Mark Miller gets high on horses.
“When a horse is in tune with you, he’s listening to you and you know what you’re doing, it’s like being dead-solid-perfect on a golf swing,” said Miller, as he rubbed Incowhoots’ sweaty neck. “It’s like a runner’s high.”
It felt good to Incowhoots, too, Miller said. The 6-year-old gelding quarter horse had just come off the brick-red dirt in Justin Arena, where he scored well in Thursday’s reining horse classes at the Fort Worth Stock Show.
Another rider, Casey Hidalgo, said he can tell when his horse feels as good as he does.
“He’s good in reining, cow horse, and ranch versatility classes,” said Hidalgo, owner of Sliding H Ranch in Burleson. “I’ve been working with him for three years, and he’s earned a saddle and about $1,000. He doesn’t like to sit idle, loves to work.”
Reining classes are western-riding competitions designed to showcase the animals’ athleticism and how well humans and horses connect. Riders guide their mounts through sprints, sliding stops, tight circles and rollbacks (the horse must pivot on its hind hooves, effectively turning on a dime), said Lauren Lovelace Murray, the Stock Show’s horse show manager.
“The horses are extremely athletic,” Murray said. “This show is approved by three different horse breed associations — American Quarter Horse Association; American Paint Horse Association; and National Reining Horse Association — and we have four judges who focus on aspects that each association is interested in.”
While there are monetary awards from Fort Worth’s competitions, the points awarded here could be more important than money to serious riders, Murray explained. They are added to points accrued from similar shows around the nation toward year-end competitions of the breed associations, and toward qualification for world-championship competitions.
Big winners in Fort Worth may take home upwards of $400. But it’s possible for riders to earn more than $1 million over the course of their careers. One rider last year earned more than $370,000 from NRHA-sanctioned shows, Murray said.
“But the big appeal is that riders have to be in tune with horses that are willing, eager to work, and doing exactly what they’re trained to do with ease,” Murray said.
The performance classes scheduled Friday present other exercises, Murray said.
“The paint horse show will have trail classes using obstacles,” she said. “There will be poles on the ground in patterns they have to maneuver through or walk over, opening and closing gates [mounted riders, not the horses], loping over poles, trotting through serpentines, and walking over a bridge.”
Miller said reining-trained horses are good for just about any kind of work around a ranch, and would be excellent first horses for youngsters.
“I’ve competed in all the western classes,” he said. “But for the last 20 years it’s mainly been reining. “The best advice I can give a dad or mom whose little girl falls in love with horses and wants to ride is get her on a well-broke horse that will stop and turn when you tell it to. This is a horse that will give a kid a good first experience.”