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In 2003, when Tootie Bland and her late husband, Steven, dreamed up Road to the Horse, they created an event that showcased the foundation of trust upon which all good horse-human partnerships are built. Their mission was about making the world a better place for the horse through natural horsemanship. That remains the priority of the event today, 15 years later.

“It’s the best gift in the world to see what’s possible with these horses.”
— Tootie Bland
Road to the Horse Founder

What is Road to the Horse?

Road to the Horse ranks among the premier colt-starting events in the world. It’s unlike anything seen before: educational, entertaining and inspiring. World-class horses and world-class equine clinicians spend three days together on a journey toward trust in front of 10,000 equine-savvy spectators. The viewers come from various equine walks with backgrounds that range from dressage riders to race horse trainers to ranch hands. They travel from across the country annually to not only be entertained but with the goal of learning better ways to communicate with their own horses. As bonds begin to develop between the horses and their humans, the emotion is palpable from the grandstands within the Kentucky Horse Park’s Alltech Arena in Lexington. The crowd sees successes and setbacks as the riders progress through the event in an attempt to win the World Championship of Colt Starting. Although it is a competition between the clinicians, in the end everybody wins, especially the horses.

The Format

Every year, Bland evolves the format of the now renowned event. In 2012, each of the competitors came from several corners of the world and competed in two-person teams from Australia, the United States and Canada. In 2017, she hosted an all-ladies version of the competition. For 2018, the level of difficulty has been upped as each clinician must start two colts and prepare them for the final day when they must individually display aptitude in Rail Work and Overall Riding, in addition to the traditional Obstacle Course packed with challenges meant to test the horse’s degree of trust of the rider.

On the first day of competition, clinicians select their colt(s) from the remuda brought by the Four Sixes Ranch (6666 Ranch). After selection, each rider is assigned a round pen to work in for an allotted amount of time with each gelding. Each clinician is allowed a two-hour session with their colt, including a mandatory 15-minute rest period for the horse on each day of the competition.

The two-hour round pen sessions on the first and second days of the event are the only interaction the clinician is allowed with the horse before the obstacle course and freestyle display on the final day of the competition. In fact, other than for routine veterinary care, the colts have not been handled since they were halter broke as weanlings. They come to the Road to the Horse for selection after spending months roaming the ranch with the herd. It is astounding to see the progress and level of horsemanship reached over such a short period of time. Each rider comes from a different equestrian background and utilizes their own methods to build trust with the animals.

At the Event

1

To start, clinicians select their colt(s) brought by the Four Sixes Ranch (6666 Ranch) from the remuda.

2

Each rider is assigned a round pen to work in for an allotted amount of time with each gelding. Each clinician is allowed a two-hour session with their colt, including a mandatory 15-minute rest period for the horse, on each day of the competition.

3

Obstacle course and freestyle display on the final day of the competition.

The Horses

The Four Sixes Ranch provides the band of geldings that are presented at Road to the Horse on the first day of the event. The clinicians spend time patiently analyzing the prospects and their tendencies before carefully selecting the colt(s) they will develop and eventually compete with.

Legendary Quarter Horses are part of the Four Sixes Ranch‘s storied legacy. Known for world-class breeding for ranch work, competitive performance, as well as racing, the ranch is the AQHA All-Time Leading Breeder of both performance horses and race money winners. Carefully bred for cow sense, speed, gentleness and conformation, some of the colts are kept for use on the ranch, others are trained for racing or performance competition and some of the best are regularly consigned to several of the most prestigious auction sales in the United States, including an annual sale put on by the Four Sixes Ranch along with other noteworthy ranches.

Of the early stallions, Joe Hancock, Hollywood Gold and Grey Badger II likely had the most influence on the breeding program. “The Sixes” was also the home of the legendary Dash For Cash, one of the greatest sires in the history of running Quarter Horses. His progeny have earned more than $40 million to date.

In 1993, the Texas ranch was recognized for its impressive band of working cow horses used on the 275,000-acre property to tend the herd of cattle, with the AQHA Best Remuda Award.

“It’s impossible to describe Road to the Horse,” says creator Tootie Bland. “It’s the best gift in the world to see what’s possible with these horses. Everyone should see it once. And although we try each year to make it bigger and better, the basic tenets remain the same.”

