The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) has annually recognized the best of the best as they set the standard for excellence in the reining arena by naming World Champions. Today’s champions and top 10 riders literally come from all over the world, but it didn’t start out that way. The World Championship program started as a truly local competition involving only a handful of riders. And for the most part, they didn’t have to travel too far for the scant number of approved reinings offered. The NRHA named its first Open and Non-Pro World Champions in 1974.
The Open first five
On Nov. 7, 1973, there was an NRHA executive committee meeting in Cable, Ohio. According to the NRHA Newsletter, Clark Bradley, Bill Horn, Dale Wilkinson, Bill Garvey, Bill Kuhl and Carla Mehaffey were in attendance. The minutes of that meeting reported that: “An NRHA Top Ten was discussed and decided upon by the committee on a trial basis for the coming year. It will be based on money won in NRHA approved reinings and records will be kept by the secretary for each horse earning money. Both owner and rider of a horse must be NRHA current members in good standing for money to count. The membership must be received by the secretary before money will count.”
Kaye Potts, of Coshocton, Ohio, was the NRHA secretary in 1974. She held that position until the NRHA office moved to Oklahoma City in 1998. Although it only cost $10 to join the NRHA in 1974, the membership was small.
“It wasn’t a very big membership at that point,” Potts said. “We were able to keep everything on index cards. There weren’t very many shows – I would imagine less than a dozen a year – and they were held mostly from Indiana to New York. The executive committee meetings grew into monthly meetings, but they weren’t monthly back then. Some were held at big events that everyone was attending. Then we moved to a hotel close to the Columbus, Ohio, airport, so no one flying in had to drive far. At that time, we were talking about expanding in the United States, but I never dreamed there would be reining around the world.”
Bob Mac, of Long Island, New York, owned and showed Sir Cactus Wimpy (Sugar Wimpy x Key Five x Scharbauer’s King) to the first NRHA Open World Championship in 1974. While the NRHA website has no earnings for Sir Cactus Wimpy that year, it does show that in 1977, he took Mac’s son, Kevin, to the pay window on more than one occasion. Kevin was 14 years old at the time.
Bob Anthony dominated the Open competition in the first five years, winning three titles. In 1975, Anthony won on High Proof (Joe Cody x Liz Five x Scharbauer’s King), owned by C.T. Fuller’s Willow Brook Farms. In 1976, Benito Bar Joe (Docs Benito Bar x Robins Duchess x Poco Robin), owned by Don Tufillaro, was the winner, and in 1977, Anthony rode Ima Fool (Levan Deck x Chubby Roth x Monsieur Chubby), owned by Kirby Barkley, to the World title.
In 1978, Bill Horn, of Cable, Ohio, won the World Championship on Hanes Chatham’s Walkaway Rene (Hollywood Smoke x My Dustys Daisy x Dusty Wimpy). It was a win that proved the integrity of the NRHA.
Dale Wilkinson, known by everyone as the “father of modern-day reining,” was running for the Open World title on Chuck Smith’s Foxy Lady Jay. They went to the winner’s circle on a regular basis. The East Coast Reiners Association, one of the NRHA’s first affiliates, held its first Big Event in July 1978 at Mid Island Arena in Middle Island, on Long Island. It was a bronze trophy, big-money event, and if you were running for a title or top 10 placing, you had to go and you had to win a paycheck.
Wilkinson brought Foxy Lady Jay and won the Big Event’s Open reining, but when he received the next NRHA Newsletter he didn’t see his name in the standings. He immediately called Potts to ask why. She told him the money didn’t count because Smith was not an NRHA member. Wilkinson said he’d send a check immediately, and Potts told him she would start counting money earned after she received that check. Foxy Lady Jay did not win the title.
Potts remembered the incident well.
“When the board of directors made a rule, I was obligated to follow that rule. Everybody would be treated the same,” she said.
Word of the incident spread like wildfire. Members were impressed. They felt that this was an association with integrity – that everyone truly would be treated fairly.
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