The Kiwi Cowgirl

Vicki Wilson and Boon River Lad win the 2017 Road to the Horse

AQHA Media

Road to the Horse champion Vicki Wilson waves to her fans as pyrotechnics go off.

Road to the Horse champion Vicki Wilson waves to her fans as pyrotechnics go off. Holly Clanahan photo

 “I don’t quit; you don’t quit.”

That was Vicki Wilson’s encouragement to her horse, “Kentucky,” as she asked him to negotiate a difficult obstacle course at the Road to the Horse colt-starting championship on his third day ever being ridden. He often thought the answer should be, “No, it’s too tough.” But Vicki knew that if she could do it – after suffering a dislocated shoulder on the first day and working through some immense pain – the little bay gelding, could, too.

When Boon River Lad balked at this obstacle, Vicki got off and led him through it to bolter his confidence.Her attitude toward him was heart-warming. When he showed fear at an obstacle that was just too frightening (such as a stark white Zoetis tarp on the ground or the foam noodles shown at left), Vicki showed him that they could get through anything together. She dismounted, led him over the scary obstacle and felt his confidence soar. When she re-mounted, he sailed over it easily with her on his back.

“For him to go, ‘OK Mom, I've got this,’ it was pretty amazing that he had that much trust in me, and we were kind of there together,” Vicki says. “That try in that horse ... he’s pretty cool.”

He and his trainer are also the 2017 Road to the Horse champions, both of them being rewarded for their amazing try. Vicki – the first New Zealander and first English competitor at Road to the Horse – brought a unique perspective to the event. This year was the “celebration of the cowgirl,” and all competitors were women. The other cowgirls – Kate Neubert, Sarah Dawson and Rachelle Valentine – all turned in very even performances. In fact, all four competitors made it through the obstacle course with skill and aplomb.

But it was Vicki’s approach – riding her horse bareback the first day and often thereafter, switching to a bitless bridle when he seemed to dislike the snaffle and rewarding every little try – that won the judges over and won her a $100,000 check.

Besides the money and the other cool prizes, Vicki will also be taking another cool memento back to New Zealand with her.

 With the confidence boost from Vicki, Boon River Lad decided he could go through the noodles himself.“Kentucky's coming back to New Zealand,” she said. “It’s a bit of a trip for him, but he deserves it. He’ll have a very cool life. He’ll become a new demo pony, and he loves this jumping, so that’s something that we’re going to develop and play with. He’s going to be a pretty cool kid.”

Kentucky is registered as Boon River Lad and, like the other members of the remuda, was bred by the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas, an AQHA Best Remuda Award winner, as well as an AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder.

He is by Boon San, a cutting horse who has earned more than $57,000. His bottom side shows speed: dam Three Eights Bedouin is by racing champion Royal Quick Dash and out of a daughter of Bedouino, a racing Thoroughbred who’s a member of the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame for his contributions to the breed.

If Kentucky has the makings of a star, Vicki does, too. She’s one of New Zealand's most successful and well-respected show jump riders, known for her competitive edge at the highest levels. And she has also trained wild horses in three countries: New Zealand, Australia and the United States. She and her sisters, Kelly and Amanda, starred in the top-rated television series “Keeping up With the Kaimanawas,” as well as two documentaries and four best-selling books that share their experiences working with horses around the globe.

Learn more about them at https://wilsonsisters.nz/ or on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/www.wilsonsisters.nz/

As the trainer of the winning colt, Vicki also received a Traveler Award trophy from AQHA. The colt’s breeder, the Four Sixes Ranch – represented by Dr. Glenn Blodgett, the Four Sixes horse division manager and an AQHA past president – also received a Traveler Award.

Kate Neubert received the Jack Brainard Award, given by the legendary horseman to the trainer he thought practiced the best horsemanship during the event.  Kate worked for Jack when she was 18 and says she was especially gratified to see that he appreciates what she is doing now.

More about the event: Road to the Horse, held in Lexington, Kentucky, March 23-26, allows competitors to have two sessions in a round pen with a mostly unhandled 3-year-old colt from the Four Sixes Ranch. For the third session, competitors had 45 minutes to catch and saddle their colt in a round pen, take him through a series of rail-work requirements that included walking, trotting and loping both directions, and then go through a challenging obstacle course. The event is sponsored, in part, by AQHA.