Last weekend, reiners converged at WestWorld in Scottsdale, Arizona, for the AzRHA Mother’s Day Slide, which was postponed due to COVID-19.
By Kaycie Timm, Photos by Jeff Kirkbride Photography
Reiners from across the U.S. converged at WestWorld in Scottsdale, Arizona, for the Arizona Reining Horse Association (AzRHA) Mother’s Day Slide—originally slated for Mother’s Day weekend and postponed until May 24–31 due to COVID-19.
The AzRHA board took fast action to iron out details and secure sponsorship for the show as soon as the club received word that city regulations would permit WestWorld to host.
“It came together fast as soon as WestWorld gave us the green light,” recalled NRHA Professional Craig Schmersal, whose wife, Ginger, serves as AzRHA Vice President. “It’s been tough on a lot of trainers not being able to show, so we did what we could with AzRHA. There are a lot of good people supporting the club.”
That support paid off, and eager exhibitors came ready to school young prospects and showcase the skills they’ve been working on during the absence of events.
“We were so thrilled to get to go to a horse show,” shared Andrea Clausen whose daughter, Rita, participated in youth and Green Reiner classes. “I feel like people were smiling the whole time. Everyone was looking for the opportunity to get their young ones in the show pen or just to get to show in general. People are thankful—that was the general consensus. It was exciting to see and be a part of the show.”
“I was just excited to get back in the pen,” agreed non pro Indy Roper. “It had been quite some time, because of the COVID deal. Everyone’s spirits were high, and people were just glad to be horse-showing.”
The return to the show pen was a triumphant one for Roper who topped the Level 4 in the Booth Ranches L4 Non Pro Derby with her gelding Lil Patron (Lil Joe Cash x Miss Rey O Shine; owned by Tim Roper).
“[Lil Patron] was ready to go after having a little bit of time off,” Roper revealed. “He felt refreshed and healthy. This was probably one of the best goes I’ve ever had on him as far as putting all the maneuvers together.”
Although she hadn’t been in the traditional show pen since a schooling run at the Sun Circuit in March, Roper took advantage of technology to give herself a confidence boost before heading to Scottsdale.
“I’m fortunate that we have reiners at home, so I entered a virtual horse show the week before I went out there [to Scottsdale],” Roper shared. “It was excellent because I got a little bit of those show jitters out [during the virtual run], rather than just practicing. I think it helped me mentally prepare for the show.”
Like Roper, Clausen’s daughter Rita saw marked improvement in Scottsdale.
“This was my first show back since the Best of the West [in 2019],” Rita explained. “It was a huge step up from how I’d been doing before. With COVID, I’ve been able to ride every day, and that has been very helpful because everything is fresh in my mind when I go to the barn. I feel like I’ve improved a lot since the beginning of the year.”
Rita and Kansas City Whiz (Easy Otie Whiz x Kansas City Royal; owned by Clay Clausen) evidenced the benefits of that extra practice time by marking a 71.5 to win the first slate of Green Reiner 2.
“[Green Reiner] classes are really good because there’s a bit more competition [than in youth] and it’s harder to win,” Rita continued. “I’m very happy about this win because I’ve been working really hard at this, and it’s really exciting.”
Excitement abounded for Schmersal, too, who swept first through third place in the Lucky 21 Open Derby. A 227 with Starjac Vintage (A Sparkling Vintage x Starjac Miss; owned by Tim Anderson) secured the L4 win, while scores of 226.5 and 226 for Pale Dun Star (Pale Face Dunnit x Get Ya Some Stars; owned by Hickory Creek Ranch LLC) and Gun Dun It (Gunner x Dun It In Tinseltown; owned by Tim Anderson), respectively, clinched second and third.
“I was excited to show those horses,” Schmersal revealed. “They’ve been ridden consistently since March, so they were prepared. They like doing their jobs and they showed good. It was good to get back in the pen.”
While horse shows undoubtedly feel a little different these days—something we’ll experience during the NRHA Derby Presented by Markel when horses move in next week—they aren’t a huge departure from the familiar.
“I feel like horse shows in general lend themselves to social distancing quite easily, because other than your family and trainer, you’re not really close to everybody,” Andrea explained. “West World did a great job of roping off sections of the seating, so when you went into the Equidome to watch, there was no opportunity to sit too close together. There was lots of room to spread out.”
“They had some restrictions in the show office [at the AzRHA Mother’s Day Slide],” Roper shared. “I tried to keep some social distance from everyone, but it didn’t really feel different. There weren’t too many high fives and hugs going around—a few air first bumps.”