Jack Brainard and Kate Neubert, the 2017 recipient of the Jack Brainard Award.
PHOTO BY ROAD TO THE HORSE

Jack Brainard Award

Every year at the conclusion of the competition, an award is presented to the horseman or horsewoman that excels in their power of observation, choice of approach and application of their methods, in the best interest of the horse.

The namesake of the trophy, Jack Brainard, is a longtime treasure in the equine community and is known as the “Master of the Flying Lead Change.” The industry contributions by this legendary horseman are numerous and important, including 50+ years as a breeder, 40+ years as a horse show judge and a lifetime as a mentor to horsemen. At 96-years-old, Brainard still maintains a schedule of horsemanship clinics.

The 2018 Competitors

“My philosophy stems from helping the horse to believe that what I am offering is real, not having them feel like they can’t make a mistake... .”
— Nick Dowers
2016 Road to the Horse Champion
& Platinum Performance® Client since 2009
Nick Dowers, 2016 Road to the Horse Champion & Platinum Performance® Client since 2009

Nick Dowers

While many things set Nick Dowers apart from his peers, his unique training philosophy clearly tops the list. Humble beginnings in Nevada’s Fish Lake Valley taught the 33-year-old cowboy that hard work, patience and perseverance were the tools for success. Dowers began riding at a young age, using horses on his family’s Triple D Ranches in the Great Basin. This background instilled in him a sincere appreciation for the horse as his partner, as well as a belief that work outside of the arena is crucial. After studying under well-respected horsemen and horsewomen, Dowers pulled the best from each to develop his own training theories. Equipped with the knowledge he gleaned from mentors like Bryan Neubert, Joe Wolter, Andrea Fappani and Annie Reynolds, Dowers set out to establish a program with a balance of natural horsemanship and performance horse training techniques. His end goal is to build a partnership with each horse that results in a balanced and confident athlete. Winning is not everything — the more important measurement of success is the journey Dowers takes to unlocking each horse’s maximum potential.

Dowers took the cow horse world by storm in October 2013 when he piloted Time For The Diamond to the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity Open World Championship, but the paycheck that accompanied the win was far from the most valuable result of that success. With the performance horse industry’s attention, Dowers was able to prove to his fellow horsemen that taking one’s time and getting into a horse’s mind could still yield a champion in the show pen.

Vicki Wilson won the 2017 Road to the Horse in the closest-scoring competition in the history of the event.

Vicki Wilson

Vicki Wilson has always had a passion for riding and started her career in an unorthodox fashion: at 3-years-old, riding and training the family sheep. A few decades later, Wilson is one of New Zealand’s most successful and well-respected show jumpers, known for her competitive edge and her ability to produce happy horses. She has won countless classes at the highest levels, right through to World Cup, and has consistently been in the winner’s circle since she won her first national title in 2004. At Horse of the Year, Wilson won the Lowry Medallion five times and the Nationwide Cup nine times — more than any other rider in history. She has represented New Zealand in the winning Trans-Tasman Young Rider team three times and has ridden under the New Zealand flag in Europe, with many wins and placings.

Well regarded for her versatility, Wilson has won many national titles across the show jumping, show hunter and showing disciplines, while creating a name for herself in the Southern Hemisphere through bareback and bridle-less demonstrations and jumping displays. Wilson amazed crowds in 2011 jumping a 6-foot puissance wall bareback, in 2012 she jumped over a car and in 2013 she sailed over another horse.

Outside of the competition arena, Wilson is one of the country’s top horse trainers. Her specialties lie with fixing problem horses, the domestication of wild horses and colt starting, having started hundreds of horses over the past twenty years. She has a strong philosophy based on producing happy horses that love their work and takes a holistic approach to horse welfare. Over the years, she has developed a reputation for successfully rehabilitating sore and difficult horses, having learned that horses generally only show negative behavior as a reaction to pain or fear. She aims to foster confidence; working to find solutions rather than punishing symptoms.

Jim Anderson and Maverick, the duo that won the 2014 Wild Card competition at Road to the Horse.

Jim Anderson

Born with a rope in his hand and spurs on his boots, Jim Anderson has spent his entire life with horses. Growing up in southern Alberta, Canada, on the family ranch, his parents ensured that he was exposed to good horsemanship from a very early age. He took clinics with Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt and upon finishing high school at age eighteen, spent a winter working with Bryan Neubert.

