Competitors travel from afar for Oklahoma City horse show

Friday, December 3rd 2004, 6:04 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Equestrians from 16 countries are expected to compete in the international finals for horse reining being held this week in Oklahoma City.

A total of 21 riders from 16 countries will compete in what's been called the Super Bowl of reining horse competition, the Federation Equestre Internationale's World Reining Master Finals.

In the first international reining event, which began Thursday, riders compete as individuals. A similar event in 2002 in Spain featured international teams.

``This is kind of like our Kentucky Derby,'' Todd Crawford said.

Crawford, a horse trainer from Blanchard, said reaching this level is daunting for any rider.

Each rider in the master finals is the top money winner in his or her country. That means they are the best at getting a horse to execute sliding stops, spins and a series of patterns with only subtle input from the rider.

Countries that reached the finals in Spain in 2002 could send two riders.

Crawford will be one of two riders representing the United States.

``We've got shirts with flags on them and blankets with flags on them,'' Crawford said.

The masters final is part of the 10-day 2004 National Reining Horse Association Futurity, which continues through Saturday at State Fair Park. Payout for all events will exceed $1.4 million.

``It's the biggest deal in the reining horse world,'' said Dan Wall, executive director of the NRHA, which is headquartered in Oklahoma City.

About 1,700 horses are expected, along with the competitors and trainers and other support staff, Wall said.

Last year more than 60,000 people attended the competition, which brings an estimated $14 million in direct economic impact, he said.

Some international competitors borrowed or leased horses from owners in the United States. Others paid thousands of dollars to have their own horses shipped here, despite a lengthy quarantine process.

Francesca Sternberg got a passport for her horse and flew the 6-year-old quarter horse to Oklahoma. That was after a ferry from England to Amsterdam.

``These horses are highly trained, highly tuned sports cars,'' Sternberg said.