FEI Votes to Maintain Reining, Works Agreement With NRHA

Amid prior controversy over the governance of international reining events, the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) has signed an agreement with the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) that will allow the discipline of reining to continue as an official FEI sport. The FEI and NRHA have differing rules regarding horse age, medication use, and warm-up practices.

In a landmark vote during the FEI General Assembly on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, in Moscow, delegates voted unanimously to accept the agreement and modify the FEI statutes to reflect that agreement.

The four-page agreement states that NRHA organizers will recognize the governing authority of the FEI at events that have an international character, according to the new statutes. This is defined as events that:

  • Host more than four nations;
  • Register more than 15 foreign athletes (not including foreign athletes living in the host country); or
  • Are included in the FEI calendar by the national federation (regardless of the number of foreign athletes participating).

These events will fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the FEI, said Sabrina Ibáñez, FEI secretary general, who presented the new statutes during a special meeting about reining’s future at the General Assembly on Monday. As such, the events will follow FEI rules, she said. The most critical difference compared to NRHA events is that horses under 7 years old will not be allowed to compete in FEI events.

Furthermore, anti-doping and horse welfare rules are “stricter” under FEI jurisdiction, said FEI Reining Director Bettina De Rham. Overall, the objective is to ensure horses are trained ethically with an objective for “sustainability,” she explained.

“Our rules specify a maximum number of spins you can do and a maximum distance from a wall that you can stop a horse at, for example,” De Rham told The Horse. “We want to make sure these horses are entering competition at an age that helps ensure their longevity, rather than being considered ‘old’ already at age 6.”

Now that an agreement with the NRHA has been obtained, the “next step” is to reach out to the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), which also organizes reining events, said Ibáñez.

The AQHA is favorable for an ongoing collaborative effort, said AQHA Executive Vice President Craig Huffhines.

“AQHA strongly supports NRHA signing an agreement with the FEI,” he said. “Reining was first recognized as a sport in 1949 by AQHA, and the association is proud of the reining industry and the growth of this U.S.-based sport worldwide. AQHA will continue to collaborate with NRHA and the FEI to continue to promote the sport of reining.”

Reining events that meet the criteria for international character must be added to the official FEI calendar, Ibáñez said. If they’re not, the FEI will consider these events to be “unsanctioned.” Consequences for participating in unsanctioned events will be serious for FEI athletes as well as for officials, she said.

“FEI Officials and/or FEI athletes and/or horses that participate in an unsanctioned event risk up to six months suspension,” said Ibáñez.

Following the vote by 119 present and by-proxy delegates to maintain reining as an FEI discipline, the FEI now will follow through with a countersignature of the agreement, she said.

“I am so proud of our NRHA Task Force that worked diligently with the officials at FEI to come to a workable Memorandum of Understanding (MOU),” said NRHA president Mike Hancock via a written statement. “All of these individuals have focused on our mission to promote the reining horse. Although each organization has different needs, we were able to meet those needs and agree on a path forward.”