Kentucky Reining Cup Breaks Records

2015-Laura-Sumrall-Wimpys-Top-ModelLaura Sumrall & Wimpys Top Model • Photo by Waltenberry

The fifth annual Kentucky Reining Cup, held in conjunction with the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, was one for the record books. Attendance at the event increased by a whopping 50 percent over the previous year’s World Equestrian Games qualifier, while the online broadcasts via USEFNetwork.com and iEquine.com were seen by more than 50,000 viewers from all 50 states and 39 countries around the world. The top 10 countries by viewership were the United States, Canada, Brazil, Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Mexico and New Zealand. But the moment that took equestrian social media by storm was Laura Sumrall’s World Championship Freestyle performance to Disney’s mega-hit “Frozen.” The Facebook video sensation went viral generating more than 3 million views within the first 24 hours. 

The one-of-a-kind Kentucky Reining Cup event features seldom-seen competitions that include the Kentucky Reining Cup Concours de Reining International CRI 3*, the Team Challenge, Celebrity Reining including Eventing riders David O’Connor, Chef d’Equipe of the US Eventing Team, Sinead Halpin and Hanna Sue Burnett, the Nutrena Para-Reining class and the Freestyle World Championship. In addition, the 2015 Kentucky Reining Cup also played host to the inaugural $10,000-added Spooks Gotta Whiz Open and $5,000-added Baby Spooks Non-Pro National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) classes.

Rick Clark, president of the NRHA, Kentucky Reining Cup sponsor and life-long resident of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, shared his unique perspective on the event, which he competed in for the first time. “The Kentucky Reining Cup is really important to me.  As a local business owner, when things are happening at the Kentucky Horse Park, it helps me, so it makes sense to sponsor.  From the standpoint of the event, it’s a prestigious show supported by the industry’s top riders including [NRHA’s first and only $5 million rider] Shawn Flarida. I’ve been a sponsor since the start, Markel Insurance has been here from the start, and to have a sponsor like Michell Anne Kimball and Spooks Gotta Whiz come in with some of the biggest prize money you’ll find in those classes, it adds that extra element of the NRHA. The NRHA is a sponsor of this event, and as the president, I feel it’s important to sponsor this event. The [American Quarter Horse Association] AQHA is also a sponsor, and it’s great that they support it as well”.

CRI 3*

The two-day competition kicked off on Friday night with the Kentucky Reining Cup Concours de Reining International CRI 3*, the $10,000-added Spooks Gotta Whiz Open and $5,000-added Baby Spooks Non-Pro, as well as the Kentucky Reining Cup Team Challenge.

Dana Cohen, of Denver, Colorado, took top honors in the Kentucky Reining Cup CRI 3*. The road to Kentucky was a long one in more ways than one for Cohen and Magnum Refund (Magnum Chic Dream x Alaythia x Rocky Mountain Major). Through a chain of events, the 2003 gelding remained unshown until the age of 10.

“He won his first NRHA money when he was 10. We were challenged to find events to take an older horse to that really paid well.  We talked to Brad [Ettleman] about it and he said you should get that horse an FEI passport. I thought, I’m just a non-pro from Denver. It was not on my radar, but we took a chance. We brought him here when he was 10 and got in the money in the Team Challenge. It was really exciting to show here, and now this show has put him over $25,000 in earnings, all after the age of 10.  He’s really an FEI story. There is life for older reining horses. You don’t have to push every horse to be a 3-year-old futurity horse, and there is opportunity, thanks to USA Reining and the FEI, for horses like this.”

Team Challenge

The $10,000-dded Spooks Gotta Whiz Open and the Kentucky Reining Cup Team Challenge had one name in common. It was NRHA’s $5 million man, Shawn Flarida, on Magnum Chic Dunit (Magnum Chic Dream x Sheets Red Dunit x Skeets Peppy) who led the victory gallop in both events.

Shawn-FlaridaShawn Flarida & Magnum Chic Dunit • Photo by Waltenberry

“That little mare is one that I made the [NRHA Futurity] finals on last year. She’s just 4 years old and has only been shown a few times. She’s so pretty when she does her circles, and that was a huge point-getter for her. Her stops got better and better, and that’s pretty cool for a mare to get stronger as they go show like that.

“She always nickers when she’s done, I don’t know why she does that. It’s kind of cool. I’d love to know what she’s thinking right there. She’s young and has her whole career ahead of her.”

Flarida, a veteran of numerous World Equestrian Games, is no stranger to the team concept. “This is the only horse show where we actually have a team competition, and it’s really cool. Rick Clark and Steve Borgia got to pushing each other, seeing where the points are, where the scores are… it makes it a lot of fun”.


2015 marked the second year for the Nutrena Para-Reining competition at the Kentucky Reining Cup, and Holly Jacobson, of Ipswich, Massachusetts, on Time Made Me A Radical, provided by Midway College, marked the highest score for the win.

“Para-Reining gives a great opportunity for people with disabilities who want to compete. It’s a little bit easier than Para-Dressage, as the Quarter Horse as so good-minded and has a shorter stride. Para-Reining is a really exciting division with classes in shows across the country supported by AQHA, NRHA and USA Reining. We’re still trying to attract people to Para-Reining, but once you do it one time, you get kind of hooked. This was a very welcome ride for me”.

Freestyle World Championship

The final event of the two-day competition featured the Kentucky Reining Cup Freestyle World Championship, a crowd favorite.  All of the exhibitors brought their A-game to the show pen, as the bar had been raised in 2014 by Dan James’ winning performance of his “Lone Ranger” routine on Smart Little Elan. Sidelined by an injury, it appeared that James would not be able to defend his title, but to the near-capacity crowd’s pleasure, James entered the pen with a bandaged leg supported by one crutch to perform a soul-bearing “My Story” routine riding Ira Top Gunner (Playgun x Little Peppys Vet x Peppy San Badger) bareback and bridleless.

“I had pretty much written off being able to compete. When I left the hospital, I thought I would be lucky to walk again, let alone do anything with the horses in the next couple of months. About two weeks ago, I thought maybe I could take that stud horse out there, tip my hat and be grateful to be walking. Then I thought if I could do that much, maybe I could get on. That was my fourth ride back”.

When the spotlight went out, it was James who garnered the People’s Choice Award, while 22-year old scholarship athlete and senior captain of the Women’s National Equestrian Team at Texas A&M University Laura Sumrall clinched the 2015 World Championship Freestyle title with her Frozen-inspired performance on Wimpys Top Model (Wimpys Little Step x Sailin Bueno x Topsail Cody). Sumrall’s World Championship performance to”‘Let it Go” gave the audience chills.

“This was the first time I had done this routine. We came up with it pretty quickly after we got the invitation to compete at the Kentucky Reining Cup. ‘Frozen’ came together pretty quickly. I’m at school at Texas A&M, so I wasn’t in the same place as my horse, so practicing was a little challenging. I set out a pattern and ran it on a couple of different horses. It was really fun to put together, definitely a group effort. My mom came up with the concept and did all the handiwork on my costume.”

Brad Ettleman, of HorsePower, Inc., producers of the show, could not have been more pleased with the 2015 event. “Each year, this event grows in popularity, and we could not be happier with this year’s amazing outcome. I can hardly wait for next year; I have no doubt that the best is yet to come for the Kentucky Reining Cup, thanks to the support of our exhibitors, trainers, owners and sponsors. Without them, this event would not be possible, and we are honored to count them among our supporters,” Ettleman stated.

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