“This is Steve.” Adrianna Runzo introduces her horse as she cinches his saddle. “I love him.
My family loves him. He’s my heart horse.”
Runzo is smiling and talking to Steve as she prepares him for a short practice in reining exercises. Steve calmly blinks. He turns his head toward the camera pointed at him.
“He’s posing for you,” Runzo said. “He knows you’re here to see him and he’s excited to show you what he can do.”
There is a bond between Runzo and Steve that seems almost mystic.
Runzo is the president of the National Reining Horse Youth Association, and in her position as president, she advocates not only for her association but for the equine industry as well.
“A lot of people don’t know that Ohio has a lot of equine associations,” she said. “The National Reining Horse Association started here.”
Dale Wilkinson, originally from rural Tiffin, Ohio, is credited with creating standards for reining and turning it into a sport of skill, finesse and controlled maneuvers.
The cowboys who worked at Bob Evans Farm, in Rio Grande, showed off their horses and skills in reining, she said, but it was Wilkinson who created the rules and patterns. In 1998, the NRHA moved to Oklahoma City.
“Reining is where rider and horse execute patterns that mimic behaviors and skills a horse would need on a cattle ranch in the American West like spinning, walking backwards and stopping,” Runzo said.
The sport ideally embraces the Old West where horses herd livestock so they need to be responsive, agile and quick as they move cattle across the range.
“It’s almost the glamorous part of agriculture,” Runzo said.
Runzo started reining while involved in 4-H when she was 11. The first year she went to the Ohio State Fair, she won grand champion in equitation.
“That was one of my proudest moments,” she recalled.
Runzo also does catch riding, where you show a horse you’ve never ridden before.
“Getting on all kinds of horses has made me a better rider,” she said.
Runzo’s mom, Sherry Bogdan, showed reiners before her daughter was born.
“I wanted to see if I could do it. Turns out I can,” Runzo said.
“She was a natural,” Bogdan said.
Over the years, Runzo has attended statewide and national competitions, honing her skills. She was a 13 and under reserve world champion in 2019 and a world champion in 2020. She also has a national championship in ranch riding and a national championship in horsemanship.
Runzo credits Steve.
“He carried me there. He pushes me to be a better rider. He’s 18, but he’s still showing strong,” she said. “When we found Steve, I don’t think the people selling him knew what they had. We consider them athletes as much as we consider ourselves athletes. Steve is still a great athlete.”
Steve is boarded at Alleman Quarter Horses in Canal Fulton, which Runzo describes as part of her barn family.
“The horses here are Steve’s friends and the people who own the horses are my friends,” she said. “They are my barn family.”
For young people who may be interested in reining, Runzo suggests finding a good barn family and a good trainer.
During the summer, Runzo’s duties as part of the national reining association for youth will give her a chance to meet policymakers and politicians in Washington, D.C., where she and others will lobby for animal welfare. It’s part of her responsibilities as president of the association.
“It’s also a lot of networking, which a lot of people don’t see,” she said.
Runzo plans on attending Santa Clara University, in California, in the fall and will participate on their national equestrian team. She will travel extensively across the U.S. as part of the team but her dedication remains with Steve in Ohio.
Runzo tears up
“Steve is my best friend. We’ve grown up together. We’re the same age. He’ll be with me forever.”
Runzo mounts Steve with a big smile and coaxes him into the sandy ring where they begin to practice.
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