Anderson has won over $130,000 in NRHA events and has LTE in excess of $200,000. He won both the 2000 European Cow Horse Futurity and Derby Championship as well as the 2000 Italian Reining Derby while working in Europe. After returning home to North America, Anderson became a three-time Canadian Supreme Reining Futurity Champion.

In 2011, Anderson marked the first of three consecutive Calgary Stampede ‘Cowboy Up Challenge’ titles, with a Reserve Championship title and Championship wins in 2012 and 2013. With another win at the Extreme Cowboy Association 2012 World Championship in Texas, he then applied and was selected as a Wild Card competitor for Road to the Horse 2014 by Tootie Bland. Anderson and “Maverick” (SIX FLO BUCK) went on to win the coveted Wild Card competition, and he continued with “Smokey” (SPEEDY CREAM) to win the Road to the Horse 2014 World Championship of Colt Starting title.

Anderson and his wife, Andrea, developed their Higher Horsemanship Program and share it with people all over the world — traveling for clinics, demos and expos, as well as offering online coaching to and from anywhere! It is rooted in deciphering pressure as a positive tool of communication: they help clients and horses connect familiar exercises to new tasks, so that consistent and confident progress is made. He is renowned for his ability to demystify the concept of feel and easily connects the why and what to the how and when.

Anderson believes that helping our horses understand gives them a choice. It sets them up to be active participants in achieving goals, as a team and as partners. He believes that the ultimate connection to the horse is when they truly understand how and where to get comfort, from us.

Jim was not able to compete in the 2018 RTTH competition due to medical reasons.

Dan James, now based in the United States, was part of Team Australia that captured the title in 2012.

Dan James

Born in Queensland, Australia, on a small cattle farm, Dan James first began his lifelong passion with horses at a young age. The family milking goat would suffice until he got his first pony. Starting his first colt in his early teens sparked his hunger to understand more about the horse’s thinking patterns. After studying at Longreach Pastoral College, James began traveling the world to gain a better understanding of the horse. James first traveled to Hokkaido, Japan, then to Celina, Texas, working for cutting horse trainer Punk Carter.

In 2008, James joined his good friend, Dan Steers, in Western Australia at El Caballo Spanish Horse Centre where they performed together each weekend in the “Dan and Dan Show” developing their horsemanship techniques. In 2009, Steers and James relocated to New South Wales and Double Dan Horsemanship was born. After winning Road to the Horse 2012, James has continued to excel as a horseman, collecting multiple Kentucky Gold Cup and AQHA Congress Freestyle Reining Championships.

Now based in the United States, Dan James continues to perform, teach and inspire horse lovers continuing the legacy of Double Dan Horsemanship at the Australian Equine Performance Center, based in Midway, Kentucky. James is joined by his wife, Elizabeth, and newborn daughter, Isabella.

15 Years of RTTH Champions

Vicki Wilson and her sister at the 2017 RTTH, returned to win a second title in 2018.

Nick Dowers after winning the 2016 RTTH World Championship of Colt Starting.

Chris Cox at the 2015 RTTH competition after winning his 4th title.

2018

Vicki Wilson

Returned from New Zealand to win a 2nd world title

2017

Vicki Wilson

Won the closest-scoring competition in the history of the event

2016

Nick Dowers

His ranching roots conquered the competition

2015

Chris Cox

Returned to defend his title and wins an unprecedented fourth event!

2014

Jim Anderson

Captured both the Wild Card and Road to the Horse Championship

2013

Guy McLean

Event moved to the renowned Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington

2012

Team Australia

Guy McLean & Dan James captured the international version of Road to the Horse

2011

Chris Cox

Became the only 3-time champion of Road to the Horse

2010

Craig Cameron

Along with the judges' scores, text messages from spectators helped determine the winner

2009

Richard Winters

Rode his colt in the obstacle course and freestyle in a halter rather than a bridle

2008

Chris Cox

Captured his second title after starting the final day behind in the score

2007

Chris Cox

Captured the title and educated the crowd

2006

Stacy Westfall

Was the first woman to claim the title

2005

Clinton Anderson

Competition moved to Murfreesboro, TN

2003

Clinton Anderson

Won the inaugural event in Fort Worth, TX

The Road to the Horse was not held in 2004

Amy Quintana
  • by Amy Quintana, Platinum Performance®