Man riding a horse
Individual gold medalists What A Wave & Bernard Fonck • Photo by Kelsey Pecsek Hruska

Belgium’s Bernard Fonck Grabs Reining Gold

Tonight’s Individual Reining finals at the FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018 (WEG) more than delivered on the expectations of reining fans at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. What A Wave carried Bernard Fonck to a 227 to bring home the gold medal for Belgium.

Three days after the U.S. secured the Team gold medal, Fonck and What A Wave were out for redemption. The 10-year-old stallion (Tidal Wave Jack x What A Sunrise x Sunrise Enterprise) improved his score from the Team competition by a half-point to win the Individual gold by merely a half-point. It was a stunning performance that brought many spectators to their feet with deafening cheers. Judges Eugenio Latorre (Italy), Maik Bartmann (Germany), Pete McAlister (USA), Jan Boogarts (Belguim) and Francois Zurcher (Switzerland) agreed with their enthusiasm.

After earning a WEG gold medal to accompany his three NRHA Open World Championships, What A Wave is being retired. • Photo by Kelsey Pecsek Hruska

“I’m really proud. When I started to run in, he was with me. Sometimes he’s too excited to run in the pen. Then when he was in the pen, he did everything he can,” Fonck said, thanking his vet for helping keep What A Wave healthy as he adjusted to the humidity and heat after flying to North Carolina for the WEG. “He is a super-minded horse. He is aggressive but sweet. He never tries to be a problem; he don’t want to have trouble. He always tries to help you. He’s just wow.”

What A Wave, bred by Sam and Tina Ellis, was born in the United States. He was shipped to Europe in 2014, when he was purchased by owners Steve Vannietvelt and Gina De Pauw, of Melsele, Belgium. Since then, the stallion has won three consecutive National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Open World titles.

Before changing continents, What A Wave accumulated more than $122,000 with Equi-Stat Elite $4 Million Rider Craig Schmersal in the saddle. According to Equi-Stat, the horse’s lifetime earnings now total around $273,000, including an $11,000 paycheck from this performance.

During Tuesday’s Team competition, What A Wave scored the highest mark, a 226.5, for Team Belgium. He and his teammates – Made In Walla, ridden to a 225.5 by Fonck’s wife, Ann; Smart N Sparkin, ridden to a 219.5 by Dries Verschueren; and Gunners Snappy Chic, whose 215 with Cira Baeck was the team’s dropped score – finished with a 671.5 composite and the silver medal.

reining horse
What A Wave & Bernard Fonck • Photo by Kelsey Pecsek Hruska

“Western and reining in Belgium is a small discipline. They are always [joking around] saying, ‘Oh, the cowboys…’” explained Fonck, an Equi-Stat Elite $1 Million Rider. “Today, my federation and all the people from the eventing and dressage, they were all here. They see it’s not just playing cowboy; it’s really also a sport. I’m proud that I can give something back because Belgium is a small country and now we are a little bit in the news.

“When I walked out of the pen, I had the tears in my eyes,” he continued, noting that the plan is for What A Wave to retire. He also gave much of the credit for his success to his wife. “Without my wife, I’m nothing. She is my everything. She’s the right one.”

Team USA Wins Silver & Bronze 

The medal ceremony embodied the Tryon 2018 theme of togetherness. • Photo by Kelsey Pecsek Hruska

While a 5-point penalty for stumbling to his hocks in a stop from draw 19 cost ARC Gunnabeabigstar and Jordan Larson the top spot on the podium, teammates Dan Huss and Cade McCutcheon picked up from holes 21 and 22 to clinch the silver and bronze medals.


Huss, riding Ms Dreamy (Magnum Chic Dream x A Gal With A Gun x Colonels Smoking Gun [Gunner]), scored a 226.5 to finish second. Owned by Rick Christen and double registered with the American Paint Horse Association, the horse was the only mare on Team USA and one of only five mares in the Individual finals.

“Mares are a little different. They’re a little more sensitive, so you have to be very good with your technique,” said Huss, of Scottsdale, Arizona. “You have to be good with your horsemanship, because they’re not quite as forgiving, but your better mares will have some grit to them. They’ll step up there and compete with the boys.”

reining stop
Silver medalists Ms Dreamy & Dan Huss • Photo by Kelsey Pecsek Hruska

Ms Dreamy, bred by Jana Leigh Simons, of Aubrey, Texas, arrived in Tryon with more than $171,000 in earnings recorded in Equi-Stat, and nearly $124,000 of that sum was in the Non-Pro ranks. She added $6,000 to her total with her silver medal.

Cade McCutcheon and Custom Made Gun, who were last to compete in the Individual finals because of their round-topping 229 from day one of Reining at the WEG, added to the excitement of the evening when they tied for the bronze medal with a 225. Following a second performance by Brazil’s João Felipe Lacerda and Gunner Dun It Again (Gunner x Dun Its Deja Vu x Hollywood Dun It), which the judges scored a 227, 18-year-old McCutcheon knew he had to give it his all.

Custom Made Gun (Gunner x Custom Made Dunit x Hollywood Dun It) blazed into the pen for his first stop with all the power fans have come to expect from the 7-year-old McQuay Stables-bred stallion. His non-pro rider, who is the youngest to ever compete on the U.S. Reining Team, was more determined than ever to make it count. The horse is consigned to the McQuay Dispersal Sale session of the Legacy Reining Sales later this month, so this was likely his last time to show his grandparents’ stallion.

celebration hug
Chef d’Equipe Jeff Petska rushed out into the arena to congratulate Cade McCutcheon and Custom Made Gun. • Photo by Kristin Pitzer

After sliding to their final stop, Custom Made Gun and McCutcheon turned to leave the pen. A score of 228 was called as McCutcheon dismounted, and he was met by an overjoyed Chef d’Equipe Jeff Petska on the arena floor. The horse-and-rider team took home a $4,500 paycheck for the third-place finish.

“I was pretty nervous tonight, but it comes with the game. The butterflies are a good feeling to me. I don’t like it at the time, but it builds me up and makes a big difference,” McCutcheon said. “There was a lot of emotion tonight. He’s got a lot of heart; he was out of gas, but he went as far into the tank as he could. That’s the kind of horse you need when it’s gritty like that.”

Heavy Duty Chex (Nu Chex To Cash x Rondas Tio x Teninolena Badger), a homebred 7-year-old stallion owned by Hilldale Farm, and Equi-Stat Elite $1 Million Rider Casey Deary marked a 219 from draw 15. The duo tied for 18th.

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