|The World Reining League could transform the performance horse industry. Bright lights, rich payouts, big-name team rosters and red-hot concerts – these promise to add more than a little pizzazz to the reining pen, starting next year. WRL founder Mike Minola took time to answer all the questions. |
Mike Miola jumps right in. He and his wife, Michelle, own and operate Silver Spurs Equine, a full-service reining facility in Cave Creek, Ariz., established in 2005. Brett Stone is their head trainer. They stand several stallions, including 1992 National Reining Horse Association Futurity Champion and Hall of Famer Boomernic. And they already have legitimate bragging rights. At the 2010 NRHA Futurity, both the Open and Non-Pro Level 4 Champions were by Silver Spur stallions.
Miola has developed a concept with the potential to positively impact the reining horse industry in a big way. It’s called the World Reining League, and here, Miola talks to Quarter Horse News about his innovative program.
QHN: What inspired you to start the World Reining League?
Miola: It all started when I was watching the  World Equestrian Games and saw how popular the reining segments were. I know that membership in the NRHA is stagnating – not to a large degree, but we’re not gaining new members in the United States. The only reason we show a positive growth is because of the foreign affiliates. That bothered me.
As a person that has spent his entire life growing and promoting the mutual funds industry, I know it’s necessary to have an industry that’s constantly growing. I thought, I have to do something to grow this [reining horse] industry so that we get more members, more people in love with reining, and make it more popular. For that, you have to go outside the industry. That’s why I’m starting the WRL.
QHN: Explain the format.
Miola: The format is pretty simple. Today’s shows are too long and drawn out for the average spectator. I’m not criticizing that. It has to be that way. But at the same time, it is not a venue to get people excited about reining.
The format for the WRL is simple: give spectators eight great rides. That’s it. There will be two teams, four riders each. Riders one and two of each team will go. Four runs. Then we’re going to have a nice 20-minute half time. And that will be different at each show.
We’re going to do things to promote youth riders. That’s near and dear to my heart. Maybe we’ll do a freestyle exhibition so people can see the different aspects of the sport. Maybe we’ll have dueling disciplines, like dressage riders and reiners doing their thing. Then the second set of two riders from each team will go.
And we want to create a little drama. The scoring will be in real time on the Jumbotron. I want to hear people cheering, booing – audience participation. We’re going to show videos of the riders speaking about the competition. And we’re going to do interesting things between the rides. Up on the Jumbotron, we’ll have stories of the riders. We’ll highlight the owners. They’re the ones buying the horses and enabling these people to ride. I want to make these people heroes.
We’re going to have professional cheerleaders. The Oklahoma Thunder will be at the Oklahoma show in January – in their Thunder outfits. They get a plug, and we get the cheerleaders. They’ll make everything exciting.
We’re going to radio advertise this extensively. We’re going to use the DJ of the most popular country Western station to emcee the event. Brett Stone will be sitting next to him or her feeding information and doing color commentary as the event is going on. Total time for all this is about an hour and a half.
Then there will be a flying stage that will be up in the rafters of the coliseum ready to go. After the reining, it will come down. Then we’ll have a great concert. The concert is the draw. That’s what will bring the spectators.
QHN: How is NRHA involved?
Miola: They will have a presence at every WRL event, and they don’t pay anything to the WRL. They are not financially involved whatsoever.
The WRL conditions have been approved by the NRHA. This will be an NRHA-sanctioned event. Money earned counts towards the rider’s overall earnings and the stallion’s overall earnings, but because it’s not something that every member of NRHA can participate in, the money will not count for Top 20 rankings.
The WRL will be judged by NRHA rules, using five judges where the highest and lowest scores are dropped.
At our first show in Oklahoma City, we will actually be using the [NRHA] Futurity ground. We rented that from NRHA. The show itself is 3 1/2 hours long – a Saturday night out – but the entire event runs for three solid days. We’re going to plug NRHA at every opportunity, and NRHA will have a nice booth in the exhibition hall. We will support them and they will support us with their involvement. And during those three days, people will be able to get autographs from the riders. We’ll have a “ride a reining horse program” going on, plus many other exciting and fun activities that will draw people in for the entire event. People will get to know reining and NRHA.
QHN: How are the riders chosen?
Miola: We sent invitations to anyone in the NRHA that earned more than $50,000 or more in the three previous years – from Jan. 1, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2010 and to those who earned more than $30,000 from Jan. 1, 2010 to June 30,2011. We did that second criterion so that new up-and-comers wouldn’t be overlooked. Earnings are based on earning reports we got from NRHA. NRHA gave us the data.
