Reining may be on the way out of the World Equestrian Games (WEG) and other Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) competition.
The FEI Board announced Monday its recommendation for a vote to remove reining as an FEI discipline as of 2020. In a July 8 memorandum, which was disseminated to the National Federations, the Board laid out a proposal following a June 19-20 meeting. It suggested a vote during the General Assembly scheduled for Nov. 16-19 in Moscow, Russia, to terminate reining’s inclusion in the FEI.
“We’re disappointed,” National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Commissioner Gary Carpenter said. “Reining will flourish, one way or the other. We want to do everything we can to make that happen — and that’s not just NRHA reining, it’s reining in general. It’s a great sport that offers a lot of opportunity.”
FEI officials were unable to respond to Quarter Horse News’ questions as of Wednesday evening because “the relevant personnel are traveling,” said Vanessa Martin Randin, senior manager of media relations and communications.
FEI Reining Struggles
In November 2018, the FEI announced during its General Assembly that the organization decided to terminate its cooperation agreement with the NRHA and American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) “following a series of material breaches.”
The NRHA and AQHA entered into a cooperation agreement with the FEI in January of 2014. Among the points in the arrangement was a statement that read: “FEI to be the sole worldwide governing authority for Competitions for Horses aged seven (7) years and older. This would allow the FEI not to be in breach of Article 1.1 of its Statutes.”
The FEI’s July memo detailed reasons why it believed the NRHA and AQHA were in violation of their agreement. The disparity stemmed from the fact that reining is unlike other FEI sports because an international organization already existed prior to the sport’s inclusion in the FEI.
“This situation is incompatible with the FEI Statutes, which state that one of the objectives of the FEI is to act as the sole authorityfor all International Events in all FEI Disciplines, including Reining (Article 1.1). … Therefore, NRHA’s de facto status as the international governing body for Reining is incompatible with the FEI Statutes,” the FEI’s statement read.
“It’s a poor fit and it’s been a struggle, but it’s had its rewards,” Carpenter said, adding that the FEI structure dictates a situation that is not financially feasible for show management in the United States. “They have their own challenges because of the other disciplines that they govern. They can’t make an exception for us.”
Carpenter said following the termination of the cooperation agreement that he initiated the scheduling of conference calls with the FEI and later cancelled, instead referring the organization to USA Reining. The group is a division of the governing body of equine sports in America — US Equestrian.
A USA Reining representative held a special meeting during the NRHA Convention in February, then the conversation transitioned to talks between USA Reining and the FEI during an April meeting in Switzerland.
Research presented in the FEI’s memo revealed a decrease of 200 registered reining horses in the FEI in the last decade, as well as a contraction of 107 registered reining athletes. The number of FEI reining events held since 2009 showed an increase of 19 — a fact the organization surmised was due to the 2018 WEG.
The organization used the data to conclude: “FEI Reining is the only FEI Discipline in which the number of registered Horses and Athletes has decreased in the last 10 years; and due to the increase of registered Horses and Athletes in the years previous to the FEI World Equestrian Games, it is undisputable that the Games are one of the main and only motivation for Athletes to compete in CRIs and for FEI NFs [National Federations] to host CRIs.”
The FEI went on to state that it is “apparent” professionals within the reining industry are most interested in competing in NRHA events, rather than with the FEI, calling the NRHA “the preferred organization.” That conclusion was supported with supplemental data that showed a 14,000-plus discrepancy in the number of athletes in the NRHA versus the FEI.
“They [the FEI] understand that we have the purse structure and the officials. We have those elements that make a strong business case for what we do,” Carpenter explained. “And my friends in Europe tell me this [change] will not have a big impact [on reining in Europe].”
Should the National Federations remove reining from the FEI’s lineup in November, any 2020 approved events will no longer be FEI-sanctioned. Carpenter said the NRHA recognizes the significance of international competition and while ideas for NRHA-sanctioned events of that scale are in their most preliminary stages, the association is cognizant of the void FEI’s exit will leave.
“Although there may be only a small percentage of our riders and owners who are truly interested in international competition, it influences the entire sport. I have seen firsthand and I’ve been told by a number of our riders that there’s really nothing like riding for your country,” Carpenter said. “It’s expensive, it’s difficult, it’s cumbersome, but on the other hand, it can be tremendously rewarding.
“Here we sit looking at a million-dollar reining in Las Vegas and the potential of a million-dollar reining in Italy, and people having fun on the weekends,” he added. “We have to keep our eye on the ball, but we have a lot of positive momentum.”