New Zealand horsewoman Vicki Wilson wins the 2017 Road to the Horse competition with Kate Neubert finishing a close second.

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The 2017 Road to the Horse competitors were, from left, Kate Neubert, Sarah Dawson, Rachelle Valentine and winner Vicki Wilson, with Tootie Bland, RTTH owner/producer.

In another history-making Road to the Horse, New Zealand horsewoman Vicki Wilson took the win as the first English discipline competitor in the landmark colt starting competition. It was also RTTH’s first all-female lineup—a celebration of the cowgirl—with Wilson lining up against Kate Neubert, Sarah Dawson and Rachelle Valentine.

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Rachelle Valentine was the first of the competitors to saddle her horse, Playin A Seven.

Wilson displayed plenty of grit and improvisation in winning the competition. Toward the end of round one, she dislocated her left shoulder while sliding off to dismount bareback. She also shifted to a side pull bridle just before attempting the obstacle course after her horse, Boons River Lad, fought his snaffle bit.

“He’s a pretty cool kid,” Wilson said of the 3-year-old Quarter Horse gelding she drew for competition, whom she named “Kentucky.” Bred by the Four Sixes Ranch, an AQHA Best Remuda Award-winner based in Guthrie, Texas, Kentucky is by Boon San and out of Three Eights Bedouin by Royal Quick Dash.

Wilson said it was the colt’s “try”—facing what scared him—that enabled the win.

“[When] he thinks it’s too tough, his first reaction is to say ‘No, it’s too hard.’ And I’d say, ‘No, come on,’ and he’d say, ‘Okay.’ [It was] that try! He rewarded me so much with that try.

“He didn’t quit and I didn’t quit, and that’s what ‘cowgirl’ is all about.”

California horsewoman and cutting horse trainer Kate Neubert had the lead after Rounds 1 and 2 and finished in a close second. Reined cow horse competitor Sarah Dawson finished third, with reining trainer Rachelle Valentine finishing fourth. All four women delivered solid performances with their horses’ welfare and long-term education in mind.

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Kate Neubert swings a rope on Sixes Captain in the Round 3 obstacle course.

Kate Neubert won the Jack Brainard Award for best horsemanship practices, judged and presented by Brainard himself.

Wilson’s list of prizes includes $100,000. In addition, she purchased Kentucky to take him home with her to New Zealand where he will join her demo string.

Wilson is a champion show jumper and dressage competitor who at age 10 started her first horse under saddle. She works with problem horses and has trained roughly 60 wild horses, including New Zealand Kaimanawas, American Mustangs and Australian Brumbies. She also shoes her own horses.

Her sisters, Kelly and Amanda, are also horsewomen. The Wilson sisters were featured in their own reality TV show “Keeping Up with the Kaimanawas,” chronicling their experience working with New Zealand wild horses.

Road to the Horse ran from March 23–26, 2017, at the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. The colt-starting competition features three rounds over three days. It’s not for the faint of heart in horsemanship.

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Sarah Dawson used a helper horse with Smart Hunt early in the competition.

The first two rounds give competitors an hour and 45 minutes in a round pen to halter, handle, start under saddle and begin to work with their 3-year-old colts over obstacles, while also giving the horses mandatory rest sessions.

For the third and final round, competitors have 45 minutes to saddle their horses and complete an obstacle course. They must also complete a rail work portion: walk, trot and lope in both directions, turn, stop and back, and pick up all four feet.

Throughout the competition, judges score contestants on their time management and problem solving skills, consideration of the horse’s welfare, and sound horsemanship principles.

Tootie Bland, RTTH owner and producer, hunts for the right competitors each year to bring to the competition. She was determined that 2017 would celebrate the cowgirl and unite English and Western horsemanship.

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Road to the Horse champion filled her pen with obstacles for Rounds 1 and 2, as she worked with Boons River Lad.

“When [past RTTH champion] Dan James called me from Australia and said, ‘I found the girl you’ve been looking for,’ he was right!” she said of Wilson.

Western Horseman is proud to sponsor Road to the Horse as a genuine showcase for good horsemanship. Find more about the competitors in “Cowgirl Road” in the March 2017 issue. 

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