The ‘Reining’ Champ

Alexis Daggett, 16, spins her horse Flash in a tight, dust-heaving circle. It's a key maneuver in horse reining, a sport where the rider guides the horse through a series of moves and is judged on form and composure. Daggett, from Montello, will compete in this year's Adequan North American Affiliate Championships in Oklahoma City this November for a shot at $11,000 in prize money. Photographed by Alex Ebert.

This story was published in the Daily Register 11/25/2010.

MONTELLO – Alexis Daggett needs a bigger wall.

The once-blue wall of Daggett’s bedroom is now overrun with brown plaques commemorating her victories in horse-reining competitions. All of them, including those placed on the floor from lack of space, features a rider astride a horse gracefully sliding to an abrupt stop, with the rider poised and dust flying in the air.

That pose is the precise one she needs to “wow” judges and walk home with $11,000 and bragging rights, as Daggett, 16, recently qualified for the Adequan North American Affiliate Championships. It’s the foremost competition of the National Reining Horse Association, the group that presides over competitions of the fastest-growing equestrian sport in America: horse reining.

In reining, riders take horses through a series of maneuvers – sharp spins, tight loops and sliding stops – all while maintaining complete control with a series of voice commands and only one hand on the reins. In the competition, which started Thursday and runs through Dec. 4 in Oklahoma City, Okla., Daggett will have three to five minutes to show drop judges’ jaws in order to go home with money in her saddle bags.

“No pressure,” she said, because Daggett is no stranger to the national spotlight. This is the sixth year she has made her way through round after round of regional competition to make it to the national championship.

Her bedroom wall of honors didn’t get crowded with cowboys over night.

“I was riding since I could sit up,” said Daggett, who was riding long before she could walk.

“As long as they could hold on to a saddle horn,” said her mother, Anita Daggett.

The Daggetts live on a family farm outside of Montello, where they operate Snow-Crest Christmas Trees and practice their reining in a personal stadium on their property.

Anita Daggett, an accomplished reiner herself, has won $15,000 showing horses in her career.

She helps her daughter squeeze training into the few free hours outside of homework.

“The things we get the animals to do are amazing,” Anita Daggett said.

So the work that goes into it is all-consuming.

The majority of children Daggett competes against are home-schooled, Anita Daggett said, which affords those children hours of daily riding time.

But no matter how great a horse-reiner Alexis is, her mom makes sure school comes first.

Classes include Spanish, modern American history, pre-calculus, physics and AP chemistry – there is no riding until homework is done.

Daggett, who has a 4.33 grade-point average at Portage High School, said she doesn’t let formulas or lab reports get between her and first place.

Her secret?

“I just work harder,” she said.

Daggett is ranked fifth in world standings for her age group on Catalynx Chic, a horse she will ride at the championships.

Along with her plaques and hordes of trophies, Daggett has won six custom-made saddles, each worth $2,000 to $5,000.

Despite the hours of homework that keep her from riding every day, Daggett is on pace to join the highest scoring youth riders of all time.

But for now, she said she’s going to concentrate on getting some sleep to calm her nerves and prepare her to execute her flawless routine.

“This is the biggest show of the year,” she said. “You look for perfection.”

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