Can We Revisit That Time US Reiners Swept the Podium?

WEG, imma let you finish, but USA’s reiners took home ALL THREE INDIVIDUAL MEDALS on Saturday.

It’s hard to quantify all the nuances of Saturday’s individual reining finals. How can you even start? Outstanding performances from up-and-coming European stars. The tangible excitement from the crowd that I could feel many hours later and thousands of miles across the sea through a computer screen. Mandy McCutcheon’s victory for non-pros and American women in the reining scene. Shawn Flarida…being Shawn Flarida, hands-down the best reining rider in the world.

The finals competed on Pattern 10 which not only challenged each competitor but raised the roof with the start of each trip–competitors entered the arena already running, right up the centerline to open up with a big stop, meaning that horses entered the arena to a wall of cheering and clapping (as if starting with a sliding stop wasn’t challenging enough.) At the finals level, riders knew it was time to go big or go home–they literally hit the arena running every time.

Brazil’s Paulo Koury Neto and Don’t Whiz WRB set a land-speed record into their first stop.

Other pitfalls in this tricky pattern include changing leads from a small slow to another small slow, which everyone performed perfectly. The final challenge, however, completing the pattern with one final stop without a back-up caught a few competitors off-guard–one rider forgot completely and just marched his horse backwards, while a few competitors no-scored themselves before they could shut their horses down.

Great Britain’s Josh Collins working hard to shut his Spook a Little down before he backs them to a zero score.

Italy’s Giuseppe Prevosti turned heads with one of the best-broke Appaloosas I’ve ever seen in my life (with the amazing name of Boemil Twin Robotop):

And Rudy Kronsteiner got huge cheers for his blindingly-fast spins with Dr Lee Hook:

But when Mandy McCutcheon entered the pen, there was no comparison. The first woman to ever be selected for the US reining team set a new high score for the night riding her parents’ fantastic stallion Yellow Jersey, showing the horse’s outstanding ability in the circles and setting the crowd on fire with big stops. As she wiped away tears on her way out of the arena I had to cheer with her, the feminist in me celebrating a small victory as Mandy showed that she could play with the big boys.

Mandy was fourth-to-last to compete, and when Martin Mühlstäter failed to beat her score she knew she was in a medal position, no matter what her two remaining teammates achieved.

Which for Mandy’s sake was a good thing, because Andrea Fappani, second-to-last to ride, laid down the best performance of his partnership with Custom Cash Advance. Fappani and this stallion have only been working together for about six months, making their achievements on the WEG scene absolutely stunning. In particular his transitions from fast to slow circles were textbook.

As the tractor worked the arena for the last drag before the very last entry of the night, the crowd was a rising tide of excitement, clapping to the beat of the music as the judges made their way to their seats. Everyone in the room knew who was coming into the arena and everyone’s hearts were beating faster in anticipation: Shawn Flarida was on his way.

As commentator-to-the-stars Ed Holloway called him, the Five Million Dollar Man is everything the rest of us want to be: supportive of his teammates. Gracious as a winner. Humble as a loser (like that ever actually happens.) Approachable, kindhearted, funny. Oh, and talented enough in the saddle to have earned FIVE MILLION DOLLARS–an NRHA record.

His finals trip with Spooks Gotta Whiz was nearly magical:

And the judges rewarded this trip with a 233–combining the middle three scores of the five. This means that Mr. Flarida scored, oh, you know, 77 to 78 points in a sport where the average score is 70 and a great score is usually a 74 to 75.

The crowd gave Shawn a standing ovation long before anyone even knew what the score was–because no one needed to know. All they knew was that they had witnessed a modern equestrian marvel.

Spooks Gotta Whiz stopped so hard that he actually blew his own shoe off–which makes for the ultimate souvenir for this lucky reining fan.

And so it was Team USA on the medal podium: Shawn Flarida for the gold, Andrea Fappani for the silver, and Mandy McCutcheon for the bronze.

And to thank the incredible audience, Shawn took many victory laps to high-five as many of the excited fans as possible.

Go Shawn, go USA, and go reining!

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