Reining in Asia

NRHA staff, affiliate leadership, and professionals work together to promote the expansion of the sport of reining in Asian countries.

By Kaycie Timm

Woman in Elsa costume rides red horse with man in white shirt and cowboy hat on a palomino horse
NRHA Professionals Sharee Schwartzenberger of Longmont, Colorado, and Toru Tamaoki-McCoy of Japan performed a Frozen-themed freestyle routine at an event in Anping, China.

Most reining enthusiasts understand the amount of effort that goes into an incredible freestyle routine—from choreography to costumes and everything in between. NRHA Professional Sharee Schwartzenberger of Longmont, Colorado, has performed her share of freestyles, but before last October, she’d never put together something quite like this.

When she was invited to showcase the sport of reining with a special performance at the World Horse Training Congress and International Horse Show in Anping, China, Schwartzenberger started developing ideas. After the long flight to China, selecting her mount, and riding for only a few days before the first show, Schwartzenberger joined Japanese-native NRHA Professional Toru Tamaoki-McCoy to perform an Elsa-themed Frozen freestyle routine.

“The group organizing the event wanted an American female to come demonstrate a freestyle performance,” she said. “When Doug (Milholland) called and asked if I would be interested in performing, I couldn’t say no. It’s been interesting to learn about all this, because reining is really new to China. It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for sure.”

As one of 20 invited professionals who represented various disciplines from nations around the world, Schwartzenberger rode a horse provided by local reining enthusiasts trying to grow the sport in China.

“Growing up going to shows with my dad [NRHA Professional Steve Schwartzenberger], I frequently showed horses I’d never ridden before. Now, as a professional, I’ve learned even better how to adapt and adjust to other horses,” Schwartzenberger shared. “The mare I used [in China] was one of their best, but since reining is so new, they’ve let everyone ride her. She was confused and frustrated at first, but she tried so hard for me.”

For Schwartzenberger, the experience in China marked her first time to witness reining in Asia. Her freestyle partner, Tamaoki-McCoy, on the other hand, has been an active proponent for the sport’s growth in his home country and surrounding regions. From 1993 to 2008, Tamaoki-McCoy spent five years living in Castle Rock, Colorado, and almost 10 years in Whitesboro, Texas. During those years, he worked for NRHA Professionals Craig Johnson and Scott McCutcheon, then started his own training business, McCoy Stables, Inc. While living in the States, he frequently flew back to Japan, where he competed successfully in shows including the All Japan Reining Championship. 

However, he soon learned the majority of reining events in his home country didn’t meet NRHA standards for management, have approved judges, or use standardized purse schedules. Tamaoki-McCoy dreamed of developing a better system—one that could lead to the formation of an NRHA-approved club that hosted frequent shows. After moving back to Japan in 2008, he put that dream into action, starting with education about NRHA’s standard procedures and rules. 

In 2014, his years of work proved worth the effort when his team spearheaded the first NRHA-approved show in Japan. But the effort was far from over. The shows had few entries, due to lack of trained reining horses and limited locations to practice, which kept them from turning a profit—or even breaking even. Determined to see their goals come to fruition, Tamaoki-McCoy and his team contributed their own funds to keep the shows running. 

“I have a passion for reining, and I want to help others in my country with that same passion,” Tamaoki-McCoy shared. “I try to explain everything I’ve learned about this sport from showing in the U.S. People are starting to understand how having approved shows is important for all the competitors and horse owners.”

Now, his efforts and those of others, including Tim Shelley who has continuously supported reining’s growth in Japan, are paying big dividends. Tamaoki-McCoy traveled the globe hosting clinics in Asia; rode at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina; assisted at the inaugural Global Youth Reining Cup in Italy; and more.

Last spring, he also had a chance to meet with NRHA representatives Samantha Oldfield and Kristen Liesman when they traveled to Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and South Africa. During their trip, they enjoyed meeting with various affiliates and local groups, aiding with seminars, and more. As they focused on planting seeds of future growth, Oldfield and Liesman also spent time with members of one of the newest NRHA Affiliates, NRHA Thailand. 

“We were so impressed with the level of professionalism in Thailand,” Oldfield recalled. “We were overwhelmed by their generous hospitality, remarkable organization, and the progress they’ve made in such a short time since creating the first Thai affiliate.” 

As reining continues to increase its prevalence in Asia, the future rests in the capable hands of forward-thinking leaders and grassroots supporters who continue to promote good practices and explore new areas of potential growth.