If Dale Wilkinson is considered the “father of modern reining,” then Clark Bradley could well be one of its favorite sons. Wilkinson founded the UF equestrian program, and is credited with transforming reining from a crude contest event to something performed with skill and finesse. Bradley has spent decades teaching UF western equestrian students how to perform complex reining maneuvers and training quick and agile equine athletes.
Bradley, who at one time had worked for Wilkinson, was honored at the 50th Anniversary of the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity in December 2015. Past winners of the Futurity enjoyed dinner and received a commemorative gift. (Bradley won the national event in 1968 and again in 1974.)
“Back in the sixties, reining was just getting popular and the patterns were really simple,” said Bradley, sitting in a classroom at UF’s Western Equestrian Farm. He explained that a pattern is a series of required moves that the horse and rider must perform. . . hopefully, making it look easy.
“There were no computers and no rulebook,” he added. “Someone usually went out first and rode the pattern so contestants could see it done and draw out the moves on paper to remember them.”
Bradley grew up on a large farm in Hilliard, Ohio. Although the farm was devoted mainly to crops, his father began acquiring registered quarter horses when Clark was young.
“I think my father owned the first quarter horse in Ohio,” he recalled. “Pretty soon, we had 12 or 13 more.”
Bradley credits his father’s involvement with the NRHA for his own interest in reining. As the organization’s first vice president, his father attended all meetings and Clark went along for the ride.
After completing a program in ranch management at Texas Christian University, Bradley developed his skill in riding and training while working for Wilkinson. He joined the UF western equestrian program from 1978-85, then left to pursue riding and training interests for the next decade. He returned to the program in 1995 and continues to share his vast knowledge of reining and reining horses with his students.
UF Respected in Reining World
According to Bradley, The University of Findlay is well known in the world of reining. He pointed to the classroom’s “Wall of Fame” which features UF alumni who have achieved notoriety as riders, trainers and breeders. He continued to explain that students are assigned three or four horses in their senior year. One is always a “finished” reining horse.
“The Central Ohio Reining Horse Association holds several shows here at our facility during the summer,” he added. “These shows draw about 150 entries each day.”
Bradley feels that this year’s senior class is especially strong and we should “expect to hear about many of them” in the future. He thinks employment prospects for skilled graduates are good, as reining has become very popular in Europe and South America. Owners will make an investment in a trainer or rider with extensive reining knowledge.
What makes a good reining horse? Breeding, according to Bradley. Breeding has become so refined, that today horses can literally be “bred to rein.” (About 90 percent of reining horses are quarter horses.) Good reining horses need to be athletic and trainable and the same goes for good reining riders.
“A top reining rider needs to have a lot of experience and be very thoughtful about his or her riding,” he added. “Think about if you move your hand just a couple of inches, the horse will react immediately.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Bradley has also been very active in the NRHA. He has served two terms as the organization’s president and 27 years on the board of directors. He established rules and patterns and has been an NRHA judge for 40 years.
At the 2015 Futurity, held in Oklahoma City, Bradley had the honor of “setting the patterns” for the Non-Pro Futurity Finals and the NRHA Open Futurity. His mount for the events was “Smokey,” the lead pony for American Pharoah, 2015 Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. Smokey’s registered name is This Whiz Shines and he’s a trained reining horse.
“You can’t believe what a crowd Smokey drew,” Bradley laughed. “Everywhere we went or while he was in his stall, people were lined up to take selfies with him. He’s a real star.”