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Smoky Mountain Reins


Article & photos by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

When Barbara Brookshire, president of the Tennessee Reining Horse Association, was asked why she thought reiners in the mid-south continued to flock to TNRHA shows year after year, she replied, “Our slogan is, ‘Good horses, good people, and great fun.’ That’s Tennessee.” And with more than 500 runs over the course of four days of competition, it’s safe to say the 2014 Smoky Mountain Reining Horse Show lived up to that reputation. Held October 9-12, 2014 at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, TN, the show offered a full roster of classes for all skill levels, from green to youth to non pro and open, plus featured two derbies: the Volunteer Breeders’ Classic and the Smoky Mountain Reins Derby.

While the variety of classes and the special events were a major draw for the show, Brookshire believes that the people and the atmosphere at Tennessee shows are the reasons why people keep coming back.

“They come back for the people,” Brookshire said. “There are many places they can show and take their money, but I think the atmosphere here has a lot to do with it. I have a lot of people who say to me, ‘I could’ve gone to so-and-so, but I wanted to come here. You guys are so nice and we have so much fun here.’”

The highlights of the show were the Volunteer Breeders’ Classic and Smoky Mountain Reins Derby on Saturday, October 11. The Smoky Mountain Reining Derby is open to any aged horse, but entries for the Volunteer Breeders’ Classic are reserved exclusively for the 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old offspring of stallions whose services were donated to the TNRHA Stallion Services Auction the previous year. Proceeds from the stallion auction fund the added money for the derby. Added money for the 2014 VBC Derby was $15,000, while added money for the SMR Derby came to $6,500. Both derbies were judged by Kathy Lopp of Illinois and Corey Hendrickson of Oklahoma. First place in the Level 4 Open VBC and the Level 4 Open SMR went to Randy Schaffhauser and JSE Smart Gun. In the Non Pro VBC, Maurice Robinson and Wallawalla Bangbang took top honors, and in the Non Pro SMR, first place went to Chuck Deputy and Nic N Jac.

Another special event on Saturday was a bridleless Calcutta competition, designed to raise money for breast cancer awareness. Since the event was inserted during a break in the regular classes, Calcutta judge Barbara Brookshire decided only the first five riders would compete. Every rider rode an unfamiliar horse into the pen and performed a reining pattern using only a neck rope.

“Of course, since it was a Calcutta, people could put money on this or that rider,” Barbara said. “We got to joking around and I had it announced that riders could earn bonus points by slipping money under the table to the judge – who was me! And all of that was donated. We raised a little over $300, and $55 of that was in bribes. A lot of shows have events like this and they call it ‘riding for cancer,’ but we decided that in Tennessee, we ‘bribe for cancer.’ One rider came down on her first run down and threw money over the fence at me. She won! With a 75.5.”

Even though most of the riders were handicapped by unfamiliarity with their mounts and the lack of a bridle, that didn’t stop them from having a good ride.

“It was amazing,” Barbara said. “These horses had never been ridden bridleless, but some of them went in there and didn’t even need a neck rope.”

In addition to its adult membership and participation, TNRHA has a strong youth contingent. Reining youth were out in full force at the show, as competitors and as volunteers.

“We have a lot of youth riding this year – about 20 in the class, both days,” Brookshire said. “And our youth program has been going well. One of our Tennessee members, Blair McFarlin, is leading the nation. We also have the NRHyA Varsity Reining Club 13-and-Under Youth of the Year, Ally Jones, and in the 14-18 division, Jordan Scott is in the top 5. That’s pretty good for a little club like this! I’m proud of our kids. Our youth don’t just look for a free ride, either – they want to do their part to help.”

Elections for new TNRHyA officers were held Saturday evening, and Ally Jones of Franklin, Kentucky, became the new president of the TNRHyA. Jones also serves as this year’s NRHyA Delegate for the East Central Region.

“To be a youth delegate, you just had to raise your hand [at the yearly meeting] and then you had to give a speech in front of all the youth who were there, and they voted for who they wanted to be delegate,” Jones said. “My speech was about how much I wanted to get the youth involved. I want the youth to know more about what they’re doing and keep them interested, so that when the adults that are working in the NRHA now are ready to retire, we’ll have more people to take their place.”

Like many other riders at the show, green rider Kim Martin of Decatur, Tennessee, was drawn to the TNRHA Smoky Mountain Reining show because of its social atmosphere and friendly vibes. But when she competed on Sunday with her mare, Cowboys Acre, Martin was also fulfilling a promise she’d made to her dying mother more than a year earlier.

“I haven’t ridden in fifteen years,” Martin confided. “I used to be an exercise jockey at the race track in the 1990s, and one day, I was exercising racehorses and the horse fell. I got ran over and broke my C4 vertebra. I was paralyzed, and the doctors told me I wouldn’t walk again – but I did. I walked with braces and I learned to deal with it. But for the last ten years, I’ve been taking care of my mom. Then she got really sick, and right before she passed away, she told me she wanted me to ride again.”

Martin’s mother passed away in September 2013. In order to fulfill her mother’s wish for her, Martin knew she’d have to go under the knife to correct her old racetrack injury. Although she had gone on short trail rides since the accident, the physical stress of jolting up and down on horseback, combined with her old injury, often produced crippling migraines. Continuing to ride – or even to show – without the surgery was out of the question. So in March 2014, Martin underwent surgery to implant a prosthetic C4 and two prosthetic disks in her neck and back. Seven weeks later, Martin’s doctor cleared her to begin trail riding again.

“He released me to go trail riding, but he didn’t release me for showing. But we went to a June reining show in Harriman. I’d been back on horses about 3 weeks at that point, but we went – and I scored, in both my classes! And now I’m hooked,” Martin said with a laugh. “This is my fourth show this year.”

Throughout it all, Martin’s special partner has been a little mare named Cowboys Acre, who she calls “Brinks,” after the mare’s dam. Some years back, Martin purchased the mare in a silent auction for the paltry sum of $150 – and she’s never looked back.

“This mare is a babysitter for me,” Martin said. “If I’m having a bad day and can’t get on a horse, this mare will lay down so I can get on. Before the surgery, I barely rode her – just played around and did some round pen work. But when I had my surgery, my husband knew to ship my mare off. He knew that once I started feeling good, I’d be out there on her. So he shipped her to friends of ours in Wisconsin, just so they’d exercise her and tune her up. While she was up there, my friends, who are reining and cow horse folks, started training her. After she came back, my friend told me, ‘You need to rein this mare.’ So I started googling and found Chris Hull, of Hull’s Performance Horses, and he’s been helping me ever since. I score 67s on her now, and I’ve only been riding her for four months. Who knows what’s she gonna do in March at our next show?”

Additional judges for the event included Dale Lopp of Illinois. The show’s announcer was Connie Westerman, and TNRHA Director Rick Walker managed the dirt for the event. For more information on TNRHA and results of the show, visit their web site at Spring TNRHA 2015 Show Dates include March 27-29 in Harriman, Tennessee, and May 1-3 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. 

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