COLUMBIA–Dust flies as Watch This Way skids to a stop, as though Missy Hood had slammed on the brakes. Before the dust settles, Watch This Way — known around the barn as Red — pivots on his haunches and launches into a quick spin.
“That’s reining,” Hood said as she rode over to the rail. “That’s what we are all about.”
Reining is scored according to how well the horse and rider team completes maneuvers in a set pattern. There are 11 set American Quarter Horse Association reining patterns in which the horse is required to perform a number of stops, spins, slides, 180 degree spins called rollbacks, and circles of various sizes and speeds, according to the American Quarter Horse Association Web site.
Every horse and rider enters the ring with a score of 70 on each judge’s card. Then the team must carry out seven or eight maneuvers, each of which is scored individually.
Judges add or take away up to 1.5 points from the original 70 points to arrive at the final score. This means the highest possible score any rider can achieve is 82 points At the World Show on Sept. 1, Hood and Red averaged 72.5 points per judge.
The horse and rider -- dubbed Team Red -- recently won the Amateur Reining World Championship, beating out 60 other horse and rider teams at the 2009 Bayer Select World Show in Amarillo, Texas.
Judges give credit to horses that show the appropriate smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness and authority during their routine, according to the National Reining Horse Web site.
Red, Hood said, is a real ham. “He saunters up to the ring, looks around, takes a deep breath and just goes.”
Even when standing still, Red is a striking animal. The 8-year-old sorrel stallion is the color of a new copper penny with a bright white star in the middle of his forehead that dwindles to a stripe of white before trailing down one side of his face.
After every win, Hood tells Red how handsome he is.
Hood has always been fond of Red. While attending a sale in Texas, Hood pointed out the sorrel yearling to her significant other and reining trainer Jim Dudley.
“I immediately fell in love with him,” she said. “He was such a little power pack. He just looked athletic and smart.”
Dudley purchased Red at that sale and trained him before Hood purchased him as a 4-year-old. “The horse has always had a lot of try in him,” Dudley said.
Although Hood, 51, has been riding horses her entire life, she had never owned or ridden a reining horse before Red. Under the guidance of Dudley, the two have grown together and learned to trust each other while training at Dudley's farm south of Columbiafor the past four years.
“I trust him so much I would ride him into a war,” Hood said of Red.
While his personality and bond with Hood certainly has played a role in the pair's success, Red is an athlete.
Reining horses, Hood said, are "performance athletes. That’s how we treat them, that’s how we train them and that’s how we feed them.”
To keep Red in shape, Hood rides him six days a week. They go on trail rides, lead yearlings in training and school themselves on the maneuvers they perform in competition. In addition to the World Championship, Red posted the highest score of his career and outscored every horse at the Kansas Reining Horse Association Sunflower Slide.
Team Red plans to compete on Tuesday at the Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus, Ohio, and has been invited to the World Show next fall to defend the title. Other plans for the stallion’s future are uncertain.
Red has fathered a few promising foals and a 2-year-old filly, whose future performance might decide the breeding value of this world champion.
“I call him the little horse who could and did,” Hood said. “Everyone should be as lucky as me to have a horse like this in their lifetime.”