Does Age Matter?

As we were preparing the June 1 issue, I sat down to read Associate Editor Brandyl Brooks’ article on the National Reining Breeders Classic (NRBC). The Level 4 Open finals ended in a tie between Casey Deary, on ARC Gunna Sparkya, and Andrea Fappani, on SG Frozen Enterprize. In reining, tied competitors can both opt out of a run-off and split the championship, but if either person wants a tie-breaker run, the other must comply or forfeit the win. While Casey would have split the title, Andrea called for a run-off. It was a smart call, as Andrea and “Iceman” turned in another solid run and took top honors. What really stuck with me was Casey’s comment afterward. He said, “I voted to not run [ARC Gunna Sparkya] off just because he’s 4, but I know Andrea’s horse is older and so broke…that his horse could probably come in there and do that same thing again.”

While cutting has 3-year-old futurities, 4-year-old derbies, and 5- and 6-year-old classic/challenge events, most reining derbies are for 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds. Deary’s comment about not wanting to run-off his 4-year-old versus Andrea’s 6-year-old made me wonder…does age matter that much?

Many of you know my background is in Quarter Horse racing. We’re used to racing 2-year-olds. While the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) restricts official 2-year-old races until after March 1, there are no restrictions on the number of times they can run or the distances they can run, with some of the year’s richest futurities contested at the classic Quarter Horse distance of 440 yards. If you want to start a hot debate, ask a room of Quarter Horse racing horsemen if they think 2-year-olds should be allowed to go 440 yards. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, because opinions are strong and divided, kind of like the topic of Western performance horse futurities.

There is a Facebook group called “NRHA Futurity for 4 Year Olds” that had 772 members (as of mid-May). Its mission statement is: “To develop a reining horse futurity for 4-year-old horses that were not shown in reining competition prior to their 4-year-old year.” There are cutters who believe the same thing – that futurities should be for 4-year-olds. Reined cow horse enthusiasts, for the most part, seem to stay out of the 3- or 4-year-old debate, perhaps because of the way their discipline centers around developing an aged bridle horse.

Shortly after reading Casey’s quote, where he also mentioned how thrilled he was to even get two 4-year-olds in the finals, I came across a showbill for a reining in Canada. They offered two derbies – one for 4-year-olds and one for 5- and 6-year-olds. And that “classic/challenge” class in cutting? It came about because in the early days, “classic” classes were for 5-year-olds, and “challenge” classes were for 6-year-olds. When they combined the ages, they combined the names. If the old-time cutters thought it was important enough to keep 5-year-olds competing against 5-year-olds and 6 against 6, I wondered again, does age matter?

When talking about age, I can’t help but think about a horse like Daratrcocoaspreview. The Australian mare was specifically bred so she could compete on two continents, which she did – and quite successfully. She was born on Jan. 3, 2010, which is considered late in the Southern Hemisphere breeding and foaling season but early in the Northern Hemisphere. Daratrcocoaspreview was one of the younger Australian-bred competitors at the Australian NCHA Futurity, where she won the Non-Pro and was fourth in the Open on May 29, 2013. That fall she was one of the oldest competitors when she won the 3-Year-Old Open and Non-Pro at the Brazos Bash, in Weatherford, Texas, in late September against American-bred horses.

Still, Daratrcocoaspreview has nothing on reiner Meradas Shining, who was born in Argentina before being shipped to the United States. She won the Ariat Tulsa Reining Classic Futurity Levels 4, 3 and 2 Open in 2014, then went on to tie for fourth in the NRHA Futurity Level 2 Open, fifth in Level 3 and 14th in Level 4. Meradas Shining made $62,125 at futurities in 2014, despite the fact that, according to the AQHA, she was a 4-year-old at the time as she was foaled on Sept. 11, 2010.

For the record, it was perfectly legal for Meradas Shining to compete in those U.S. futurities based on NRHA’s rules, which state: “For horses foaled in the Southern Hemisphere, age will be determined one of two ways: (1) Horses foaled July 1 through Dec. 31 will be considered a weanling during the next calendar year after which it was foaled and a yearling during the subsequent year. (For example: a horse foaled in the Southern Hemisphere July 1, 2007-Dec. 31, 2007 will be considered a weanling in 2008 and a yearling in 2009). (2) Horses foaled in the Southern Hemisphere Jan. 1 through June 30 will be considered a weanling during the calendar year in which it was foaled and yearling during the following year.” The AQHA considers a horse “a weanling during the calendar year in which foaled and a yearling during the first calendar year following its foaling date, regardless of the time of year foaled.”

In Tulsa, Meradas Shining was competing against a handful of horses that had early January birthdates. One of them – My First Code – tied for sixth. A few also had June birthdays, including reserve champion Late Night Stopper. Are the four months between Meradas Shining and My First Code any different than the six months between My First Code and Late Night Stopper? Or maybe it is the nine-month age difference between Meradas Shining and Late Night Stopper that might make you take pause as you ask yourself, does age matter?

The question is further muddled when you try to decide what we’re hoping to accomplish with the answer. Are we separating the ages to level the playing field? To give 3-year-olds a fair chance against horses of the same age? Or are we separating the ages in an effort to increase the longevity of our horses – hoping that by dangling the prize farther down the line in a horse’s competitive career, his chances of staying sound increase? Is there a way to accomplish both at the same time, while also accommodating the expanding international reach of our sports?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the question, does age matter? Email your responses to [email protected]. We’ll publish the best signed responses in a future issue of Quarter Horse News.