Big Sky Reining Classic Returns to Majestic Valley Arena

The largest reining event in the northwest displays athleticism of western ranch horses

By Micah Drew
Meaghan Shea, pro rider and trainer at her ranch “JM Performance Horses” in Eureka. Courtesy photo

In the second season of the hit TV show “Yellowstone,” the troubled ranch hand Jimmy asks a fellow cowboy how to get his horse to do a sliding stop, in order to impress his boss.

“Point your belt buckle to the sky, keep your eyes on the top of the barn, open up your feet, and say ‘whoa,’” a fellow ranch hand instructs him. The character Jimmy goes on to do a paltry version of the move, slowly bringing his horse to a halt.

A scene later, “Yellowstone” creator Taylor Sheridan takes to the saddle, cantering on-screen against the backdrop of the Bitterroot Mountains. His horse runs full speed down the length of the arena, lowers its hindquarters to the ground and stutters to a complete stop, spraying dirt in its wake like a jet-skier.

The sliding stop is a signature maneuver in the equestrian sport of reining. Throughout the popular series about a Montana ranching family, and its prequel shows, reining events have been featured several times, and Sheridan even brought on some of the sport’s world-class talent to show off their skills, spurring interest in the sport for competitors and spectators alike, boosting attendance at events like the Big Sky Reining Classic. The largest reining event in the northwest — and the only large-scale reining show in Montana — kicked off competition Wednesday at the Majestic Valley Horse Arena.

Reining is an equine competition where riders guide highly trained horses through precise patterns of circles, flying lead changes, spins, sliding stops and other maneuvers that highlight the athleticism of the western horse. Except for spins, all maneuvers are performed at a lope or a full gallop, making for a fast paced, highly exciting spectacle. The sport is often considered a western version of dressage, and can be compared to figure skating with its precise movement patterns and spins.    

The Big Sky Reining Classic is hosted by the nonprofit Montana Reining Horse Association (MRHA). The event awards more than $45,000 in prizes to competitors, making it one of the largest-paying events in North America, and provides the Flathead Valley community and tourists a unique opportunity to observe “what is arguably one of the most difficult of equestrian sports,” Jane Corwin, an MRHA member from Somers said in a press release.

“Reining horses are the modern-day descendants of the working ranch horse and reining competitions are the modern day successors to the by-gone competitions among ranch hands to show off the talent and athleticism of their mounts,” Corwin said. “Reining, like rodeo, enhances and preserves this important aspect of Montana’s culture and history. Unlike rodeo, however, reining does not present the same dangers to riders and animals, giving it a broader appeal to participants of all ages, genders and abilities.”

The Big Sky Reining Classic runs through Aug. 27 at Majestic Valley Arena and is free for all spectators. Both professional and non-professional riders will show each day. To find a complete schedule and to learn more about the event visit www.montanareining.com/big-sky-reining-classic.

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