Let’s see. If you count the two wins of native Australian Clinton Anderson, the three wins of Florida native Chris Cox, who grew up on an island off the coast of Australia, and add in this year’s two Aussie winners, Guy McLean and Dan James, you come up with seven Road to the Horse buckles that have been won by horsemen with ties to Australia. Crikey!
The Aussies of 2012 earned their buckles the hard way. Trailing Team USA at the end of Day One, they suffered a setback when Dan James, scheduled to step back into the round pen at the start of day two, fell ill. While Dan rested and received IV fluids, teammate Guy McLean took the first slot and Dan’s business partner, Dan Steers, advised and assisted from outside the pen. By the second session on day two, Dan James was back in the contest, still not 100% but determined to compete. On day three, the Aussies were the only team to take Tootie Bland’s offer of an extra 30 points each if they would switch horses for the test. Using the saddling pen as a training pen for more than half of the 40 minutes allotted for their tests, each Aussie was able to connect with the horse his teammate had trained and go on to produce a winning performance. The most memorable moment came when Guy McLean coaxed his mount into the optional water obstacle, stood on the horse’s back, cracked two stock whips as fast as machine gun fire, and followed it all up with an emotional bush (cowboy) poem written especially for the occasion.
Jonathan Field and Glenn Stewart of Team Canada got extra points before training began for switching the horses they had each chosen, and they made exceptional progress near the end of the event, but time worked against them in catching the Aussies.
Team USA was the leader at the end of day one, which was actually a bad omen; historically, the person or team who leads after round one does not prevail at Road to the Horse. Team USA faced an additional challenge when Pat Parelli’s colt was scratched for medical reasons after the first day. Per the rules, Pat had to pick a new colt, start over on day two and show up at 5:30 am on day three to get in his second training session. The fatigue factor aside – and it was a factor for all of us at this marathon event – Pat was under the continuous scrutiny of all six judges during that second session, something no other RTTH competitor has ever had to endure.
All in all, Road to the Horse International made a fitting farewell to the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, home to seven of the nine Road to the Horse contests thus far. For 2013, the event will be held in the Alltech Arena at Lexington’s Kentucky Horse Park. Tickets are already on sale. Get 'em early.
Other notes: Publisher Darrell Dodds presented the Western Horseman Award to Dr. Robert M. Miller in opening ceremonies on Saturday. Only a handful of other horsemen have received the award, including two other RTTH judges, Bob Moorhouse and Jack Brainard.
This was the first year that judges' scores were posted on the big video screen during the event. Everyone loved the added suspense.
Finally, I'd like to thank my good friend and 2009 RTTH champ, Richard Winters, for assisting me with the hosting of Road to the Horse 2012. I could not have done it without him and I hope he will share the duties with me again next year.