For born-and-raised Boyd County resident and current president of the National Reining Horse Association, Rick Clark, participating and overseeing what he loves is his idea of honor and success.
“Horses have been a big part of my life for many years,” Clark said.
“In the late 1980s, I was trail riding in various locations and eventually met Joe Wolfe, a longtime horse lover involved in the business. Joe connected Clark with others in the Ohio Valley Reining Horse Association and invited him to watch a show.
“I thought it looked like fun,” Clark said, having no idea at the time what lay ahead. “I told Joe I wanted to learn. I had no money, so my mother gave me a loan to buy my first horse.”
Clark acknowledges he was a terrible rider at first, but continued to practice seven days a week, improving more and more as time went on.
Shortly after, the OVRHA asked Clark to serve on the board of directors where he served for 10 years. He then became the OVRHA president for five years.
“We traveled all the time, attending two to three horse shows per month,” Clark states. “And this is how I became connected with the National Reining Horse Association.”
Founded in 1966, the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of the reining horse in a fun-filled, family atmosphere. It serves as the standard setting body for the sport of reining worldwide.
In 2008, the NRHA appointed Clark as national director, and in 2011, he served on the executive committee. Four years later, Clark served his first two-year term as NRHA executive committee president in 2015 and 2016 and is currently fulfilling his second NRHA executive committee presidential term.
“Who would have thought a little guy from Catlettsburg would be president of a national organization,” laughed Clark.
For those unfamiliar with the term “reining,” reining is a judged event designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch-type horse within the confines of a show arena. In NRHA competition, contestants are required to run a pre-selected, approved pattern, which is included in the “NRHA Handbook”.
According to the NRHA website, each pattern includes small slow circles, large fast circles, flying lead changes, roll backs over the hocks, 360-degree spins done in place, and exciting sliding stops that are the hallmark of the reining horse. “Reining horses are trained to complete eight to nine maneuvers during competition. It is a very difficult sport,” said Clark. “You’ve got be in sync with your horse.”
Also, according to the NRHA website, the NRHA judging system is recognized as the leading format for judging an equine event. The system combines technical and stylistic elements coupled with consideration of "degree of difficulty." Many segments of the equine judging discipline have openly embraced the NRHA judging system.
“The NRHA has the best judging system in all equine sports,” Clark said.
Multiple divisions of competition are offered at approved shows to enable competitors at all levels to participate, learn and improve as they master the intricacies of one of the most exciting equine competition events. The NRHA offers several levels of competition for open riders, rookie and entry-level riders, non-pro riders, youth riders, novice horses, aged event horses, and affiliate competitors.
“Not only are we a welcoming, family-friendly organization, but this is a foundation where people join and make monetary contributions that are tax deductible. Because of this, we’re
able to give away youth scholarships and have a crisis fund.
For instance, if a tornado hits a barn, the owner can apply for a grant to help rebuild,” explained Clark. “We can give back to the community in those ways and more.”
One of the biggest things drawing attention to the NRHA and the sport of reining in general is the popular drama series “Yellowstone”, whose creator, Taylor Sheridan, is himself a
member of the NRHA.
“Our association has been positively affected by what “Yellowstone” has done for the public and the fan base,” said Clark.
Since “Yellowstone’s” inception, the industry has seen the value of the purses go up. This has allowed them to create a show in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the winner takes a half-million dollars.
When asked what the most exciting part of this venture is for him, Clark said, “The thrill of competition and the thrill of owning horses.”
“These horses are individuals, and they teach us responsibility.
It’s been a huge part of my life, and I’m a ‘lifer’,” said Clark. “Even if I’m not president during the next term, I’ll always be involved.”
For more information, please visit the National Reining Horse Association website at www.NRHA.com.