By MICHELLE SLATER
A BRIAGOLONG teen who has been in the saddle for three years is about to take on the world, when he heads to Brazil this month for the Global Youth Cup in reining.
Jhi Watts relocated from Queensland to take up the western horsemanship discipline under the expert tuition of his uncle and champion reining rider Shane Watts.
The 17-year-old has been hand-picked to represent Australia after starting out in the sport only two years ago, and is already at the top of his game.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I’m being calm about it, I will go there and have fun. I will be competing against the best youth riders in the world,” Jhi said.
“I love the temperament of the horses and the people in the industry, they are supportive and friendly.”
Reining originated in the US from working cattle, where a rider guides their horse through a precise pattern of circles, spins, and sliding stops.
The discipline is often described as a western form of dressage, in which competitors complete a set pattern of movements.
“The judge is looking for correct manoeuvres in a horse who is willingly guided. Blaze is quiet, talented, friendly and very forgiving,” Jhi said.
“We teach the horse how to be soft in the bridle and engage in the hind-end. We teach them to spin on the spot and run into a sliding stop, and go from fast circles to slow circles and flying changes.”
Jhi won this year’s non-pro three-year-old futurity at the state championships on his bay quarterhorse stallion Electric Gun – or Blaze – who had his first start this year.
But the gun rider will be taking part in the world championships on a local horse he has never met before, drawn out of a hat.
“Riding a horse you have never ridden before can be hit-or-miss because I won’t know its temperament or what he could do,” Jhi said.
“We will have a couple of days to ride the horse and then go and out and show. It will be one-round for the show, so I will be going over there for five minutes.”
Jhi will be heading over with his uncle, and hopes to check out some of the best in the biz in Texas after his competition.
He said, ultimately, he would like to head to the US to show, and end up running his own yard, breeding and training horses.
“It’s all about the showmanship, the crowds hype it up a lot, it’s good to have a big crowd that’s supportive.
“But reining is not real big in Australia like it is in America, they have more prizemoney.”