Freestyle Reining at Kentucky Reining Cup

Bareback freestyle reining routine brings the crowd to its feet and earns the win for Dan James at the Kentucky Reining Cup.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Dan James competes dressed as Tonto during the Kentucky Reining Cup freestyle competition on Smart Little Elan. (Larri Jo Starkey photo) For more pictures from the freestyle event, scroll to the slideshow below.

From bridleless to saddleless to backward, freestyle reining at the Kentucky Reining Cup Freestyle World Championship presented by AQHA was unbridled.

Dan James of Nicholasville, Kentucky, opened the show April 26 with a demonstration of liberty reining, then shut down the house when he rode his competition routine on Smart Little Elan bareback and backward to the screaming cheers of the crowd.

“For a little while, I spent more time picking myself up out of the dirt than on the horse,” Dan said of his efforts to learn to ride flying lead changes and sliding stops backward. “They say the art of riding is to keep the horse between you and the earth, and there wasn’t a whole lot of that in my (early) efforts.”

Smart Little Elan is a 2001 chestnut gelding by Elans Playboy and out of Smart Little Trouble by Smart Little Lena. Dan bought the horse in 2012.

“I call him a bit of a weirdo,” Dan said. “He’s got more quirks than I could ever imagine. Obviously, somebody did a great job in training him, and I wish I could take the credit.”

Dan’s ride to the theme music from the TV series “The Lone Ranger” was inspired by his youth in Australia.

“Growing up, I loved movie horses and what really inspired me was a movie horse trainer,” he said. “To come along and have a show like this and get to compete with these guys is just unbelievable.”

Dan’s score was a 227, just a point above the tie for second place at 226 between Drake Johnson of Wray, Colorado, on Sonic Chic Dream and Rocky Dare of Salem, New Jersey, on Squeaky Clean Genes.

Sonic Chic Dream is a 2007 sorrel gelding by Magnum Chic Dream and out of Sheza Sonic Boom by Boomernic. He was bred by Wayne and Sandrea Hutchinson of Avonlea, Saskatchewan, and Drake owns the horse he rode to the music of “New York, New York.”

Rocky repeated his All American Quarter Horse Congress-winning routine to “Gangnam Style,” with his grandchildren again dancing and tossing off gymnastic maneuvers while he rode Bruce and Susan Kuryloski’s homebred mare. Squeaky Clean Genes is by Genetically Loaded and out of Larks Squeaky Clean by Rugged Lark.

During the competition, AQHA Professional Horseman Pete Kyle rode his last freestyle on A Ruf Gal, officially retiring her before he begins work in the AQHA offices as the executive director of shows and judges. A Ruf Gal is a 2006 sorrel mare by Lil Ruf Peppy and out of My Topsail Gal by Topsail Whiz. She was bred by Green Valley Ranch of Aubrey, Texas, and is owned by Rosanne Sternberg of Aubrey.