that in a long time. It’s just a testament to the Colorado riding community and the Rocky Mountain Reining Horse Association.”
One of those Colorado riders was Shane Brown, a trainer from Elbert, Colorado. Brown performed in the fifth slot to the song of “Gone Like A Freight Train.” Wearing conservative cowboy gear, Brown chose to let his dynamic spins, big slides, and flying lead changes do all the talking. Aboard an 8 year-old mare named Our Tin Lizzy, the pair made the crowd roar every time they broke off yet another blistering spin. When it was all said and done, Brown and Our Tin Lizzy racked up a score of 228 points, picking up first place and deafening applause in the process. Asked about his winning ride, Brown was humble in his description.
“The ride was a lot of fun, and it was all thanks to my horse,” said the winner.
Pressed for details of his thoughts when he knew he had picked up first place, he had an enthusiastic answer.
“I’m just really, really happy,” said Brown on the subject. “We’ve been coming to this competition a lot of years. It’s a lot of fun to get your horse exhibited to what you know it’s worth and get to show the public that this is what I know the horse had.”
“Shane Brown winning the contest, I think, is long overdue,” praised Ettleman about the winner of the 2008 contest. “He’s a very talented trainer right here in the Rocky Mountain region. He’s always been up there in the top riders and I was glad to see he won our contest here.”
Another notable facet of this contest is that it isn’t just about the reiners. Since it is a freestyle, the crowd plays a big part in getting the competitors pumped up to do their best. It also helps that the crowd chooses their favorite by applause level afterwards, crowning the rider with the People’s Choice Award, a designation the riders work hard to achieve.
“We look at it as pleasing the crowd more than worrying about a lot of the other things,” stated Brown. “Last year, we tied for the People’s Choice Award. We kind of point more toward that.”
“Our audience is great,” offered Ettleman about the high-energy atmosphere inside the NWSS Events Center. “We have a very educated and enthusiastic reining-based crowd here. Everybody knows what they’re looking for, everybody knows what a lead change is, and they know when the riders get pluses in their scores. I’m real proud of our crowd. It’s the best crowd in the nation, by far.”
That best crowd was treated to a variety of performances, from competitors riding without the help of bit and bridle (that always got the audience cheering) to others using props, people, and dogs as they told a story during their routines. You might think all the riders pick their own music, but some have a little help in making just the right choice to get that crowd hopping.
“My wife chose the music,” revealed Brown with a laugh. “She finds the music that has the right kind of beat to it and has the musical changes that are necessary for the routine. For today, she picked a song that was newer and popular and had enough beat to it.”
Asked about the incredible variety in the crowd-pleasing routines, Ettleman explained how it all came about.
“When I sent the invitations out and started talking to a lot of our competitors, I asked them to think outside the box, to bring some real creativity,” he described of the process. “The reining industry is really known for technical superiority so, with the advent of the People’s Choice Award last year, we really wanted to pander to the crowd. The crowd loves reining, so we might as well entertain them while they’re getting the technicality,” he continued. “And it paid off. Everybody really thought outside the box. There was everything from country-western with a live singer all the way to Justin Timberlake, so it was good,” Ettleman he finished with a smile.
With such a spectator friendly event, the sold-out atmosphere should continue at the Dodge Invitational Freestyle Reining for a long, long time.