Then I stratified the eligible riders into four levels, but they are different from the NRHA levels. Level 4 is for riders who have earned $300,000-plus; Level 3 is for those who have earned $100,000 to $299,999; Level 2 $65,000 to $99,999; and Level 1 is for riders with earnings of $50,000 to $64,999
I wanted to include non-pro riders, but that won’t happen in the first competition because I messed up the wording of my first invitation letter. I used phraseology that made NRHA say that non-pros couldn’t participate and stay non-pro. I changed that wording for the second competition so that non-pros would be able to compete there.
QHN: How are the teams chosen?
Miola: I have nothing to do with that. The top two Level 4 money earners, Shawn Flarida and Craig Schmersal, will be the two captains in the first WRL competition [to be held at the fairgrounds in Oklahoma City, Jan. 19–21]. At a planned October press conference, by way of a coin toss, Shawn and Craig will choose their teams – one rider each from Level 3, 2 and 1. That’s so all during the year we have the same level of competition.
Each rider can only ride once in the year, so for the second competition we go down to the next two Level 4 riders to be the captains. Then, they pick their teams from the remaining riders in Levels 3, 2 and 1.
QHN: How is the winning team determined?
Miola: It is not the accumulation of points that determines the winner. It’s match play. If a rider scores a 235 and his opponent scores a 230 – the 235 wins the match and his team gets 5 points – the differential between the scores. What happens if somebody gets a zero? The maximum number of points you can earn, and this only happens if there is a zero, is 10 points.
When we go down to the final two riders, the differential in the point score is doubled. The whole match can get overturned on the last ride. That was done to keep the excitement level up. The captains will figure out the order their team members will ride. It will be interesting to see what strategies they employ.
If there is a tie, the actual point scores will be added up to break the tie. We have a show to put on; we can’t have run-offs. Everything has to go like clockwork.
QHN: What does it cost a rider to compete, and how much can they win?
Miola: There is no entry fee to ride for the WRL. Riders don’t even have to pay for the stalls – just get there and bring the best horse you have. The winning team will receive $40,000 per rider and the losing team will receive $20,000 per rider.
The riders choose the horses they want to ride, and for that kind of money, they’ll bring the best they have. The natural competitive spirit will take over. Each team will have an alternate rider. If the alternate has to ride, he gets the money the other rider would have won. If the alternate doesn’t have to ride, he gets $5,000 for his time.
QHN: Who is financing the WRL?
Miola: There are no investors in the WRL. It is being financed 100 percent by Silver Spurs. No one employed by Silver Spurs will be able to compete, but I am getting sponsors. I’m going to be packing 8,000-10,000-seat facilities and eventually hope to use stadium level, major venues, so we’re going after the big corporate names. The exhibition hall is really going to be interesting with elaborate corporate displays.
The concert is the draw. Hopefully, concert-goers will fill the stands. That’s the hook. If everything goes according to plan and I’ve proven to our sponsors that I have an audience demographic and a positive revenue stream, the next step would be to have them buy a franchise from the WRL. We would actually form permanent teams and go into league play with a semifinals and a finals. League play would be an 8-week period during the summer after the [NRHA] Derby and before the futurity seasons.
QHN: Why would a rider compete in NRHA events when they can get a guaranteed paycheck with WRL?
Miola: If they don’t compete in NRHA events, they won’t be on the WRL list. That list is based purely on NRHA earnings and excludes money earned in WRL events. I tell everyone to get to NRHA shows and get your earnings up. It’s the only way you can ride for the WRL. It’s promoting participation in NRHA events. I’m not taking anything away. I’m trying to give.
QHN: But do you plan on making money with this venture?
Miola: Will I make money on the first one? No way. But I do hope to make money with this eventually. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We live in a capitalistic society. If we create a great product and we make money, that’s America.
But if I get more members into the NRHA, I think everyone will benefit – trainers, assistant trainers who want to further their careers, breeders. Everybody benefits. Will I sell more breedings to my stallions? I hope so. I benefit as the industry benefits.
QHN: How has this idea been received?
Miola: I’m very pleased with the reception we’ve gotten from 99 percent of the people. I think we’re on the right track. But there are detractors. Hopefully, as we get more exposure, these criticisms will disappear. Once everybody sees what a great time everyone has, I think my detractors will eventually be my friends.
We want to get reining out there. And I know, just call it a gut feeling when people see this, where the best riders are showing their best horses, I think they’re going to get enamored with the sport in a way they couldn’t have been otherwise.
My goal is to increase the membership of the NRHA by giving spectators a way to see this sport like they’ve never seen it before – in a very entertaining fashion. Will I be successful in bringing in new members for NRHA? I don’t know, but I certainly hope so. I do know we’ll have a heck of a lot of fun trying.
Quelle: For more information, please visit www.worldreiningleague.com.