US celebrity team wins reining challenge at World Cup

April 19, 2009

World Cup spectators were treated to a fun exhibition in the International Reining Celebrity Challenge in which world-class show jumpers and dressage competitors pulled on their cowboy boots and went Western.

The chance to see riders of the calibre of 2004 Olympic champion show jumper Rodrigo Pessoa from Brazil, Will Simpson of the US and Holland's nine-time World Cup champion Anky van Grunsven in Western gear proved a big crowd-puller. Riding circles, speed transitions, sliding stops, roll-backs and head-turning spins the stars did not disappoint and the US side of Simpson, dressage specialist Charlotte Bredahl-Baker, and US Reining Champion Rick Weaver won through.


The reining challenge lineup.

The American Quarter Horses performed to perfection, but NRHA professional and Open World Champion Ann Fonck found herself in trouble with one of the spins. "I don't know what happened there, I think I was enjoying myself too much because the crowd were so great!" she admitted later.

Weaver said "the whole experience of sharing time with expert horseman in other disciplines was wonderful. The quality of the horses and the horsemen and women was unbelievable. We were almost having too much fun out there!" And Simpson agreed with that. "I'm ready to go back to the barn and find another one of those great horses right now" he said.

First in the arena was Rodrigo Pessoa from Brazil and American Quarter Horse Sir Pine By Boomer. The Olympic Gold Medalist in jumping marked a 118.5 after nearly bringing the crowd to its feet with his final sliding stop. Pessoa, who rolled into the barn area only minutes prior to the competition, learned his reining pattern en route to the Thomas & Mack Arena. Following Pessoa, USA's Will Simpson, fresh off a Gold Medal win in Beijing in show jumping, kicked the energy level up several notches marking the second-highest score in the competition with a 144.5. Simpson was aboard the American Quarter Horse Arapaho Sailor.

"I learned a little bit on my own," Simpson joked following the celebrity challenge. "Then I had three lessons to unlearn what I had taught myself and learn it correctly."

Next up was international team member Anky Van Grunsvan and Dun Its Chico, World Champion American Quarter Horse in reining. Van Grunsvan, the most decorated athlete in the competition, marked a 141.5. She was followed by fellow dressage competitor Charlotte Bredahl-Baker representing the USA Bredahl-Baker, who jumped out of her spins early but kept her cool aboard Reeboks Rerun, commented that being part of the celebrity challenge was the most fun she's had in a long time.

Ann Fonck, the defending NRHA Open World Champion rode in next aboard Whizle Fritz and marked the high score of 147. Fonck had a nearly perfect run, and with her signature grin and dimples, had the full support of the crowd. Fonck's score gave the International Team a score of 407, putting pressure on the final competitor, NRHA President Rick Weaver, who needed to mark at least a 137.5 to put Team USA on top.

Weaver jogged into the arena aboard the American Quarter Horse Dun Its Manhatten and immediately put the crowd on notice by raising his hands and signaling that he intended for Team USA to take home the International Celebrity Reining Challenge title. Weaver's exhilarating pattern had the crowd cheering from start to finish and earned him a 144, placing Team USA solidly on top.

"This whole experience has been amazing," Weaver said. "The quality of the horses and horsemen here were unbelievable. We all share the love of the horse."