A Learning Opportunity at Road to the Horse

Three American Quarter Horse colts are helping educate thousands at this colt-starting event.

AQHA Media

Everyone at Road to the Horse is a student, whether you’re one of the competitors giving it their all in the arena, a spectator sitting in a stadium seat with a hot dog and a soft drink, or a web viewer following along at home. Certainly, not everyone in the audience is a colt starter, but that’s no matter.

Craig Cameron, the 2010 RTTH winner and this year’s color commentator, explains: “Everything we do with these colts is good for any horse at any age. You can go home and make it a better horse.”

Road to the Horse is known as the world championship of colt starting, and it’s sponsored in part by AQHA. The colts come from the AQHA-Four Sixes Ranch Remuda. This year, the stars of the show are Nick Dowers, paired with Seven Attraction; Richard Winters, training Boons Pay; and Clinton Anderson, working with Four Roan Papa. At the end of Saturday’s Round 2, that was the order of finish, with Nick scoring 735, Richard at 711 and Clinton at 604. The competition culminates Sunday with a finale obstacle course.

But of course, no matter who wins the competition, all of the students can go home winners.

“The best thing about Road to the Horse, it’s a big learning experience for the people that come to watch. They’re watching three clinics at once on three unstarted horses,” Craig says. "If a guy will pay attention and listen to the commentators, they’re going to learn a whole lot.”

Indeed, Craig is quick to point out the subtleties of round-pen work, the little details that make a big difference to a horse. He adroitly identified the times that colts were trying to figure out what their handlers were asking, and sometimes they guessed wrong.

“One thing that the horsemen at this level do is, they allow the horse to make mistakes, allow the horse to get scared. You know, sometimes a horse will have to get scared to realize he doesn’t need to get scared. He’s going to have to buck to realize he doesn’t need to buck. You don’t get upset about it, you don’t get mad, you don’t punish the horse for that, you just wait – make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy. And that’s why those Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance and Bill Dorrance philosophies are always so good, it’s so true,” Craig says. “And then, these guys are out there making adjustments to fit the horse, the situation and the circumstances. That’s when you see those amazing results. These guys are fixing it up, letting it happen and never taking the desire away from the horse.”

The take-home message is this: “You can’t get impatient, you have to wait on the horse; they’re just trying to figure things out,” Craig says. “A lot of people are working these horses like the horse is supposed to know what they’re supposed to do. They don’t.

“Our job is to learn to become effective and allow these horses to work, allow them to make mistakes – in other words, allow the horse to be a horse. One thing I mentioned (during the competition commentary) is, don’t take away that self-preservation from the horse. Never underestimate how important that is to the horse. Allow him to keep that, allow him to have that, allow him to measure and evaluate and do what he needs to do. If you offer it up right, I guarantee, these horses won’t let you down.”

Another Craig-ism espoused at Road to the Horse: Natural horsemanship, from the horse’s perspective, is not really all that natural.  

“Natural for the horse would never be to have a saddle or a man on his back,” Craig says. But lucky for us, horses are tolerant of such behavior.

“The horse is such a phenomenal creature,” Craig says. “We’re so lucky to have him. He’s one of God’s greatest gifts to us, and we’re doing a better job working with (horses), understanding them, and people are so involved ... people love the horse, and the horse brings the greatest people in the world to him. I don’t know why, but he does.”  

Stay tuned to www.aqha.com/showing for Sunday’s final results.