3 September 1999

Reigning has the thrills and spills of Western riding

COWBOYS have come of age. The Western Riding sport of reining will be a demonstration sport in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, with an eye on becoming one of the recognised sports for the 2004 Olympic Games – and Britain could win a medal.

Reining is a fast growing sport in Britain. It is the Western riding equivalent of dressage, but for both participants and spectators it offers more thrills and spills.

Dressage "tests" are replaced by "patterns". Number one reads: "Run at speed to the far end of the arena past the end marker and do a left rollback – no hesitation." Contemplating this opening move is enough to give experienced riders palpitations. It is not surprising that a newcomer to the sport, Roma Phillimore confided: "Before going in for the first time I was nearly sick because I was so nervous."

Her comments do not stem from lack of ring experience – she took the European Amateur Halter title with her stallion Glad Im Tardee Two in 1997 and was leading European amateur novice rider in 1998.

&#42 English riding

Roma, from Felcourt, East Grinstead, West Sussex, first sat on a Western-trained horse in 1991. She was trying it out because her boyfriend at the time was prepared to have a go at riding, providing he could get away from the English riding phenomena "unmanly jodhpurs, unmanly rising trot and ridiculous riding hat".

"I was really struck how these well-trained horses went forward without the continual pushing and holding of English riding," she recalls.

She began to convert the horses in her own livery yard. "Some just took to it: the slack reins and a jog rather than a trot. They thought it was heaven – although most were too set in their ways to be converted."

&#42 Import mares

Her desire was for the real thing, so she asked her trainer David Deptford to import two mares for her from America. These were followed in 1994 by a stallion and three mares. "The stallion came over with an outstanding show record in Canada as a yearling and two year old yet I had no idea he would be such a star. He was national stallion champion in 94, 95, 96 and 97."

His early success at national level inspired Roma to go to the European championships in Aachen in 1995. "To be honest the pair of us looked a mess.

We had not competed at that level before, and at the end of a mediocre first day I was taken aside by a fellow British competitor. After some turnout tips and spending a fortune on my visa card we returned on the third day to take the bronze medal."

She was talent-spotted by the Sternbergs, of Sterling Quarter Horses, East Bodiam, Sussex, who said that her stallion was good enough to take the gold with more work. They took Roma under their wing and started the extra body building work required. While humans pump iron for muscle definition, Glad Im Tardee Two was trotted up the hills on their farm behind a tractor.

It worked. He tied for gold in 96, but lost out on the tiebreaker, then was outright winner in 1997. "Having succeeded I wanted to try something else, so he went back to the Sternbergs to get the weight off so he could be trained to be a quick and agile reining horse."

Again he showed his talent with Doug Allen of Sterling Quarter Horses winning his first reining class. Roma then took to the saddle: "The professionals make it look easy, but it is really nerve-wracking – demonstrating control, often at high speeds. It is very exciting and gets the adrenaline going. When I came out of the arena, I felt it had been a brilliant experience – although I had been eliminated for an incorrect move. I really got the bug."

The reining "bug" is spreading. There are nearly 100 members of the British Reining Horse Association, and the championships at Arena UK Grantham, Lincs, on September 17, 18 and 19 expect good crowds.

Looking further ahead she has bought a yearling, Red Hot Zip Code, bred for reining, which she hopes might take her to the European Championships – and maybe even the Olympics.

British Reining Horse Association 01342 892203.

American Quarter Horse Association 01790 753476.

Western Equestrian Society 01252 875896.

Tamara Farrant