Journal on the Road

The Road Down Under

March 11, 2012

Team Australia wins Road to the Horse 2012. You won’t want to miss the photos!

By Holly Clanahan

Road to the Horse 2012 winners Guy McLean and Dan James of Australia celebrate with event producer Tootie Bland. Scroll to the slideshow below for more great photos from the final day of this event. Journal photo.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie … oy, oy, oy!

That Outback spirit was alive and kicking in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, as Australians Guy McLean and Dan James won a hard-fought battle at Road to the Horse 2012, defeating teams from the United States and Canada.

After two days of round-pen sessions totaling four hours, the trainers were preparing for their final obstacle course on Sunday afternoon, when event producer Tootie Bland introduced yet another twist: 60 extra points for any team willing to switch horses with their partners. Team Australia was the only one to take her up on that offer.

So Guy, who said he’d always wanted to ride a Dan James-trained horse, took the ride on Remember Sunset, while Dan rode the horse that Guy had purchased from the Four Sixes Ranch, Valliant Paddy.

Guy joked with the audience throughout his obstacle course, at one point asking, “How do you steer this thing?” when the horse began going a little wobbly. He completed the entire course — which included among other things, upright poles to weave in and out of, a “wheel” of ground poles elevated in the center, some small jumps, a tarp on the ground, jump standards with foam noodles the horse had to push through, and a log drag. Bonus obstacles included a platform for the horse to step up onto so the rider could reach up to ring a large bell hanging from the rafters, and a water box. Guy finished these, then had time to read a poem he’d written as an ode to Australia, where he is known as a bush poet. He then returned to the round pen to unsaddle his horse and tell him, “thank you, my friend.”

Dan had a quieter ride than Guy, who’s a bit of a comedian, but his was skillful even without much commentary. He completed all obstacles except the water box, which trainers were not penalized for bypassing because it was a bonus. One shining point was the way Dan helped his horse through his gate/buddy-sour issues. This was the first time for each of the colts to be alone in the arena, and all of them, to varying degrees, wanted to stay by the arena gate, where they knew their buddies were just beyond.

Dan explained that he just “hassled” his horse by strongly encouraging him to go forward each time he returned to the gate. Then, as the colt left the gate, Dan became quiet with his cues. The horse — whom Guy has nicknamed “Aussie” — caught on pretty quick.

After the Aussie win was announced, emcee Rick Lamb asked Dan and Guy why they’d been brave enough to swap horses.

“We wouldn’t have been allowed to go back to Australia if we didn’t,” Guy said. Before the obstacle course (and counting their 60 extra “switcharoo” points), they trailed the United States by 16 points. “Even if we were ahead,” Guy said, “they’d say ‘switch’ just to see if we could stay on.”

Dan, the youngest Road to the Horse competitor at age 29, said, “It has been a hell of a ride.”

Other highlights from Sunday:

If we got to vote on awards, the colt trained by Canadian Glenn Stewart would get “most improved.” The horse had been challenging from the start, bucking and grunting maniacally in each of the two round-pen sessions. But Glenn said he realized that it was the tightened cinch, the constriction around the belly that was bothering Sixes Peg. It wasn’t fear of the saddle or the rider.

“I’m going to see if I can help him get through that,” Glenn said as he spent a bit extra time in the round pen on Sunday, working  around the horse’s cinch area.

Sure enough, they completed the obstacle round swimmingly, navigating all obstacles, including the bonus ones. The round also required rail work, including walk, trot and canter both directions, and Sixes Peg looked good doing it.

American Pat Parelli turned in the high score Sunday on board Bucks Attraction, whom he nicknamed “Deja Vu.” Consider their draining day — because Pat’s first horse had some health issues, he had to make up one round-pen session with the replacement colt, Deja Vu. They did that at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, then returned for their obstacle course about 4 p.m. Their score for the obstacle round was 738, 22 points ahead of second place.

Canadian Jonathan Field had to skip the tarp obstacle, but turned in a smooth performance on Fletches Stoli, a high-energy horse (sired by a champion racehorse, with cutting blood on the bottom side) who had required a lot of patience and consistency in the round-pen sessions. The colt should be ready for the Four Sixes cowboys to take home and move forward with.

Craig Cameron — always the resident joker — addressed the “geezer” label given to him and Pat, the veteran competitors. “They call us the geezer team, but we were the ones here at 5 in the morning.” True, Craig. And that’s not even taking into consideration that this was the time-change weekend, so it was more like 4 a.m.

AQHA, which sponsored the obstacle course, also presented awards to the colts during the post-event ceremony. Traveler Award bronze statues were given to the trainer and owner of each winning horse. That meant Guy — who was both the new owner and trainer of Valliant Paddy — took home two trophies; Dan received one; and the Four Sixes, still the owner of Remember Sunset, also took a bronze home to Guthrie, Texas.

Next year’s Road to the Horse will be  held in Lexington, Kentucky, but no details have been revealed yet about the participants or format, so stay tuned!

Catch the America’s Horse Daily reports from Day 1 and Day 2 here.

Remember to click on photos in the slideshow below to read the descriptive captions.

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