Why Reining is no longer an FEI sport

As recently as this fall, at the World Equestrian Games, reining was a big draw and the US team brought home gold.

But that’s over now that the FEI has severed its ties with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA). Reining is no longer an FEI-recognized sport. So what caused this change? According to the reports, there is a disagreement both over the minimum age that horses can compete in FEI events and a lack of agreement over allowed drugs.

In terms of age, the FEI regulations restricted competition to horses ages 7 and above. There was an exception made for one WEG where horses aged 6 were allowed to compete. This is not out of line for other FEI disciplines: The minimum age for FEI dressage is 8; for Olympic/WEG level eventing it’s 8; and for show jumping it’s 7. In the reining world, where many horses are started at age 2 (or even at 18 months), junior classes are held for horses age 3-5 and the NRHA and many breed associations offer futurities for 3-year olds which have large purses — the NRHA’s snaffle bit futurity  for 3-year olds pays out in excess of $1 million, with the Futurity Open Champion winning $125,000.

The argument against competing horses this young in such a physically demanding discipline is compelling: most horses haven’t finished growing at age 3 and many young horses are irreparably injured. The spins can cause concussion-type injuries on the fetlock and knee and slides can cause injuries to the hock and fetlock joints, stifles and sacroiliac subluxation.

Which brings us to medications. The FEI has very stringent drug regulations; however, many substances prohibited by the FEI may be used up to threshold levels under NRHA rules. Some people believe that the younger age of competition and the rigorous training for futurities means that reining horses are at a higher risk of being drugged to keep them comfortable. It is reported in some media that over the period of the agreement (from 2010-2018), the NRHA has the highest positive drug test results of all FEI sports.

Training methods in reining have also come under fire, although were not specifically called out by the FEI. Reining horses are subjected to riding techniques similar to “Rollkur” or hyperflexion. The video below, which shows the warm up at an FEI World Final, is pretty disturbing. Not only because of the hyperflexion but because the horses are basically run into the arena walls at speed to train the sliding stops. Even more disturbing? The rider featured, Martin Muehlstaetter, is one of the sport’s top trainers.

I am in no way stating that all reiners are ridden and trained this way. As in any discipline, there are trainers who cut corners with training techniques that border on abuse and trainers who treat their horses like valued partners. It’s just a shame when the public warm up at World Reining Final, holds up this type of riding as something to aspire to.

What do you think about the decision by the FEI to cut ties with reining?


15 thoughts on “Why Reining is no longer an FEI sport

  1. I don’t really know much about the reining world, but this really disturbs me. Awful training techniques aside (because unfortunately we have them in every discipline), the fact that horses are competed at such a young age, when the science shows us clearly that horses aren’t done growing until 6 or 7 years old) is really the part that makes me sit up and take notice. Thanks for posting!

  2. Sadly, like horse racing (where many horses are not able to race beyond their three-year old season), reiners seem to be falling into the same pattern. The very lucrative futurities set up a dynamic that pushes trainers/owners to start horses too young, and the sport itself is exceptionally hard on the horses’ bodies. I read some very sad stories about very well bred reining stock found at auction with so much damage to their backs/hind ends they had to be euthanized.

  3. HEAR HEAR. Bravo! Thankfully, the FEI has seen the reality that is reining-and other disciplines. I find it infuriating the things that some trainers and riders will do to force a horse into a predetermined set (such as rollkur) or an activity that it might not be old enough, mentally capable of, or emotionally ready for. As a teen, I worked at a QH breeding farm for several years and saw so much…s..t things done to the horses in the shedrows that it turned me off of breeding and showing for the rest of my life. Ach, the stories I could tell…
    So count me as a wholehearted supporter of the FEI’s decisions. Until the reiners change their ways, I think they have no business in FEI.
    And, just to add my personal opinion, reining has gone so far away what it originally was..that of moving a cow from one spot to another, that it is no longer recognizable. I do not in any way understand what purpose a horse spinning mindlessly and at high speed in a tight circle serves.

    1. It’s very disheartening that so many disciplines resort to such brutal training methods and are motivated to push young horses beyond their capabilities at such an early age. At least with racehorses, the jockeys are tiny and they are not spinning and sliding. Some of the men riding those reiners are so large they dwarf the horses.

