Burbank, Calif.—Feb. 28

In the sea of huge warmbloods, all with equally huge gaits, at the Burbank CDI, Reagan stands out. He’s small—somewhere between 14.3 and 15 hands—and he’s a sturdy chestnut with white socks and a white face. He’s also a Quarter Horse who spent the first several years of his life under saddle learning the ropes of the reining world.

But stand out as he may, Reagan belongs here. Friday he topped the FEI Junior Team test with Francesca Sheld aboard, and Saturday the pair also won the FEI Junior Individual test with 64.76 perecent.

“He thinks he’s a big horse,” said Sheld. “We’re pretty convinced he thinks that. So I really don’t think there’s any prejudice against him. He’s awesome, and I love that I can ride a Quarter Horse, and he can do it.”

USEF Assistant Youth Dressage Coach Charlotte Bredahl-Baker has dabbled in reining and cutting herself, and she went to get some practice at a ranch in New Cuyama, Calif., several years ago.

“I rode this little horse there named Reygun,” she said. “I rode him on a trail ride, and it felt like he had a lot of power. He was quite hot, and he was a 5-year-old stallion at that time. But there was something about him that I really loved. I had this feeling, ‘He’s going to come back into my life.’ I’ve never been a breed snob, and I’ve always appreciated all breeds for whatever they can do. So there was something about him I really liked.”

The ranch had purchased Reygun (Dual Rey—Whim Gin, Gin Smokee) when he was 2, and they had high hopes for him as a reining horse or reined cow horse. But he wasn’t working out for the discipline.

“They said that he was super, super talented, but he was so hot in the show ring that he just couldn’t contain himself,” said Bredahl-Baker. “They were trying and trying and didn’t know quite what to do with him. I just had this feeling that I’d probably be hearing more about this horse.”

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(Reagan in the prize giving ceremony.)

The owners tried gelding him in hopes that he’d settle down, and when that didn’t work, they gave Bredahl-Baker a call. They asked if she’d take him and see if he’d work as a dressage horse for children.

“He was so hot, but there was something about him that told me I should do it,” said Bredahl-Baker. “I said, ‘Let me just have him for a while.’ They said, ‘You just keep him as long as you want, and then you can decide.’

“I wasn’t too sure for a couple of weeks because he was really hot,” she continued. “You could not put your leg on him. He had good reining training, but he was just hot. But I decided it was worth a try, and I didn’t have to pay much money for him, so I took a chance on him.”

Bredahl-Baker, who’d initially thought the gelding’s name was Reagan, changed it to that. And with time and training, Reagan settled down. Bredahl-Baker slowly trained him up to third level, and then she taught him all the movements in the Prix St. Georges and piaffe. Now, five years later and at 12, he’s learning one-tempis and some passage.

In addition to riding him herself, Bredahl-Baker started teaching some of her advanced students on him. Then Sheld came along about two years ago.

“Francesca first came to me on her own horse, and he was kind of wild and not really suitable for dressage,” she said. “I said, ‘Next time you come up for a lesson, you can ride Reagan.’ She’d never ridden beyond first level, so she started really learning from him. The rest is history.”

Sheld’s goal since she was 11 was to compete in the FEI Junior tests and qualify for the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships.

“I said, ‘It’s going to be tough because you’re going to be up against all these big-moving horses,’ ” said Bredahl-Baker. “But I said, ‘He’s well trained and a nice enough mover; he for sure moves bigger than most Quarter Horses, and he’s supple. He tries hard, so he has a lot going for him still. She was like, ‘I want to do it!’ I love it. I think it’s really cool. You don’t need a bazillion dollar horse to at least come out and get the experience and still be respectable. I think that’s hugely important.”

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(Reagan and Francesca Sheld)

This is the second CDI for Sheld and Reagan; they also contested the L.A. Winter CDI at this facility almost a month ago, winning the FEI Junior Team and Junior Individual tests. An error in their first test at this show bumped their score down a bit (61.43%), but Sheld is just thrilled for the experience.

“It’s so surreal just being here,” said Sheld. “Every moment I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is my dream.’ I couldn’t do it without Charlotte, and I’ve never been on a horse who’s so in tune with you and wants to work. And he’s so sane. I’ve never been on horse who’s so sane at a show.”

Sheld, 18, is a senior in high school with plans on attending college in Oregon for nursing next year. She knows she’ll likely take a break from competing then, though she wants to help with a therapeutic riding program in her spare time. Until then she’ll keep riding Reagan and learning with him.

“As far as learning to become a better rider, I think the horses that don’t have tons of natural gifts or gaits, they actually teach you more,” said Bredahl-Baker. “So it’s been a fun journey. Francesca has been great. She loves him, and he loves her.

“I think generally there isn’t prejudice [against his breed],” she added. “But there’s always going to be some, especially when you have the horse before you and the horse after you having twice the stride. That’s just how it is. But I just don’t worry about it too much. If you put in a really nice, correct, harmonious test, then as a trainer I’m very happy to see that. As a judge I’m happy to see that too.”