Whether you’ve started a colt or not, the horse handling skills displayed at 2019 Road to the Horse can be appreciated by all.
Whether it was the headlining competitors or the three Wild Card Challenge competitors, wise horsemanship practices ruled the roundpen and into the obstacle course at 2019 Road to the Horse in Lexington, Kentucky.
It was my first time attending Road to the Horse, a three-day colt-starting competition that started in 2003 and has grown into an inspiring showcase of horse handling at its finest. Trainers are tasked with selecting and starting colts provided by the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas. If all goes well, riders will guide their green-broke colts through a challenging timed obstacle course.
This year’s main competitors included Nevada trainer Nick Dowers and New Zealand show jumper Vicki Wilson. It also included a Wild Card Challenge, in which three colt-starters faced off for a spot in Road to the Horse 2020. Those horsemen were Ben Baldus, Wade Black and Booger Brown.
When the Four Sixes remuda ran into the arena for the first time, the crowd cheered and laughed at the childish ways of each horse. They would playfully nip at each other and roll in the arena footing. Fan favorites quickly arose. Most of the remuda included sorrels mixed in with a buckskin, palomino, gray and bay.
What I admired most about the event was how the trainers used a calm, confident presence when working with their colts. The demeanor seeped into the young horses, which were hungry for guidance. If something didn’t go according to plan, the trainers didn’t get mad or overreact. They simply tried again. With that forgiving attitude, the horses learned to try and trust.
Horseman, clinician and 2009 Road to the Horse winner Richard Winters co-hosted the event and told the crowd on the first day, “Save time by taking the time to do it right.”
After nearly a week in Lexington soaking in horsemanship (and sipping bourbon), I was eager to get home and work with my 3-year-old Dual R Smokin gelding. “Murphy” was patient as I worked on disengaging his hindquarters and using a rope to further desensitize him—all things I took notes on during the event. Though Murphy is already working under saddle, it reassured me of his training foundation and in turn made me more confident of us as a team.
As I loped around the pasture, if he wanted to speed up a little, I didn’t hold him back. Instead, I leaned back and let him gallop freely for several strides before using my seat and a slow hand to ask for a slowdown. And…it worked. I guess those trainers do know what they’re doing.
Though I probably won’t start a colt anytime soon, the body language and training methods the trainers at Road to the Horse used can be applied to horses of any age.
As Western Horseman continues its efforts to promote safe, effective horsemanship, the legacy of Road to the Horse will continue to grow. And I can’t wait to be there.