Road To The Horse: Day 2
24th March 2018
As Vicki entered the pen, for her second day of training with #8 (aka Kiwi Kid) and #12, she couldn’t have been more pleased at where her horses were at. From the moment she stepped into the arena they were curious and engaged. 20 seconds in she was haltering Kiwi, and with him following closely behind her on the lead, she turned her attention to #12 with both horse caught in less than three and a half minutes.
It was amazing watching the two horses work together - #12 gaining so much bravery from the roan, something he instinctively lacked, and the roan gaining much of the forward movement from the chestnut’s lead. Working off each horse’s strengths, Vicki was slowing bringing out the best in both colts and it was fabulous watching how they enhanced positive qualities in each other. Even more notably was now relaxed the horses were – Vicki’s aim when training horses is to avoid conflict where possible and she found the horses much more receptive to learning with two colts in the arena, than just one like last year.
After some brushing and a little lunging, both horses were caught up on the basics and Vicki soon had Kiwi saddled and was riding him 20 minutes into Round One. Kiwi started right where he’d left off, less than 10 minutes he was cantering - again following the lead of #12 who was loose in the pen. Happy with where he was at Vicki left her pen and had her first mandatory rest as she watched Kiwi start playing with the ball on his own, pushing it with his muzzle and biting it. The curiosity in this horse is one of his best qualities and Vicki was thrilled to see him engage with the obstacles in the pen.
Returning to the pen she separated #12 into the holding yard, then hoped on Kiwi and soon had him walk, trot and cantering in both directions independently, before opening the gate to ride outside. This extra space was crucial to the horses forward movement, as Vicki rarely utilises a yard when she’s colt starting at home in New Zealand; normally their cantering up hills following other horses for their first rides.
Kiwi’s first canter out in the open got a little fast, so Vicki bought him back and spent some time allowing him to relax and wait. She wanted him to learn it didn’t have to be a stressful and spent some quiet time allowing him time to explore the edges of the arena and sniff the signage. Another great opportunity to foster bravery before tomorrow. She was now 45 minutes into Round One and with a maximum of 10 minutes allowed in the larger arena she made the most of every second, getting Kiwi to canter again until he was confident and relaxed.
Now it was back to #12 and Vicki checked him over and spent 10 minutes doing body work to continue the physical progress he’d made the day before. Happy with where he was at, she then saddled him and sent him out on the circle. Like the day before he was a little uncomfortable for the first few strides but settled down and started working freely. With obstacles already scattered around the arena, #12 was soon jumping over barrels and ducking through the cowboy curtain.
Soon Vicki was mounting him and within minutes they were trotting around the pen, walking through the cowboy curtain and after about 10 minutes he had his first real canter, not just a wobbly stride like yesterday but a full circle of the pen. Utilising the opportunity to move into the larger arena, where it’s much easier for horses to open up, Vicki rode outside. He trotted around very relaxed, but in the canter was a little unsure, rounding his back and suddenly freezing. After a few reassurances from Vicki, and time to walk slowly around the ring to get used to the signage and crowds, he was soon confident transitioning between paces and by the end of their 10 minutes in the larger arena he was cantering happily.
Thrilled with both her horses progress, now just 75 minutes into Round One, Vicki was a little unsure what to do. They’d both surpassed the level of training Kentucky had achieved before going into the finals, yet she still had plenty of time up her sleeve. In Vicki’s pen the atmosphere changed and there was a sense of calm as she leisurely started playing with her colts. If they were brave, confident and enjoying their training then Vicki already felt like she’s won – the horses were enjoying the questions being asked of them and so she started layering on elements that they’d face in the final round tomorrow.
Dragging in a cart filled with all sorts of colourful objects she settled in to watch as Kiwi, who was loose, walked over to investigate before she even had time to halter him. Within seconds he was lipping an umbrella and pushing things, and once she set #12 loose to join him, the timider horse was soon interacting with things as well. After catching Kiwi she went to lunge him over the bridge, but the horse didn’t even question the new obstacle and within seconds was walking across it, with the chestnut following along on the outside.
Normally with obstacles the horse only needs to learn the concept of ‘trying’ once and then they can apply it to every new thing they face, and with these two colts it was no different. Yesterday they learnt to navigate the tarp and poles, so today’s challenges were a similar process for them to follow. If Vicki asked a question, they knew there was the right answer and that it could be fun and relaxing to find. Sometimes they’d get confused, but both horses quickly processed – enjoying it when Vicki gave them a scratch or a rest when they got it right.
From the bridge they moved onto other obstacles. These horses were not desensitised or overwhelmed, but rather like little kids in a play pen who were eager to discover new toys. After a rest, Vicki put her Equifocus hoods on the colts as well as bridling them with the Equisoft bit, both products she stock on her website (www.vickiwilson.nz) which New Zealander’s will be used to seeing on her show jumpers. While they became accustomed to the feel of the bit (#12 for the very first time) she left them loose in the arena to investigate while she left for some much needed downtime.
Kiwi and #12 however must have decided no rest was needed and took to training themselves. Kiwi soon had the umbrella picked up in his mouth and was waving it while #12 looked on, occasionally reaching over to bump it too. Even once Vicki returned to the arena, Kiwi wasn’t ready to let go of his new toy and they had a gentle game of tug-of-war until Kiwi finally opened his mouth and conceded Vicki the victory. A few minutes later, once Vicki mounted him, he seemed so eager to approach the umbrella that Vicki reached over and picked it up and waved it on his back, then trotted him around the arena carrying it without a care in the world.
Soon Kiwi was being ridden through all the obstacles that he’d just done on the lead rope, including dragging a giant horse teddy around the pen. Having exceeded every expectation, Vicki dismounted and unsaddled him while she returned to #12. With just 15 minutes left on the clock she did much of the same with the chestnut who was incredibly brave now, having gained the confidence from watching Kiwi, and he too was soon trying everything asked of him, although slightly more cautious and green.
With only five minutes to go, Vicki dismounted and used her final moments to do some more body work on #12, before patting both horses and strolling to the gate with just seconds to spare. As Vicki waited for the final scores she was confident in her horses and their mental wellbeing – both were willing and eager to learn and were enjoying their time in the spotlight.
Unsure what the judges were looking for, having been 12 points behind the day before (the scores of 504 for Dan and Nick, and 492 for Vicki were indeed correct) Vicki was curious to see her marks. When the scores were revealed she couldn’t have been happier with a high of 99/110 for Kiwi and 98/110 for #12, finishing on a total of 286 and 273 respectively, with the rest of the horses scoring 249 (#5), 268 (#6), 254 (#2) and 261 (#11).
There are no words to describe the feeling of finishing on top after Round Two, especially when she’s representing her country. It was thrilling to see the totalled scores showing 1051 for Vicki (NZ), 1021 for Nick (USA) and 1019 for Dan (AUS). It’s been a lifetime of learning for Vicki to reach the Road to the Horse stage and to be recognised alongside such respected horsemen really means the world to her. She, more than anyone else, knows just how much the points can change overnight, so she’s simply enjoying the moment, celebrating her final night as the reigning World Champion of Colt Starting before the new winner is announced tomorrow. The points are close and it’s still anyone’s game but Vicki couldn’t be happier with how her colts are doing and is so thankful for the support and messages she’s received from fans in New Zealand, America and around the world over the past 48 hours.