Road To The Horse: Day 3
25th March 2018
The final day of Road to the Horse started with the New Zealand, Australian and American national anthems being sung during the opening ceremony. It’s been an absolute honor for Vicki to represent her country at the World Championships and she couldn’t have been prouder to ride under the New Zealand flag.
All too soon it was time for the course walk and as Vicki, Dan and Nick moved from obstacle to obstacle, the announcers shared insight into what the judges were expecting at each element and how they would be scored. Each was worth 5 to 10 points and the two mystery obstacles, which wouldn’t be revealed until the riders approached them, were worth 15 and 20 points.
First though, before the obstacle course could begin, each trainer and horse had to complete Round 3, an independently scored 20 minute session in the round pen to warm up. Like previous days this was worth 110 points, then the riders would continue on to do compulsory rail work (walk, trot and canter in both directions, pick up all four hooves, mount and dismount, rein back, turn 180 degrees to the left and right and lead their horse). Once this was completed they would move on to the obstacles, but if any proved too difficult they could pass them, however once an obstacle was skipped they couldn’t go back and reattempt it.
The riders returned in their opposite order of points, with Dan first to ride (1019 points), Nick second (1021 points) and Vicki last on the leading score of 1051 points. To keep an even playing field the other competitors aren’t allowed to watch the others, and are locked in a soundproof room – for Vicki, who had four colts ahead of her, this meant almost four hours of solitude. Although she couldn’t hear the announcers, she could hear the cheering from the stadium and knew that the crowds had loved both Dan and Nick’s performances.
Like the trainers, their colts order was determined by their scores, meaning Vicki’s would start with her chestnut colt, #12 (aka NZee). This was the first time he’d been in the arena alone, with no other horses in sight and he was a little unsettled neighing out. Once he was caught though, he settled and Vicki spent half the allocated time brushing, saddling and bridling him, before lunging him in both directions. Since he’d only had a bit on for the first time the day before Vicki also decided to leave the halter on with reins, so she could use them if needed.
The round pen was smaller than in previous days but NZee was soon trotting and cantering happily under saddle. The smoothest he’d been all week. Once or twice he seems a little unsure of the bit, so Vicki picked up the halter reins and was glad she had the option of both. Not realising she was running out of time Vicki dismounted to check over her gear, but the crowd was yelling at her to get back on – she had just 15 seconds left before she had to be out of the pen.
As she rode into the arena, the chestnut tensed, unsure about the crowds. At this point he’d probably been ridden a total of one hour, over the three days of competition, previously being completely untouched. Their first declared walk, along the side of the arena he hadn’t yet seen, was unsettled with NZee pausing to take in the atmosphere and at other times breaking into a trot. His uncertainty continued as they progressed through their rail work, although he had a few solid trots and canters which were declared between the cones.
Just before the final canter though he completely froze, not wanting to move at all. While Vicki had initially assumed he was unsettled by the atmosphere and being isolated in the ring, it quickly became apparent it was more than that. Although she got him moving again, after dismounting and leading him, he was obviously confused by something and in their last declared canter the chestnut leapt and bound, unhappy with any contact on either the bridle or halter reins.
With the rail work now complete, Vicki turned to the first obstacle, hopeful that the curiosity she’d fostered in the colt over the first two days would give him new direction and purpose. But he wobbled through the first bending poles and was hesitant approaching the second, something out of character from his earlier bravery. It had only been 10 minutes since he’d left the round pen, but there was no doubt this wasn’t the normal behavior of her calm and confident chestnut from the previous days. Wanting to simplify things for NZee Vicki halted and removed his bridle, electing to continue the course with just a halter.
The transformation was immediate. Flicking an ear forward he boldly walked through the second obstacle, which he’d balked at only moments before, then continued on to navigate the rest of the course. His relaxation and curiosity had returned tenfold and he boldly completed the zigzag, raised poles, tarp, jumps, noodles, lasso and drag, opening a gate, ringing a bell, walking over a bridge and winding a well, before approaching the first of the mystery obstacles. The giant castle, with a real-life princess in the tower, was scored on how close the horses could get to the door. White lines were painted in the sand indicating 5, 10 and 15 points gained and NZee strolled right up and pushed on the door with his muzzle. With full marks they continued on to the next obstacle, a giant cake which started rising from the ground to reveal two-meter tassels. While every other horse had spooked off the rising cake, and had to wait till it was stationary before approaching (and only two of the previous four horses having completed this mounted) it was no issues for #12 as he made a bee-line for it. Before it was already half raised he was playing with the tassels and had his head peaking inside. The moment the cake came to a halt he was underneath it, surrounded by the colourful tassels, before turning a full circle and coming out again; his mouth full of tassels and even more hanging off his bridle, saddle and his rider.
