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Rein in Spain Is All the Rage

Idaho announcer predicts Western Reining will soon reach Olympic status

By Terrell Williams
For the Capital Press

MURTAUGH, Idaho – The largest horse show in the world accepted the event of Western Reining this year; things will never be the same.

Winner Shawn Flarida of Texas rode at the recent World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain and brought the stadium's 35,000 people to their feet in a roar of total astonishment. "He brought the house down," announcer Zeb Bell of Murtaugh said this month after returning from Jerez.

"He put that horse into a spin that was just unbelievable," the announcer added. "People had never seen anything like it before."

At the end of his ride, Flarida circled the arena at a dead run waving his hat as the crowd went crazy. "They thought John Wayne was alive and well," Bell recalled. "It was wild."

Promoted by the American Quarter Horse Association and the National Reining Horse Association, reining was added to the list of seven other events at the World Equestrian Games, held this year form September 10 to 22 a the southern tip of Spain in Jerez, population 250,000.

The landscape there, with its rolling desert hills and brush, is much like Southern Idaho, said Bell, who was invited to announce the show's reining event after doing some announcing during the 1996 Olympics in Georgia.

At the World Equestrian Games, all events except reining are for English riding. In classed of jumping, dressage and driving, Bell said, the horses' heads were held up too high and drawn in with no slack in the reins. Movement was collected and restrained.

Then the reining horses came on for three days, their heads low, noses extended and reigns swinging loose. Seemingly on their own with no visible cues from the stoical riders, the national companion Western horses ran free, spiriting with awesome speed, sliding 20 feet, running backward and spinning like wheels.

"These people had no idea that horses could do what they can do," Bell said. "When these horses went into their sliding sops and spins, the people went nuts. It just blew their minds.

"It was exciting, to be part of it and was an honor for me," Bell added.

The popularity of reining is spreading quickly around the world, Bell said, as are the demands for Quarter horses and western clothing – from hats to Wranglers to cowboy boots. He predicted the ongoing AQHA and NRHA efforts to make reining an Olympic event would be successful by 2008.

There is a lot of red tape to add a sport to the Olympics, Bell admitted, but the deciding committees can't help but be influenced by the overwhelming worldwide popularity of reining, especially at the World Equestrian Games.

"The queen of Spain was there for about half an hour," he said. "She was very happy with (the reining event), and the ol' girl carries a lot of weight."

Zeb Bell of Murtaugh, Idaho, announced a reining horse event at equestrian games in Jerez, Spain in September, and says the international crowd went wild at the animals' antics.