Introducing World Para Reining International Champion Heather Smith!
(pictured at right, with the rest of the 2016 World Para Reining Gold Medal Team)
The motto of World Para Reining is “changed by chance, champions by choice.” No one embodies this more than Heather Smith, USA Para Reiner and Absorbine® Ambassador. A Springfield, MA local – our neck of the woods! – Heather has been competing in Para reining since 2015. Before that she rode alongside able bodied riders in judged trail rides and open shows. After spending the beginning of the season competing with her new partner, quarter horse Digby (Tivios Lil Dun It), she is off to defend her 2016 Team Gold Medal at the 2017 World Para Reining International Para Reining Championship in Ermelo, Netherlands! Way to go Heather! The WPR International Para Reining Championship, hosted by the Dutch Equestrian Federation at their beautiful facility, July 4th – July 9th, will be attended by riders representing seven different countries: Canada, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, and of course the USA! It’s sure to be an exciting ride for everyone!
For Heather, this will not be the first time around. Last year she, along with the rest of the World Para Reining Masters USA Team, won the gold when the first ever WPR International Para Reining Championship was held here at home, at the AQHA World Show in Oklahoma City, OK. What an amazing accomplishment! When asked what it means to have the opportunity to defend her team’s first place finish, Heather said, “I am humbled to be able to represent the USA again at the WPR International Para Reining Championships. One of my lifetime dreams was to represent my country on an International level and now I am honored to accomplish this two years in a row. To defend the Gold is to feel some pressure but the comradery amongst the riders from all different countries helps to negate that pressure. Personally, I ride to have fun and to inspire others to try riding a horse; the awards and accolades are special extras.”
World Para Reining was born in 2013 when founder Lisa Coulter was asked to coach a Para rider at the AQHA World Show. Through this experience Lisa saw the necessity for an inclusive, global organization that would create opportunities for Para riders to try reining and compete around the world. World Para Reining celebrated its inaugural year in 2015 and since then WPR has worked to incorporate approved Para Reining classes into existing shows, as well as host independent events and classes. What a great way to make riding more accessible! Speaking about what inspired her to start WPR, Lisa Coulter said, “What inspired me to start WPR? I was asked to coach the first Para Reining demo in 2013. I instantly connected to it. I broke two bones in my neck in a car accident when I was 19 and was told I would never ride again. I was on my way to being a professional horse trainer and my whole life was horses and dreams of showing and training. I regained my ability to ride and train and have had a very successful professional career in Reining. But having lost my ability to ride for a few years has haunted me and it never left me. I could relate to the riders. I saw an opportunity to be able to support and promote anyone who is willing and able to ride to know there is somewhere for them to do this. And so the Reining horses and WPR have been life changing for many, including myself.” What an inspiring story, individual, and organization!
The World Para Reining International Para Reining Championship runs a bit differently than other international competitions, such as the Para Olympics, because competitors do not always compete on their own horse. Can you believe it?! Instead, WPR works to provide riders with specially trained horses that have been taught to respond to many different aids, so that Para riders’ varying abilities can be accommodated. This is often in the form of matching riders with generous trainers and horse owners that lease their horses out for the competition. They are truly incredible equine athletes! When asked what it is like to compete on a strange horse at a competition of this scale, Heather said “I have been catch riding most of the horses in the larger Para reining arenas. Just like with people, some horses you click with well and others not as well. I have been fortunate that all my catch rides have been stellar Reiners with hearts of gold. The usual routine is to ride the leased horse a handful of times prior to competing. Admittedly, it can be a bit nerve-racking meeting your mount only a few days before a competition. My hope is that my leased horse and I get along from the very second we meet. Ria De Vos, from the Netherlands, is generously leasing me a horse – a paint gelding name Jan Jan Brit Zip. Without the generosity of trainers and owners of these special horses, Para reining would not have had this opportunity for growth”. If you are interested in learning more about the incredible work of World Para Reining, check out their website www.worldparareining.org, or visit them on Facebook at Para-Reining.
Heather leaves for the Netherlands on July 1st along with her mom, who has been a supporter throughout Heather’s para reining adventure, and will reunite with her past gold medal teammate, Briana Bartlett of Texas and new teammate JoDee Peterson-Lochner of Wisconsin, upon arrival. Heather competes on July 6th for the team and July 8th as an individual! We wish her all the best and are excited to follow along on her journey! To keep up with Heather and the WPR Masters USA Team on their trip to the Netherlands, check her out on Facebook at Heather Smith – Para Equestrian, which she will be updating regularly.
Look for an update on how Heather’s rides went!