Horse-Showing History

A look back at the thrills of reining at the 2006 World Equestrian Games.

The individual gold medal for reining at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, was decided by a runoff between two of the best horses and riders on the planet. Both had scored an eye-popping 230 on their first run – a record for any major European reining competition. The arena was packed to overflowing with wildly enthusiastic Europeans who embraced a sport relatively new to them, wholeheartedly. Every square inch of standing room was taken, and the roar of the crowd made it nearly impossible to speak above the din.

Frank Costantini, the Federation Equestre Internationale reining committee chairman and president of the National Reining Horse Association’s  Reining Horse Sports Foundation, recalled the experience, “It was simply an honor to be there that day.”

Earlier in the WEG team competition, Team USA, consisting

of Dell Hendricks, Tim McQuay, Matt Mills and Aaron Ralston, had squeaked by the Canadians (Luke Gagnon, Francois Gauthier, Lance Griffin and Duane Latimer) by one point to earn the team gold medal. Italy, Germany and Switzerland followed.

Then, after two days’ rest, the 21 top-scoring horses were invited to return to vie for individual honors. All of the U.S. and Canadian team competitors were back; both Switzerland and Germany qualified three contenders; Italy and Belgium, two; and Brazil, Austria and Great Britain were each represented by one competitor.

“It’s very hard to convey the level of excitement generated by the equestrian competition, and especially the reining,” Frank says. “Not only was the stadium packed for the individual event, but in the town square, there were big-screen televisions, broadcasting the competition to literally thousands of people gathered to watch.”

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For the individual competition, Tim and Mister Nicadual (Mister Dual Pep-Nicacheka by Reminic) were the 19th to go. Tim, NRHA’s only $2 million man at the time, and the big-stopping stallion knew how to please the crowd. They entered the arena at a dead run, and laid down a 20-foot sliding stop. The deafening cheer that erupted continued until the pattern was complete. Their score: a record 230 points.

At the in-gate were Aaron and Smart Paul Olena (Smart Chic Olena-Paula Tari by Tari Glo).

“ ‘Paul’ gave me everything he had, I could not have asked for anything more,” Aaron later told the Journal.

Everything he had was good for a 227 that day. Then it was time for the final competitors, Team Canada’s Duane and Hang Ten Surprize (Hangten Peppy-Mizzen Topsail by Topsail Cody). They’d earned the high score in team competition – 225.5 – but Duane knew well that a repeat would not be good enough for gold in individual competition that day.

After their last sliding stop, he dismounted and gave the plucky little bay a grateful pat on the shoulder. As the announcer gave their score – 230 – pandemonium broke out in the stands. The crowd knew immediately that meant a runoff.

“Imagine the loudest rock concert crowd you’ve ever heard,” Frank says, “and this was louder!”

There was barely time for the horses to catch their breath as the arena was dragged, and the runoff began.

“It is amazingly hard to have two runs of that magnitude so close together,” Frank says. “Even elite athletes like those two horses must’ve been pretty spent after their first runs. It’s a testament to the abilities of both horse and man.”

Once again, Tim and Mister Nicadual entered the arena and stopped big. The crowd’s approval was so deafening, however, that Tim indicated to the audience to back off the volume. Later, he explained that the almost excessive noise could make it a challenge for a horse to settle and tend to the job at hand.

Tim and Mister Nicadual didn’t have any problem tending to the business at hand, until the stallion added an unscripted lead change to the pattern. The savvy crowd gasped.

“I probably softened my hand just a split second too much,” Tim said after the run.

That said, they still earned a 226, which was remarkable by any measure. And the bar they set remained high.

Duane and Hang Ten Surprize entered the arena at a run, and their energy and the precision of their pattern belied any fatigue they might have felt. The crowd cheered mightily from beginning to end. And their score – 228 – was good for individual gold.

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“I was just very, very lucky today,” Duane modestly told the Journal afterward. “My horse was awesome, and he had a really impressive two runs. This is the first international competition for both of us, and I am just thrilled. It’s definitely been the loudest arena I have ever competed in, and seeing so much enthusiasm was great.”

Duane took his golden place of honor on the podium, with Tim collecting the silver individual reining medal and Aaron the bronze. The remaining Team USA members Matt Mills with Easy Otie Whiz and Dell Hendricks and Starbucks Sidekick earned fourth and fifth place, respectively, a fine showing for American competitors.

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But by any standard, those who competed in Aachen in 2006 set the bar high for everything to follow. No one who was there will ever forget the thrill of two reining competitors scoring a record 230 points, or the runoff that had fans hollering until they were hoarse.

Frank had only one thing left to say:

“It was a shame that the gold could not have gone to both.”