  4. after looking at the video, I see unhappy, uncomfortable horses. ALL of them were overbent, it seems. Good grief, that sorrel had his ears pinned and his back tight as a board.

    1. I’ve read that not only do they “fix” horses tails so they can’t wring them. Some trainers are injecting their ears so they can’t pin them back. It’s getting to the same level as the Big Lick walkers.

  5. Liz, I saw that stuff going on years ago. The QH halter horse folks would inject novocaine or something..(I was a kid who stayed in the shadows) into the nerves of the tail to keep them ‘quiet’. Sometimes it worked too well and killed the nerves permanently. But damn it, to do it to their ears is just too much. Damn it.

  6. thank God for FEI monitoring. I am surprised by the fact they did not see this before allowing reining in.

  7. Stefani, I would bet my boots there was money involved (in allowing reining in). I have a feeling it was a sense of…’all you English (sic…I mean the style of riding, not Brits) riders are having so much fun, can’t we stick this Western sport in? Just to ‘balance’ things? Just to jump aboard that money train? Just to add some semblance of legitimacy?”” I think it’s especially the last. If it’s “FEI approved”, it must be a real horse sport.
    Don’t be too surprised that they didn’t see this sort of monkey business before allowing reining in. If there’s one thing a lot of “professional” “Horse” sports people do well, it’s hide their dirty little secrets. It’s not very easy to just walk into a ‘professional’ “training facility” to check on how things are done if they don’t know who you are. After all, most of the facilities are private property.

  8. Complete misrepresentation of reining. Could you please give more than 2 example of a positive FEI reining drug test over the 18 years of involvement?. Thank you.

    1. Absolutely agree Ben. Gross misrepresentation! Those who do not understand may like to investigate further than 2 very short clips shown of the sport.

  9. Oh gosh yes! I 100% agree with the FEI on this. I have always been horribly disappointed that the FEI took so long to do anything about endurance racing for the same reasons, animal abuse. I still think endurane racing should be removed as an FEI sport.
    Animal abuse has no place in Equestrian sports and is still a number one concern in all disciplines. No discipline is unfortunately untainted.
    Dressage horses are still taught piaff up against a wall with horrific punishments just as halts are taught in reining. The problem is no one is controlling what takes place at home. I’m only relieved in a way we got to see this abuse so openly practised at warm ups in reining.
    Due to Covid I’m also relieved for horses that some long distance air travel is no longer neccesary. The Longines Masters show jumping leg held in Hong Kong every year has since been ended. There was absolutely no reason for it to be held in HK in the first place, horses were being used as a pure marketing tool by Longines with no regaurd to their long term or even short term well being. HK has one not terribly good rider with a bit of reputation for abuse and yet dozens and dozens of horses had to undergo lengthy international air travel from all over the world across time zones just to take part. Completely unacceptable.
    Yes absolutely when ever the FEI does stand up to horse abuse we can congradulate it. Maybe just coincidence but the queen of “roll keur” Ankie Van Grunsven of the Netherlands after the issue of rollkeur exploded in her face took up reining. Dressage horses for her to ride had suddenly became very scarce. Seems some riders are just always never very far away from controversy.

  10. So, the FEI turns a blind eye to abuse in dressage, endurance and show jumping and decides to pick on reining. The FEI is a joke.

  11. Torturing animals for human sport and financial gain should all be outlawed!! Shame on you all!

  12. Instead of cutting ties, what the FEI could’ve done was kept Reining in the Olympics. Hear me out. If you just shove away something that needs to be changed and even monitored, you lose sight of what you’re actually trying to accomplish. For instance, since the FEI can no longer monitor Reining, the “abuse” will continue, the drugging will get worse and then the reputation of NRHA will be tarnished. However, collaborative work with NRHA and FEI could’ve shown great money potential, since that seems to be the recurring theme – money with the futurities – and would drive NRHA trainers to seek this FEI level of training and competition, with hopefully many following suite. The way of training didn’t happen overnight and changing it won’t either, but there has to be a starting point and doing that on a global level might expedite the change.

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