Spearheaded by affiliate Florida Reining Horse Association, the NRHA has debuted a new adaptive reining class allowing riders with physical and mental disabilities to excel in the sport.
Top photo by Waltenberry, courtesy of the NRHA: the first-ever winner of the adaptive reining class Saxsen Norton.
Reining, already one of the fastest-growing equestrian disciplines, now offers a new and unique program to continue its growth: adaptive reining welcomes competitors with both physical and mental disabilities to compete.
The class debuted at the Florida Classic in February in Tampa, produced by the Florida Reining Horse Association (FRHA.) After members of this affiliate noticed the need for a class specifically intended for riders with disabilities, they worked closely with the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) to develop such a program. Originally, the scope of the adaptive class included only riders with physical disabilities–but when someone mentioned the possibility of including riders with mental disabilities as well, the association was in complete support.
Competitors need to hold an NRHA membership as well as a special NRHA Adaptive Reining physician’s report. Within the adaptive reining class, competitors are allowed to use both hands, closed reins, and are allowed to hold the saddle, all at the competitor’s discretion. A trainer or handler can also be present in the arena.
Individual provisions for each show are to be set by show management and may include allowing the use of specialty braces, audio communication, safety stirrups, whips or crops, or boot adaptations, among other considerations. Competitors may show in other NRHA classes without losing their eligibility for the adaptive reining class, but the adaptive class will show a “relaxed” pattern requiring (but not limited to) one sliding stop, two spins in each direction and one circle in each direction.
The first adaptive reining classes, held at the Florida Classic, gave three competitors the chance to make history. Nineteen-year-old Saxsen Norton won both classes and was thrilled to take home two trophy buckles with her horse “RC” or Roosters Custom. Norton and her mother searched long and hard for the perfect horse for Norton to show who would tolerate her legs banging his sides–Norton is paralyzed from the waist down after a tractor accident at age four. Norton uses her own modified equipment to make riding both functional and safe for herself, including hook-and-loop belts that help keep her from slipping from side to side as she rides.
The adaptive reining class has a bright future ahead, hoping to attract therapeutic riding programs as well as veterans’ rehabilitation groups. The program opens opportunities for riders to compete in reining who may previously have never dreamed of being able to show. It also gives horses a chance who may not be competitive at higher levels of reining but still have a lot to offer to the right riders. The NRHA plans to continue working to get the adaptive program added to the Paralympics and World Equestrian Games.
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