Road to the Horse Kicks off in Lexington, Kentucky

Meet the colts and competitors in this colt-starting championship.

AQHA Media

Three gorgeous American Quarter Horses fresh off the famed Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas. Three well-known horsemen who will start them under saddle in a matter of day. And a raucous crowd eager to cheer on all six of the stars. That’s Road to the Horse, the world championship of colt starting that is sponsored in part by AQHA, and it’s rolling now at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

The 2016 contestants are clinician Clinton Anderson, a two-time winner of the event; Richard Winters, also a former RTTH champion and National Reined Cow Horse Association world champion; and Nick Dowers, who is new to Road to the Horse but has credentials as  the 2013 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity champion.

As the competitors chose their colts – in an order determined by drawing chips out of a cowboy hat – Richard went with a sorrel gelding with two hind socks named Boons Pay. His sire, Boons San, is a National Cutting Horse Association money earner, and his dam, Quails Pick, is a daughter of AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse world champion Sixes Pick.

Nick chose next, selecting the chromed-up sorrel Seven Attraction, sired by Playin Attraction who has NRCHA laurels, being the intermediate open futurity champion and the open futurity reserve champion. His dam, Lizzie Seven, is a daughter of AQHA world champion cutting horse Seven From Heaven.

Clinton announced that he wouldn’t personally select a colt. Instead, he would draw another chip out and go with that colt. It was No. 9, which matched up to the rose gray Four Roan Papa, a son of the Hancock-bred Four Roan Fly, who has been shown successfully at halter and who qualified for the AQHA World Championship Show in junior tie-down roping and junior heading.

Each of the men were pleased with the progress they made during the roughly hour and a half round-pen session they had on Friday. Both Richard and Nick got their horses saddled and put in a couple of rides, while Clinton had a more sensitive horse that he had to rope to get haltered. He saddled the colt toward the end of the session but didn’t get on board.

Here’s Richard’s recap:  “He seemed like a little horse that wanted to be gentle, and that’s fine with me. I’m an old man; I don’t need any broncs.  So he was that way and easy to catch.

“It’s nice to get up to them right away, but he was a little sticky and wanting to be a little pushy. But he’s getting progressively better.

“I need to make sure that I save enough horse for all three rounds, because I think that maybe he doesn’t have a lot of ‘bottom’ in him, so he was a little sticky to keep loping out.”

Richard took Boons Pay over some poles and a tarp spread on the ground and praised the horse for his bravery in negotiating the obstacles. He was rewarded for his patient application of good fundamentals with a round-high score of 630.

“I’ve been in this event enough times to know that these numbers could turn upside down two or three more times,” Richard says. “The last few years, I’ve been able to be the (Road to the Horse) color commentator right on the floor, and I’ve learned so much, watching great horsemen and horsewomen perform out there, and I’ve considered all those things.”

He called on his daughter (and former RTTH competitor) Sarah Dawson to serve as his pen wrangler, and unlike previous years, the pen wranglers were allowed to enter the round pens, although they could not touch the colts. Sarah helped Richard push his colt into a lope once he was mounted up.

“It is so wonderful (to have Sarah),” Richard says. “I didn’t know if I could get her or not. She and her husband are so busy training reined cow horses and so (I’m thankful for) the fact that she would honor me by coming back and being my pen wrangler. ... We’ve worked so well together for so many years, we don’t hardly even have to say anything. She’s the best.”

Nick also made a lot of progress with Seven Attraction, saddling and bridling him easily and working a lot on forward motion.

“He’s real curious and he’s really intelligent. He feels like he’s a really smart horse,” Nick says. At one point, pen wrangler Nolan Reil stepped in to use a flag (and later a tarp) to encourage the colt to move forward, but he instead hooked on to Nolan and thought he should stay with him.

“There was a bit of confusion there,” Nick says. “I’ve been teaching him to come to me and hook on for that first little bit, so that wasn’t his fault. It’s just part of the process of getting him trained.”

The colt’s curiosity came out as he played with the large ball in his pen, which was also dotted with foam noodles. Nick says he wanted those items to just become part of the horse’s “new normal,” since he’ll have to see similar things during Sunday’s final obstacle course competition.

To move Seven Attraction forward once he was mounted up, Nick used the tail of his lariat rope and sometimes a flag to encourage forward motion. At one point, the colt didn’t move his feet but he leaned forward. Nick rewarded that try by stopping his requests to move.

“When he just thinks about going forward, I’m going to back right off,” Nick says. “I don’t try to keep them going, just get them going. He’ll build on that. Pretty soon, he’ll start carrying himself, because he’ll say, ‘Every time I stop, he just asks me to go, so what happens if I just keep going?’ And then he’ll just learn to have some carriage there.”

Nick was looking forward to Saturday’s competition, when he could continue building on the foundation laid on Friday.

“(Friday), I feel like we didn’t really get to see the fruits of everything we got done. I think (Saturday) is when it’s really going to show up.” His score for Friday was 604.

Clinton, by comparison, didn’t make as much progress as the other two competitors, but he’s not worried.

“He’s a forward-moving colt, and he had a lot of feel to him, which is good and bad,” he says of Four Roan Papa. “He’s a little standoffish and hard to get up and touch, he’s not very trusting, but he’s got a good mind. He’s a good colt. There’s nothing wrong with him at all. I’m not disappointed with my performance. I was disappointed with my roping, sure (it took a couple of tries to get the horse roped), but the colt was a good colt.

“He’ll be better (Saturday). I’ll get my hands on him a lot quicker, and I can move him around, and I’ll make a lot more progress. If I was at home now, I’d go to bed just fine. I’d sleep just fine, because I’m happy with my horse. As a horseman, you just want your horse to do better the next day. Even if it was a bad day today, you want it to be better tomorrow.”

In the end, Clinton thinks the fact that Four Roan Papa has a lot of gas may be a good thing. By the third day, many colts are tired and not as willing to do what’s required of them on Sunday.

 “I’d rather have a forward-moving horse that’s spooky and jumpy than a lazy one that’s sticky and doesn’t want to go, because these horses run out of gas,” Clinton says. “This is a physically demanding event, so if they’re already a lazy colt, and they run out of air, then they’re really lazy.”

Stay tuned to for more coverage of Road to the Horse as it culminates on Sunday.