The sport of reining has never been big in the Bluegrass, but it made a big splash during the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Viewers flocked to the popular Western competition, in which horses swerve and circle with barely a flick of riders' wrists. It was such a big hit, in fact, that organizers had no trouble starting another big championship, the Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup. The second annual Ariat Cup is this weekend in Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park.
"It's not a hugely developed sport here," said Brad Ettleman, the cup's reining-competition manager. "But Lexington treated the riders so well during the World Games that my job of getting them here was very easy. They enjoy the celebrity."
And they are celebrities.
The cup will feature the four riders who won the team gold medal for the United States at the World Equestrian Games — Tom McCutcheon, Craig Schmersal, Tim McQuay and Shawn Flarida — plus a crowd favorite, rider and singer Lyle Lovett, who will compete instead of perform.
Other competitors will include Lyndsey Jordan of Georgetown, a two-time National Reining Horse World Champion, and Lisa Coulter, Canada's top-ranked reining rider.
Ettleman said the cup's dates were intentionally set during the same weekend as the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, which began Thursday.
"They do not use the indoor arena, but there is a large crowd of people interested in both sports, so it's a great partnership," he said.
The other reason it wasn't difficult to lure riders to the reining cup was monetary: Friday night's event, the Concours de Reining International, has a grand prize of $100,000, one of the highest purses in reining, Ettleman said.
The event Friday night will feature riders completing a complicated course as they try to make their horses bend, circle, speed up and stop effortlessly.
Saturday's $25,000 World Freestyle Championship admits the top 25 riders from Friday's event. It allows riders to invent their own sequence, set to music, with glittery costumes.
Lovett is not scheduled to perform, but the band Exile, which formed in Central Kentucky and hit it big in the late 1970s, especially with its hit Kiss You All Over, will give a two-hour concert before Saturday's reining show. The show is free and open to anyone with a ticket to Rolex or the reining event.