Tom McCutcheon won the individual gold medal in reining on Thursday at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, with U.S. teammate Craig Schmersal taking silver. The bronze went to Canada's Duane Latimer.
In a ride that had reining fans in the Alltech Arena whooping and hollering, McCutcheon scored a decisive 228 points riding Gunners Special Nite, five points better than Schmersal. After his last maneuver, a showy sliding stop that kicked up a shower of dust and brought many in the audience to their feet, McCutcheon reached up, pulled off his black cowboy hat and tossed it in the air.
The United States dominated reining — one of eight equestrian disciplines in the Games — by also winning gold in the team competition over the weekend. The 15 riders with the highest scores automatically advanced to Thursday's individual competition. The four American team members were in the top 15.
An additional five riders qualified in a consolation round on Tuesday.
American Tim McQuay had the best score early in Thursday's competition with 222 points — until Latimer rode. The Canadian scored 222.5.
It was a bit of déjà vu for McQuay. In the WEG games in Aachen, Germany, in 2006, he and Latimer tied for individual gold. To break the tie, there was a ride-off in which Latimer bested McQuay by half a point to win gold. McQuay took home the silver that year.
Riding Hollywoodstinseltown, McQuay, who is McCutcheon's father-in-law, ended up fourth on Thursday.
Schmersal won individual silver on Mister Montana Nic, a 12-year-old bay stallion he's owned for 10 years. Asked how he prepared for WEG's international-level competition, Schmersal said the secret was to keep an old horse like his "sound and happy."
"You don't have to do a whole lot to them. They know their job," he said.
Schmersal rode on the 2002 gold medal team in Jerez, Spain, with McCutcheon, McQuay and Shawn Flarida.
The afternoon's major surprise was Flarida's ride aboard RC Fancy Step. Flarida, from Springfield, Ohio, came into the arena a crowd favorite with the top qualifying score of 227 from team competition. About midway through his ride, one of his leather stirrups broke. He seemed for a split second to lose his balance, steadying himself by reaching down and grabbing the saddle horn.
Marty Bauman, the Games' chief press officer, said at a media briefing later that it is a 5-point penalty to touch the saddle with your free hand.
Later, Flarida was philosophical about his bad luck. He called his horse great, and said of the competition, "It was fun." With a big grin, Flarida added, "There'll be another one."
Reining highlights Western-style riding, incorporating moves like slides, spins and lead changes that cowboys and their horses — usually quarter horses — performed on working ranches. The sport, one of the fastest-growing equestrian disciplines, further captures the romance of the old West with riders required to wear cowboy hats and Western boots.
The United States dominates the sport, in large part because the strong quarter horse bloodlines are in this country, reining professionals say.