As Ines Ritter watched her mustang Reno kick up his heels and run off, she got up from the arena dirt, dusted herself off and wondered what she’d gotten herself into.
The petite 5’3” Ritter was an accomplished rider, having grown up vaulting in Germany, then doing dressage and show jumping on smaller horses, but she didn’t have a big budget for her next horse, so when she came across Reno, who was trained to second level, she thought he might be fun. She very shortly came to question her decision.
“The second ride I had on him, he tried to kill me!” she said. “He dumped me, ran off, broke his bridle. I was like, ‘Wow, this is going to be very interesting.’ ”
Reno was born wild in Nevada, in the Bureau of Land Management’s Rock Creek Herd Management Area, and he was captured when he was a yearling. He lived in a corral until he was 5, then had a couple of owners along the way before Ritter bought him six years ago.
“My goal was to always import a German Riding Pony, but one day I saw Reno’s ad online,” Ritter said. “I was never looking for a mustang for dressage purposes, but I saw his video and really liked him.”
Ritter, Southern Pines, North Carolina, and her husband were about to sell their house, so she figured she’d have the funds to buy Reno, but on the day of the closing, the sale fell through, so she had to let the gelding go.
Five months later, her trainer Koby Robson called to tell her she’d seen Reno was available for sale again in North Carolina with a lower price, and Ritter’s house had finally sold, so she bought him.
Ritter, 45, isn’t sure why Reno had trust issues or where he picked them up, but she and Robson took their time going through the levels with him.
“He’s a really interesting critter, and I don’t know if it’s the mustang in him or not,” she said. “He was always very reactive to changes in his environment. It would always come out of nowhere, so trying to train things as far as trust was kind of hard. I would just take him out on trail rides and make sure he knew I was not trying to kill him, because at the end it was fear that something was going to happen to him. Bolting was always his go-to. The mustangs are super trainable, but Reno is a special case because of the trust thing. I don’t think a lot of people would have given him a chance, but because I didn’t have another option—that was my dressage horse.”
Ritter, who works as a graphic artist, jumped Reno early in their partnership, but the pair made it to national small tour dressage last year and now are schooling Grand Prix, so she’s backed off on the over-fences stuff. Throughout his dressage career, Reno’s gone barefoot, and Ritter is the only one who rides the 15-hand gelding so she can keep the trust she’s worked so hard to earn.
“Right now, he believes that I’m making mistakes,” she said. “He loves flying changes. That’s his go-to. Every time there’s a problem he’s like, ‘I can do a flying change!’ Or passage. He loves passage.”
What began as a quest for her bronze medal has now become a a journey to her gold medal with the 18-year-old Reno, and she’s hoping to get in the ring at Grand Prix this season.
“He’s opinionated but in a good way. He’s not being treated like your typical FEI horse. He lives outside 24/7. He doesn’t get clipped. I like to keep him as natural as possible. I think, personally, it helps with the relationship too. I always say you have to have a good relationship in order to make these critters do the things we want them to. It’s an important part. If I would have ever treated Reno any differently than a partner, I think I would not have made it to this level. I think he probably would have drawn the line at one point.”
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