Born in the USA: American Quarter Horses Perform in Sydney
By Mary Ponomarenko
Its a riding skill thats as American as the cowboys of the Old West: horses and riders trained as a team to stop on a dime and turn on a penny. To do it right, you need an American Quarter Horse.
Necessity created this nimble form of riding; cowboys and their steeds needed speed and agility to save errant cattle before they were lost to a cliff.
These related skills have evolved into a form of horsemanship thats today known as "reining," an equestrian sport that was demonstrated at the Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Its a test of how capably both horse and rider can race forward, come to a full stop and turn. It is vital that the rider communicate these stop-and-turn commands to the horse.
|A World-Class Opportunity
Reining has come a long way from its humble beginnings on the plains, especially now that it was recently elevated to a demonstration event at the Olympics. This development is important to exporters as well as horse enthusiasts. Currently, other Olympic equestrian events, such as jumping and dressage, mainly display the talents of horses bred in Europe, conferring an elite status to these animals and the breeds they represent.
When reining generates enthusiasm in world competition, it also stimulates interest in the American Quarter Horse breed, which explains why livestock exporters rooted for the events success at the games.
"Its an exciting sport and it showcases U.S. horsesthats why Im so enthusiastic about it," said Mike Phillips of U.S. Livestock Genetics Export, a non-profit trade association. "It is a great promotion of U.S. horses and genetic products."
|Like My Tattoo?
Besides reining, racing is another form of competition for American Quarter Horses. To keep track of these track animals, tattoos are used as a means of identification, along with the horse's markings, color, age and sex.
The inked-on identifier verifies that each horse that entered a race corresponds to its official American Quarter Horse Association registration certificate. Beginning with all 1992 foals, each must also be DNA-genotyped, with parentage verified prior to tattooing.
American Quarter Horse Association
The Long Road to Sydney
Reining and Western horses first entered world competition with demonstrations at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and then again at the World Equestrian Games in Rome in 1998. Nine countriesCanada, Australia, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, Italy and the United Statesparticipated in Rome. Support for the new event at both venues was strong. with the finale at each event being met with bravos and a standing ovation.
But would reining be recognized as an international event? The International Equestrian Federation required at least 30 countries to document that their national governing body approved of reining as a discipline prior to being recognized. The response was strongwell over 40 countries responded with their support. That meant a petition to make reining an approved event could be filed with the International Equestrian Federation.
"Of course, at that point we were really excited," said Trigg Rentfro, international marketing expert for the American Quarter Horse Association. "We knew that if we could show the world how exciting reining is, we could increase the sales of this breed worldwide."
Rentfro had just returned from a trip to Germany where prospective buyers quizzed him on the breed in light of the international recognition. He was able to report that the showing was strong.
Still, reinings future as an Olympic event is not as yet secured. Rentfro said he is continuing his efforts on the sports behalf. Rentfro said he hopes that by 2008 or 2012 it will have full-fledged Olympic sport.
"The American Quarter Horse Association has been working since the 1960s to get acceptance for their breed on an international level," said Phillips. "Now all their efforts are finally paying off."
The author is an agricultural economist with FAS Dairy, Livestock and Poultry Division in Washington, D.C. Tel.: (202) 720-4455; Fax: (202) 720-0617; E-mail: Ponomarenko@fas.usda.gov