Why I Rein­: Ric Keele, Spanish Fork, Utah

Ric Keele has worked hard at being the best he can be and enjoying every minute with his reiners.

As Told to Wendy Lind

Ric Keele and his horse performing a sliding stop
“What I love about reining is that almost anything can happen, even if you’re on the best horse.” –Ric Keele (Photo by John O’Hara)

How long have horses been a part of your life?

I grew up around horses, in large part because of my grandfather. My father wasn’t really into horses, but my grandfather raised and supplied remount horses to the US Army. They were largely a cross of drafts and Thoroughbreds. 

When I was 9 years old, my grandfather gave me an untrained mare and said if I got her trained, I could have her. He stuck me on her; ponied us around while he was riding another horse; and before too long, just let me loose. I rode that mare about every day for four years. 

I was really lucky to have my grandfather give that mare to me. I just loved riding. As I grew up, I felt like I wasn’t a good enough rider to be competitive, so I started showing halter horses. Overall, I’ve won 31 world and reserve world championships in halter competition in AQHA, APHA, and PtHA shows. 

How did you get into reining?

I started helping [NRHA Professional] Nathan Ivie manage his breeding program. One day he let me cool out one of his reiners. Then he told me to spin him, and I was pretty much hooked! I was always intrigued by reining, but I didn’t think I was a good enough to ride a reining horse. Once I got that chance to ride a good reining horse and see how cool it is, I jumped in with both feet. I bought some reining horses, and less than a year later I was showing. At my first show—the Reining by the Bay—I won a saddle riding Moonshine N Juice, a stallion I leased from Nathan. 

Are you a competitive person?

Yes. However, in terms of reining, it’s about being competitive with myself; I’m always trying to be better than the last time I showed. Part of that is setting goals for myself—sometimes daily, sometimes for a run at a show, or even long-term. Nathan and I recently sat down and outlined my goals for 2020. What I love about reining is that almost anything can happen, even if you’re on the best horse. 

Do you have any especially meaningful reining memories?

I actually have a lot of great reining memories, including making the L1 non pro derby finals at the 2019 NRBC in Katy, Texas. I’ll always love conformation horses, but when I showed halter horses, there wasn’t the degree of camaraderie that there is in reining, and I really enjoy that.

Do you have a favorite maneuver?

To be honest, it depends on the horse I happen to be riding. If I’m riding a good turner, it’s pretty awesome to do spins. If I’m on a really good-circling horse or a great stopper, then those maneuvers are my favorite. 

One thing I’d like to point out, however, is that I hope our industry begins highlighting freestyle reining a little more. With the costumes, music, and a good reining horse, freestyle reining really attracts people who might not have otherwise [been interested]. You still do all the maneuvers, but going out there and doing them in a different way really has helped me just relax and work on my nerves in a different scenario. The same goes for our horses—there probably isn’t a better way to school than to do a freestyle pattern!