Thousands of people gathered Saturday at State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City for the National Reining Horse Association's 2012 Futurity Championship Show to watch 3-year-old horses and their owners compete for cash prizes.
The event began Thanksgiving Day and will finish Dec. 1.
It is hosted by the National Reining Horse Association, which is based in Oklahoma City.
This year marks the event's 26th anniversary
“We see people from all over the world. This year there are people from 20 different countries here. We're kind of like a hidden treasure in Oklahoma,” said Christa Morris, the association's senior director of marketing.
Morris said contestants are separated into two groups — an open futurity group for contestants who compete professionally, and a nonprofessional futurity group for contestants who compete as a hobby.
Every contestant must pay an entry fee of $2,000 and a nomination fee ranging from $250 to $10,000 to participate.
In return, participants have the opportunity to win at least $150,000, Morris said.
The money collected pays for each year's event and the winners' awards, she said.
According to the horse association's website, horses are taught reining skills, which derive from the practice of ushering cattle. The horses perform various maneuvers under controlled speed, which raises the difficulty level and makes the competition more exciting for the audience.
Morris said the event is not limited to reining.
Morris said many people come to sell or buy horses or simply to shop at the many booths outside the arena that sell merchandise ranging from cowboy boots to artwork to horse insurance.
Horse rider and competitor Becky Hanson said she and her husband, David, travel from California each year to participate in the competition.
She said they have been involved in horse reining and training for 20 years.
“We train, ride, buy and sell. We do it all,” Hanson said.
Hanson said that while the desire to win is what drives her to compete each year, there are other benefits of participating.
“I think what brings most of us here is the desire to be a hero for those five minutes that we're in the show pen. We've all bought our lottery ticket. Out of those thousands of people who compete, not everyone can win, but everyone wants to,” Hanson said.
“Winning is the primary reason for being here, but beyond that there is the relationships that we make. Relationships and a sense of camaraderie bring people here too,” she said.
Event manager, Chris Potter, said he rode professionally before becoming involved in the association and becoming a father.
“At some point we will probably get our daughter a pony and continue the tradition,” Potter said.
He said horse reining teaches children responsibility and empathy.
Potter said that being involved in the association has allowed him to remain involved in a sport he is passionate about and proud of.
Morris said in addition to allowing horse enthusiasts the opportunity to compete, the 10-day event helps boost Oklahoma City's economy.
“People participate in the event but also stay in hotels here, eat out and shop here. Annually the event brings in an average of $67 million to Oklahoma,” Morris said.
Morris said event organizers hope to increase community involvement and pride by hosting “Horses Hometown Heroes Slide and Freestyle Reining” on Friday.
The event will feature professional Formula One driver Michael Schumacher as well as local firefighters and police officers.
Funds for the events will benefit the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation.