Getting a 1,000-pound horse to slide doesn't sound like something one would try on purpose, but Kelsey Davis does it every chance she gets...

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Getting a 1,000-pound horse to slide doesn’t sound like something one would try on purpose, but Kelsey Davis does it every chance she gets. Not only does she enjoy using her 95-pound frame to control her horse, she’s really good at it.

Kelsey, 13, an eighth-grader at Tolt Middle School in Carnation, can handle a horse and has the trophy to prove it.

Dec. 2, she galloped, slid and spun her way to the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) North American Affiliate Championship for the 13-and-younger age group.

The sport of reining is an equestrian competition based on the moves of a ranch horse. Instead of show jumping based on fox-hunting skills, in reining, the horse and rider team is judged on elements of control, speed, turning and stopping. Enthusiasts hope to add the sport to the Summer Olympics lineup.

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Kelsey has a trio of partners in the sport. Her mother, Karen, also competes in reining and brought her daughter into the sport about a year ago. Her father, John, said that from early on, the mother and daughter were a bit competitive.

Earlier this year, however, having her daughter riding at the same events also became a comfort to Karen Davis. In May, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She continued riding and competing as much as possible after surgery and throughout chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

“It helps to have an outlet, a place to put your concentration,” said Karen Davis, who also was dealing with the stress of son Jake’s deployment in Iraq.

Reining at a glance


Origins: Based on the moves of horses used in ranching, reining is a Western-based equestrian competition that has spread worldwide. Supporters are trying to persuade the International Olympics Committee to add it to the Summer Games.

Skills: Controlling a horse through a designed set of circles, spins and sliding stops. Circles are done at different speeds to highlight rider control.

Competitions: Five judges score it much like figure skating, based on difficulty and deducting points for poor control.

She said working with the horses became a place for both her and Kelsey to get away.

“It has nothing to do with war and has nothing to do with disease.”

Mother and daughter qualified for the NRHA West regional championships in Burbank, Calif., this year. Kelsey placed second in her age division, and Karen was seventh in the rookie division. With only the top four qualifying for the North American championships in Oklahoma City, Karen Davis went from competitor to proud parent.

Kelsey’s third partner in this hoof-pounding, dust-raising activity is Parker, her 9-year-old sorrel mount. The two are a natural pair, said Cory Hutchings, who trains Parker. “She’s very talented, and her horse is very talented.”

Kelsey is Hutchings’ first North American champion, and he said it couldn’t have happened to a nicer rider or a better horse.

“The good ones will perform at their best when they walk into the show pen,” he said of Parker.

He said Parker is like an athlete: He enjoys competing and is enthusiastic to train, so much so that Hutchings has to watch him closely to keep him from getting sore. Parker likes to hit his stops hard.

Like all reining horses, he wears what are called “splint boots” on his front legs to protect from jarring stops, and “skid boots” on his hind legs to protect from the friction of flying dirt during slides.

Spins and slides are just two of the elements in a contest. Horse and rider combos also do circles at varied speeds plus other maneuvers to control the horse. The elements are arranged in 10 different configurations, and contestants perform one of the configurations.

Five judges watch to see how well the rider controls the horse. Points are added for higher degrees of speed and deducted for being out of control or out of sync with the horse. Scores of the top and bottom judges are eliminated.

In Oklahoma City, Kelsey was the fourth rider to perform and then watched more than 20 others before learning her score of 208 points would hold up for the championship.

She joined Judy Caton of Caton Ranches, 10 miles east of Snohomish, as the state’s North American champions. Canton won in the “non-pro” division on her horse Whiz.

For winning, Kelsey received gift certificates and accessories for Parker.

Two of the prizes are marks of pride for a reiner: a saddle and belt buckle.

But for the whole Davis family, the biggest prize may be a happy ending to what has been a difficult year.