The annual National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Derby will take place June 24-July 2 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and it will once again be a huge deal for riders across the country. It's also a chance to further show the great relationship between the NRHA and the NCEA.
Every year, the NRHA holds a Collegiate Reining Championship at the Derby, and it gives some of the top NCEA Reining athletes a chance to compete on one of the biggest stages in equestrian. Included among the competitors are the NCEA first-team All-Americans on the reining side, which this year are Taylor Brown (Fresno State), Caroline Gute (South Carolina), Hannah Mitchell (Oklahoma State) and Claudia Spreng (Georgia). The 12-rider field is then rounded out with the top four riders from the IHSA Western National Championship and four more riders that are selected by the NRHA. The complete field is listed below.
"The NRHA Derby is one of the top reining events in the country," Oklahoma State head coach Larry Sanchez said. "For there to be a collegiate championship class hosted by the NRHA is a huge honor. Being able to represent your institution at a big industry event like that is quite an accomplishment."
The winner of the Collegiate Reining Championship receives the Morrison Bronze trophy, which is donated by the NRHA.
The Morrison Bronze isn't the only trophy given to the NCEA, however. Each year, the judges, coaches and student-athletes at the NCEA National Championship vote on the Most Outstanding Reining Horse of the event. That horse and its school then receive the Lawson Bronze trophy from the NRHA.
This year's winner was Oklahoma State horse Whizs Bronze Star "Bueno."
"The NRHA recognizing the most outstanding horse at nationals is a wonderful thing," Sanchez said. "We pride ourselves in having horses year in and year out in contention for that award, as I believe it shows not only that you can produce riders that vie for a national championship every year, but you have top quality horses year after year."
The NRHA is proud to have two trophies in conjunction with the NCEA because many of the riders riding collegiately are very familiar with the NRHA.
"That's really important for us because a lot of the young ladies who are competing in NCEA were youth kids who competed with NRHA and usually were very successful in what they did," said Hayley Eberle, who focuses on youth and marketing for the NRHA. "Just the fact that we can continue to show our support for those riders who have gone on to compete on such a prestigious level in college is great."
The Collegiate Reining Championship is one of the more popular events at the NRHA Derby, and Eberle said it's extremely tough to select a field of just 12 collegiate riders.
"We have a huge stack of applications that come in and they're so well-rounded and have such great accomplishments to their name that it's really hard to pick just four," Eberle said. "You wish you could bring them all in."
The riders that are lucky enough to be selected receive the chance to ride under the Gateway of Champions and perform in front of thousands of people. The NRHA Derby runs for one week each summer and showcases the world's best Reining horses in the four to six year age range. The Derby is one of two major events presented by the NRHA each year in Oklahoma City.
The event brings a lot of attention to the NRHA, but it also shines light on the NCEA and its tremendous student-athletes. As the sport continues to grow, the relationship between the two organizations will remain pivotal.
"It's huge because we support each other and it exposes more of the collegiate riding," Fresno State head coach Eric Hubbard said. "I think (collegiate event) adds to the NRHA because some of these riders may not have competed at that event, but they have a bigger goal to take their own horse there later. A lot of them have. I think it really helps the industry as a whole continue to be bigger and more successful."
Collegiate Reining Championship 12-rider field
NCEA first-team Reining All-Americans
Taylor Brown, Fresno State
Caroline Gute, South Carolina
Hannah Mitchell, Oklahoma State
Claudia Spreng, Georgia
Riders from IHSA Western National Championship
Kristen Wesoja, Cazenovia College
Michelle McDowell, Grand Valley State University
Lauren King, Middle Tennessee State University
Mark Mowbray, St. Andrews Equestrian program
Riders selected by NRHA
Julia Spreng, Georgia
Kendall Harper, Georgia
Jaci Marley, Texas A&M
Holly Lansidel, SMU