Richard Winters of Ojai, California was crowned Road to the Horse Champion in Franklin, TN March 15, 2009. Winters, John Lyons and Tommy Garland competed for the coveted title in front of a sold-out crowd of 6,000 spectators including guests from as far away as Finland, France and Paraguay. The one-of-a-kind event, which matches three top clinicians with three unbroken colts, gives each competitor three hours over two days to start their colt using their own unique natural horsemanship training techniques.
Winter's explained to the live crowd at the event that his training approach was to train his chosen 2006 AQHA bay colt, Plenty Brown Hancock, just like he would in any other setting on any other day. For Winters this included riding his colt in the obstacle course and freestyle performance in a halter rather than a bridle and bit, making him the first champion to ride his colt to victory bitless.
“I start all my colts in just a halter and not a snaffle. I decided right away to ride him in a halter during the obstacle course because you don't need to be pulling on their mouth at this stage,” says Winters.
In another Road to the Horse first, Winters asked for a calf to be let into the arena during his freestyle. He explained it is important to him to cultivate curiosity and confidence in his young horses by introducing them to new experiences such as tracking cattle.
“When they kicked that calf out into the arena for the freestyle it worked out really slick. My colt saw the calf and he really freed up and started tracking it. Hat's off to the Bath Brothers for raising really great cow horses,” he says.
Randy and Laurie Dunn, owners of Bath Brothers Ranch in Laramie, Wyoming said they were proud to show off their horses' natural ability by providing the 10 colt remuda for the event. “I think Richard really sold the crowd with the tracking of the calf and showcased the horses and their capacity and keenness of mind and ability to adapt to situations. I'm really glad that I was able to bring my horses into this venue and with this high caliber of trainers,” said Randy Dunn in an interview after the event.
Winters who is the horsemanship instructor in residence at the Thacher School in California is also a champion reined cowhorse competitor and an “A” rated NRCHA judge. He was accompanied at the event by his wife Cheryl, daughter Sarah, and son Joseph. Winters chose his daughter, a champion reined cowhorse trainer in her own right, as his Road to the Horse pen wrangler.
Road to the Horse not only featured high caliber horses and trainers, but the crème de la crème of the equine industry who were chosen to judge the event and lend their superior expertise in determining the 2009 Road to the Horse champion. Senior judge Bob Moorhouse was joined by returning judges Jack Brainard, Dr. Robert Miller and Toni Warvell. Dr. Jim Heird from Colorado State University and Marian Buehler of Dallas, Texas joined the judging ranks for the first time at this year’s event.
Shelley Mix a nnounced the winner on behalf of Horse & Rider Magazine, the official publication of Road to the Horse. Fort Dodge Animal Health, a world-wide leader in equine health solutions, had Director of Equine Sales Laura Primm on hand in the winner’s circle to present a check for $15,000 to Winter's charity of choice – Focus on the Family. The organization is dedicated to serving and strengthening family bonds worldwide. Winters says that he chose the charity due to the immense help that they have provided his own family and families across the world.
“Focus on the Family has helped me in raising my own children and strengthening my own marriage. When families are strong and healthy, opportunities are more available for young people to participate in horse shows and junior rodeos and be involved in great organizations such as 4-H and FFA. When families suffer, the result is often horses being sold, cutting back on equine activities and moving away from a rural lifestyle,” he said in explaining why he chose the charity.
Winters also received a check for $10,000 from Road to the Horse producer Tootie Bland, a memorial Steven “Dookie” Bland trophy saddle provided by Martin Saddlery featuring conchos by Gist Silversmiths, and an original painting by artist Peter Grant entitled “On the Road” which was featured as the cover image of the event’s souvenir program.
As Road to the Horse host Rick Lamb said Saturday evening at the event, “Day two can change everything”, and this year's Road to the Horse was no exception. After a challenging first day of competition, all three trainers and their colts stepped into the round pens and onto the obstacle course on Sunday with new attitudes and a renewed sense of purpose.
Garland's colt (a grullo named Blue Leo Bonnet), though it did not want to move out in the round pen and offered to buck, was able to successfully navigate the obstacle course which was constructed with poles, jumps, bags of shavings from Guardian Bedding and sacks of Nutrena SafeChoice™ feed. The obstacle course required everything from rail work to dragging a log to a mystery obstacle which entailed the clinicians getting their colts as close as possible to a cage which held two live chickens. In addition, Garland showcased the confidence he had built in his colt by standing on his horse’s back while swinging a rope, crawling underneath his colt and navigating a pool noodle obstacle he sa id approximated trees brushing against his colt out on the trail.
John Lyons, who was supported at the event by a large extended family including wife Jody, son Josh (who acted as his pen wrangler) and daughter Brandy (who participated in her father’s clinic presentation on day 1), chose a sorrel colt named A Dunn Wiggy. Lyons explained that it was important to him for any horse to be inquisitive and want to please the trainer, but not to require babysitting. To illustrate his progress in this area, after successfully completing the obstacle course portion Lyons asked his horse to ground tie.
Lyons, who recently underwent knee replacement surgery, gave the crowd a start when he seemed to be positioning himself to perform the ever-iconic Road to the Horse move of standing on his horse’s back. Instead, in signature fashion he good naturedly teased the crowd for falling for his ‘gotcha’ moment.
“It was a privilege to ride with John and Tommy and I appreciate what they're doing for horses and horse people. I felt like I had already won before the event even started just because I had the opportunity to participate in such an amazing event. It's really given me a leg up and I truly believe this event is a great thing. Not only has it given me national ex posure to people who have never heard of me before, but it has allowed me to share the California and vaquero brand of horsemanship and reined cowhorses to people across the world,” said Winters.
Road to the Horse
Road to the Horse is unlike any other event in the equine or entertainment industry. It is “the original colt starting challenge”. The two-day sold out event matches three of the country's best horse trainers and clinicians of today against one another as they train unbroken colts to ride in just a few short hours in front of a packed live audience and television cameras. By combining education, edge-of-your-seat suspense, entertainment and the love of the horse, Road to the Horse has been responsible for solidifying the position of today’s horsemanship heroes and launching the careers of tomorrow’s hottest new stars. In the process, the event itself has become a catalyst for the advancement of natural horsemanship. Hosted by Rick Lamb, of RFD-TV’s The Horse Show with Rick Lamb, spectators are guaranteed not only to have a good time, but also to walk away with training knowledge that will improve their relationship with horses.
Road to the Horse is proud to partner with many outstanding co mpanies including Horse & Rider, Fort Dodge Animal Health, Mustang Makeover, Cinch, Cruel Girl, Gist Silversmiths, ABI Equine and John Deere. For more information on the 2009 Road to the Horse visit http://www.roadtothehorse.com
or call 325-736-5000.
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/richard-winters-road-horse-fort-dodge-charity-03-09.html">Richard Winters Captures Road to the Horse Title/ Fort Dodge Charity Challenge</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com