Road To The Horse: Day 1
23rd March 2018
Today started with a huge twist, the trainers who had spent the past two days watching and assessing 12 horses suddenly had just seven to select from, due to the horses catching colds from the sudden change in climate. Texas was 30+ degrees Celsius where they’re born and raised on the 6666 Ranch, and they arrived after two days of travelling to a snowstorm reaching -6. Vets on site assessed the horses last night and pulled five from the remuda which meant a lot of Vicki’s favourite horses were no longer eligible to be chosen.
Apart from #2 (which was selected first by Dan James) Vicki suddenly had no plans and while walking among the horses in the Alltech Arena, as custom during the horse selection, #8 walked over to her and reached out and touched her – the very first human contact for this colt. Feeling the horse had chosen her, he was the first horse Vicki selected – a bay roan who hadn’t been in her top 6 even an hour before.
Since she was the last trainer to select initially, she then got the first pick of the remaining four horses and again walked down into the arena to interact with them. This time all of the colts surrounded her and many reached out to sniff her as she quietly watched them. Again the only horses left weren’t initially her picks, and so she made an impromptu choice to work with number 12, a beautiful chestnut with a big white blaze. Her reasoning was that he appeared healthy, tough and she thought he’d last the distance considering many of his paddock companions were already vetted out of the competition.
So all her time spent observing the horses for soundness, conformation, movement and nature went out the window as she picked horses on instinct. Just a few minutes later the round pens were being set up for the training to begin and Vicki hurried outside to follow up and say goodbye to her two sore horses, which she’d done a clinic with earlier that morning.
Suddenly it all seemed real, six horses were being run into the arena and sorted into each pen. #2 and #11 for Dan James from Australia, #5 and #6 for Nick Dowers of America and #8 and #12 for Vicki. Now the only task for these three World Champions was to create trust with their horses so they’d be able to form willing partners to aid them in their quests to winning their second World Championship title.
Vicki and Dan initially worked with both their colts together, while Nick separated one out straight away. But even #8, who Vicki had touched in the huge arena just an hour before, was too distracted in the atmosphere to settle for long – haltering these horses was not going to be as easy as Kentucky had been last year. After both horses made contact, reaching out to sniff here hand, Vicki separated her colts and soon after all three trainers had their first horses caught. Vicki began working with #8, before changing horses and starting the same process with #12, switching horse’s multiple times throughout Round One so they could rest and have lots of time to mull things over. Unlike her, Dan completed 90 minutes of training (including compulsory rest times) with #11 before moving onto #2, while Nick also swapped between horses – electing to lasso his more difficult #5.
Vicki’s roan proved to be sensitive but brave and tried hard to please. Under the watchful eyes of thousands, he began wary and mistrustful but visibly relaxed as Vicki spent time earning his trust. Within 10 minutes he was watching her every time she walked away from him and was starting to understand the basics of leading. It was a good place to finish and she was happy with where he was at. Leading him into the holding pen, she then released #12 into the round pen and soon found he’d be a little more challenging than the roan.
Right from the beginning #12 was tense and reactive, ready to leap as soon as Vicki drew near. Haltering him was going to take time and Vicki was more than happy to give it to him. In fact she didn’t even attempt to halter him until he was confident being rubbed over much of his body and head, and by then she was able to slip the halter over his muzzle without too much fuss. That trust formed in those first 10 minutes was crucial, when just five minutes later she was backing him for the first time. Just bareback, in a halter, she jumped up and down beside him for a few minutes, then leapt up and lay over his back. He barely shifted his weight and 25 minutes into Round One she was sitting upright and had her first walk on him. After hoping off a few times and even leaving the arena, so he could rest, Vicki was then trotting #12 bareback 50 minutes into Round One and about 35 minutes into working with the chestnut. A perfect time to give him a break and she switched horses, returning to #8.
After his rest, observing from the holding yard, #8 remembered everything he’d learnt and within minutes Vicki was also backing him bareback with just a halter. Just one hour into Round One she was walking him around the arena, although didn’t feel he was quite ready for a trot. Patience is key and she could feel he was tense – she didn’t need to create an issue by asking for more then he was ready for, so she dismounted and returned to ground work. There was plenty more for these horses to learn before they would be ready for the final obstacle course on Sunday. Soon she had him walking and trotting on the lead and sniffing curiously at a flag, before briefly jumping on again bareback. Still feeling he wasn’t quite ready for a bigger question she dismounted. This time she taught him to stand while being brushed, pick up all four hooves and wear a surcingle. All things that progressed naturally – without bucking (the only horse so far that hadn’t).
Feeling happy with where both her horses were at, she again left the arena so they could enjoy some down time and talked over her strategy with Michael, her Pen Wrangler. By the time she returned to the arena #8 stood quietly while he was saddled, then trotted and cantered around the pen with no issues. She was now 90 minutes into Round One (having worked with each horse for about 40 minutes). Now she returned to #12, while Dan changed to #2 (Vicki’s first pick) to begin working with his second horse for the first time – having already cantered #11 under saddle.
Confident in #8 as a lead horse she left him in the pen while she worked #12. Rather than moving to the far side of the pen and ignoring her, he remained engaged as Vicki introduced the chestnut to obstacles he might face on the final day. Soon he was bravely navigating flags, balls and a tarpaulin. Never scaring him, just quietly building trust. All the while #8, who was still loose in the pen, followed along behind – sometimes even taking the lead.
Sure #12 was ready for more she saddled him up, and although he didn’t bronc like most of the other horses had (except #8) he did buck when first saddled, something we rarely encounter with horses we start. Once he’d settled Vicki removed the saddle and checked him over, doing some body work to ensure he was physically as sound as possible before resaddling him and continuing with ground work. Feeling he needed more time to become accustomed to the saddle, she set him free and returned her attention to #8 and this is where the magic really happened.
With #12 working as a lead horse, unintentionally, Vicki was soon trotting and cantering #8 under saddle as she followed the loose chestnut. She was getting forward movement and had a happy, confident horse. Thrilled with his progress she dismounted and unsaddled him before putting a bridle on him for the first time, then set him free. With just 15 minutes to go she returned her attention to #12, her problem child. But the time had done him well and Vicki was soon riding him under saddle as well, striding out well as they walked, then trotted around the pen with no signs of the previous discomfort with the saddle. With just 5 minutes left she got her first stride of canter and pleased with his progress she dismounted.
Points are lost if a trainer leaves any gear in the pen, or on the horse, and she quietly removed her bridle from #8, the saddle and halter from #12 and then after some yelling from the crowd she found a wayward lunge whip in the pen and hurriedly removed it. With a minute on the clock she leapt on #12 briefly with no gear, while he stood rock solid, then gave #8 a quick pat before dashing for the gate with only moments to spare. Round One was over with Dan and Vicki cantering both their horses under saddle as well as Nick on #6, although #5 has yet to be ridden.
Just ten minutes later the scores were announced with Dan and Nick tied first with 504 points and Vicki 12 points behind on 492 points – the closest scoring from Round One in RTTH history.
Vicki is so pleased with her boys, they are developing into willing, forward thinking and brave horses and she can't wait to see how they progress over the next two days! Make sure you like our page Wilson Sisters for daily blogs and also follow Vicki Wilson for more updates!