On the medal podium after the final of the Individual Reining Championship today were (centre) gold medallist Tom McCutcheon (USA), (left) silver medallist Craig Schmersal (USA) and (right) bronze medallist Duane Latimer (CAN). © FEI/Dirk Caremans
Interview with Craig Schmersal
"I knew he was pretty special tonight," McCutcheon said. "I felt pressure, for sure, because I wanted to do him justice. He's a great little horse."
Earlier in the week, McCutcheon and his horse helped the US team to a gold medal in the team reining competition. Gunners Special Nite is sired by Colonels Smoking Gun and is out of Mifs Doll by Mifillena. He is the 2007 National Reining Horse Association Futurity intermediate open champion and has $194,237 in NRHA lifetime earnings.
The individual silver medal went to US teammate Craig Schmersal on Mister Montana Nic, with a score of 223, while bronze went to the defending WEG individual gold medalist Duane Latimer of Canada, riding Dun Playin Tag, with a score of 222.5.
The atmosphere in the packed stadium was electric all afternoon as the 21 qualified riders battled it out, and Latimer took the lead when third-last to go in the penultimate group. But the man who took the Games by storm in Aachen four years ago was not riding his great horse Hang Ten Surprize. It was a "catch-ride" he picked up earlier in the year, the considerably less-experienced six year old Dun Playin Tag, that put the leading score of 222.5 on the board.
Schmersal immediately bettered that when his faithful 12-year-old stallion Mister Montana Nic earned a mark of 223.0. The 38 year old rider was plenty pleased with his result - "my horse is always fighting for me, I asked him for 110% today and he delivered".
There were just three big names left to run after the final arena drag and McCutcheon got the best of the ground when first of these, racking up a great score of 228.00 to forge well ahead with Gunners Special Nite. He knew from the outset that he was putting on a great show. "For me a pattern like that is just right, and the first stop was really strong. He was really hooked up, and for everything I wanted to do he was there for me. He just gets stronger and stronger," he said.
With Italy's Stefano Massignan and his own team-mate Shawn Flarida to come, McCutcheon was far from assured of the title and it was a tense wait as the final two took their turn. Massigan had produced fantastic performances throughout the week, but when he was penalised for cross-canter with his palomino stallion Yellow Jersey, McCutcheon could see the glint of silver.
That silver turned to gold when it all fell apart for last-man-in Flarida, riding RC Fancy Step. Trying to recover from a broken stirrup the man from Springboro, Ohio unintentionally touched the horn of the saddle which automatically incurs five penalties and, after a review by the judges, his chances were blown. Flarida's loss would be McCutcheon's gain.
Silver medallist Mister Montana Nic is something of a phenomenon as he is still so successful at the mature age of 12 - he is twice as old as the other horses on the US team, and has been with Schmersal since he was a yearling. His rider said his longevity was due to him being paced, with shows specially chosen for him and a careful maintenance programme.
"That's what it's all about, right there," Schmersal said. "We've just got to keep those old horses sound and happy."
Mister Montana Nic is an American Quarter Horse sired by Reminic and out of Mollie Montana by Montana Doc. He was the 2005 FEI World Reining Master silver medalist and has $132,784 in NRHA lifetime earnings.
Latimers ride, Dun Playin Tag, a 6-year-old American Quarter Horse gelding isby Whiz N Tag Chex out of Brennas Dunit Fancy by Hollywood Dun It, has $188,942 in NRHA lifetime earnings. Latimer said: You can't compare the horse I rode today with Hang Ten Surprize at Aachen - I've only had this horse since April while I had Hang Ten since he was a two year old - I'm very happy with this horse today." Talking about the development of the sport of Reining since it became an FEI discipline, McCutcheon commented that riders are now more likely to prepare for the big events in a different way. "For sure it used to be that after his six year old year most horses ended up as non-professional or weekend horses, but that's changed and we now train and keep the horses a lot longer".
The Reining Championships were a huge hit with the crowds packed into the Alltech Arena in which enthusiastic fans were breaking the sound-barrier with their screams of support for their favourites all week long.
US Chef d'Equipe, Jeff Petska, said the experience had been "a whirlwind for me, I'm very fortunate to be around these riders, it was my job to make sure they got the chance to do what they do best and it went off smoothly."
The judges were Greg Darnall (USA), Patti Carter-Pratt (CAN), Thiago Boechat (BRA), Ralf Hesselschwerdt (GER) and Eugenio Latorre (ITA).