Laughing Vicki removed the decorations, before checking out their clock time – they had finished with more than 11 minutes to go and their only element left was a freestyle. Since he’d been such a champ the day before dragging the toy horse and carrying a flag Vicki repeated these before cantering a full lap of the arena with both hands raised in the air and finished by standing in the saddle and leaping off him. As she left the arena there was no doubt that she’d learnt something from her horse during the rail work, and she was so thankful she’d taken the time to listen to what he was trying to tell her. Although she undoubtedly would have lost points in some of the rail work, his enthusiasm and willingness in the obstacles would have scored top marks, as would his freestyle.
With no time to reflect on her ride, or to unwind, #12 was led out and unsaddled and #8 (her highest scoring colt) was run into the arena. Round Three was about to begin all over again, this time on her brave and bold Kiwi Kid. The roans’ work in the pen was solid and feeling he was warmed up sufficiently Vicki elected not to use the allocated 20 minutes and entered the arena early. Apart from breaking stride in his walk on the left rein and the canter on the right, he aced his rail work and Vicki moved onto the obstacles.
From the first element, Kiwi was curious and relaxed as he eagerly approached everything in front of him, a true testament to the fun and gentle way Vicki had introduced the obstacles to her horses over the previous two days. He showed no fear as he moved through the course, and like the chestnut, he was only two happy to approach the most challenging obstacles, finishing with 17 minutes left on the clock. Moving onto their freestyle they circled the arena carrying the flag, then dragged the toy horse and Kiwi stood as Vicki lifted it up onto his back while the colt attempted to help by picking it up in his teeth, just like he’d done with the umbrella the day before. Then to the request of the crowd, Vicki finished by removing her saddle and went back through the cake and tassels bareback.
Feeling like Kiwi had exceeded all expectations, and showcased like a true champion, Vicki dismounted and waved to the crowd, before leaving the arena 10 minutes early. The colt had surpassed everything Vicki had every dreamed she’d achieve over three days of training, and wanting to leave him eager and fresh for more she returned him to the yards and let him loose.
At this point it was anyone’s game; both of Dan’s colts had done amazing rounds; #11 was smooth around the entire course and #2 was solid as well, only struggling with the 11th obstacle and the freestyle. Nick also showcased his colts to a high level with #6 working beautifully and #5, who’d been a challenge the entire way through, getting through all the rail work and the first five obstacles kindly. There was no doubt everyone was truly inspired watching him work so empathically with the sensitive horse and they certainly won the hearts of the crowd.
It felt like no time had passed before the riders were back on stage, awaiting the final results. Which of these three World Champions would add another title and gold buckle to their name and walk away with US$100,000 in prizemoney. Suddenly it was the moment everyone had been waiting for: “And the winners of the 2018 World Championships of Colt Starting, and the two-time champion of Road to the Horse is… Vicki Wilson.” As the stadium erupted and fireworks went off, it finally sunk in. Not only had she won against women the year before, but now she was being recognized for her horsemanship against two of the world’s top horsemen, both World Champions.
The combined scores of Round Three and Four added together, from both their colts, put Dan in the lead on the third day of competition, so it was Vicki’s lead from Round Two that gave her the edge and the ultimate title, finishing with a 30-point lead overall. The final scores were:
Vicki Wilson: 3032
Dan James: 3002
Nick Dowers: 2737
There are no words to describe how special this win was for Vicki, our family, and all the supporters watching on as she was crowned the back-to-back World Champion. To be acknowledged on the world stage for her horsemanship was truly one of life’s most defining moments.
First and foremost a huge thank you to Vicki's Pen Wrangler and partner Micheal - your support and belief in her means the world to us. Of course the colts NZee and Kiwi Kid for putting their trust in her - although both horses won't be retuning home with us (as it costs $40,000 per horse to purchase and fly them to New Zealand) they both have fabulous people lined up for them already. Also a huge thanks to the team at Road to the Horse for inviting her to compete, both Dan’s from Double Dan Horsemanship for their continued support and friendship (as well as lending her the legendary Top Gun for her performances), the fans that cheered her on - both in the crowd and at home, and of course our fabulous sponsors Isuzu Utes New Zealand Ltd, Gallagher Animal Management New Zealand, CopRice and Tuff Rock New Zealand.
A special thanks must also go to all the horses Vicki has trained over the years. She started her first untouched pony at just 9-years-old and had worked with thousands of horses since, including countless wild horses. She is first and foremost a student of the horse; always willing to learn and evolve from the four-legged partners that come into her life. You can guarantee she’s learnt something from her time in the arena this weekend and will continue to grow as she strives to put the welfare of her horses first.
But for now, we’re celebrating an incredible win, she’s done herself and New Zealand proud.
If you’d like to find out more about Vicki, or would like to attend her upcoming clinics in America, Australia and New Zealand you can find out more information at www.vickiwilson.nz and www.wilsonsisters.nz