Competitors for Road to the Horse buckle down and polish their colt-starting skills before stepping into the arena at Kentucky Horse Park.

With only one day before Road to the Horse kicks off at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, competitors are busy preparing and packing for the big competition. Though strategies may differ from horseman to horsewoman, one challenge has been the same across the board: finding time to get their hands on as many colts as possible prior to the event.

Four-time Road to the Horse Champion Chris Cox says it’s important for the competitors to stay focused.

Ben Baldus riding horse to start colts at Waggoner ranch
Wild Card Competitor Ben Baldus started colts on the Waggoner Ranch. Photo courtesy of Ben Baldus

“Stick to your principles,” says the Texas horseman. “Nobody’s coming into this doing the same thing and if they are, they’re doing it wrong. Depending on the horse you draw, you need to do different things.”

Headlining the event are professional trainers Nick Dowers and Vicki Wilson, who will each start three Four Sixes colts over the course of three days, vying for the title and a check for $100,000. Wild Card competitors Ben Baldus, Wade Black and Booger Brown, will each start one Four Sixes colt for three days. The winner of the Wild Card Challenge earns a spot at next year’s RTTH.

Here’s how each competitor is polishing their colt-starting skills:

Nick Dowers: “I’ve tried to get my hands on a bunch of colts to brush up on my skills. This year, to brush up for Road to the Horse, I started all the colts myself, when usually I have help since I have a training business to run, too.

“To prepare for the competition part, my friend Nolan Riles, who will be my pen wrangler at the event, has been out to the ranch twice this February, and we ran through what we’ll do as far as time limits and scheduling. I also had a colt-starting clinic, and that was fun and educational.”

booger brown starts colt in roundpen
Wild Card Competitor Booger Brown started colts in his community to get extra practice before Road to the Horse. Photo courtesy of Booger Brown

Vicki Wilson: “We are at the busy end of our show jumping season so I have had very little time to do anything! In fact on Sunday I jumped off my competition horses and raced to catch the plane to Lexington!

“I try not to overthink what needs to be done, I will work with the colts I get. Each will have different needs, and my job is to read what they need and work with them as individuals.”

Ben Baldus: “In February I went to the Waggoner Ranch, where I used to be the head trainer, and had the opportunity to start 27 colts. I brought two helpers, Taylor Peters and AJ Black, and my wife, Cameron, who will be my pen wrangler, to get her more used to being around colts.

“For five days we worked with the colts, and by the end we had some dragging logs, walking over tarps, and even swinging a rope off them. It was fun to put the first five rides on horses that will go on to be the horses for the cowboys at the ranch.”

Wade Black: “I prepared for Road to the Horse last night. I rode in FFA Donkey Basketball. My cousin roped me into it. We rode donkeys in a gym and had to try and make baskets. My basketball skills aren’t very good, and I only made two baskets. The donkeys weren’t going anywhere we wanted. By the end, I had my donkey pretty suppled up, so I’m proud of that.

“But honestly, working with colts is what I do for a living, so I’m just going to stick to what I know. Growing up, I remember my dad [horseman Martin Black] catching horses, putting a halter on them, and I’d ride them down the ditch bank. I’ve visited with Nick and my dad, and they both said, ‘just do what you do and don’t get distracted.'”

donkey riding FFA basketball
Wild Card Competitor Wade Black had some fun riding a green-broke donkey in an FFA basketball competition. He jokes it was his best preparation strategy. Photo courtesy of Wade Black

Booger Brown: “We’ve been preparing for the sixth season of my show, The Cowboy Way, so my plate’s been full! When I found out I was selected as a Wild Card competitor, it was like ‘Johnny, get your gun!’ I got on the horn and told everyone I knew to bring me colts, and I’d start them for free. I ended up with about 20 colts and worked them in the round pen.

“I’ve also stayed busy working and doctoring cattle. In between all that, I’ve studied the rules, and watched lots of video to get familiar with the format.”

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