Inside Look: 2011 Road to the Horse

Road to the Horse takes three internationally known, elite horse trainers and clinicians who work with unbroken colts to compete against one another for the title of Road to the Horse Champion. This year's clinicians are Clinton Anderson, Chris Cox and Pat Parelli. These competitors will select a horse out of the remuda, a group of 10 horses, and begin working with the colt. The competitors are judged not only on a final test of skill, but also on how they worked with their horse.

Road to the Horse takes three internationally known, elite horse trainers and clinicians who work with unbroken colts to compete against one another for the title of Road to the Horse Champion. This year’s clinicians are Clinton Anderson, Chris Cox and Pat Parelli. These competitors will select a horse out of the remuda, a group of 10 horses, and begin working with the colt. The competitors are judged not only on a final test of skill, but also on how they worked with their horse.

An award-winning journalist, Amy Herdy now works for Active Interest Media in a job that combines her two loves: horses and writing.| Photo By Kim Douglas

Day 1
February 25, 2011
Photo Gallery: Day 1

They are the equivalent of rock stars in the horse world: Pat Parelli, Chris Cox and Clinton Anderson, and from Feb.? 25 through the 27 their fans have the chance to watch them work their magic in the 2011 colt-starting competition called Road To The Horse.

Held at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Road To The Horse pits three top-level clinicians against each other to see who can make the most progress starting a green colt under saddle.

Hours before the competition started, the three men each shared their philosophies and mindset as they geared up for the event. They were individually asked the same set of questions, and their answers are listed here in the order of the interviews.

Amy Herdy: What did you do this morning to prepare yourself mentally for this event?

Clinton Anderson: I visualized working the event. I visualized the presentation, working with the horse, winning. You need to go in there thinking you’ve got it. If you’re unconfident, you’re beating yourself before you get started.

Pat Parelli: I ate some yogurt. O.K., seriously, this is not something you do at the last minute. I’m just gonna go do what I do. Whether it’s at home or in front of a crowd, this is what I do. It’s no different than what I’ve been doing for about 35 years.

Chris Cox😕 I did the same thing I always do?wake up and have a bowl of cereal, kiss the kids, exercise. Am I nervous? No. Am I anxious? Yes. I’d rather go ahead and start the competition.

AH: What is your focus for today?

Anderson😕 To do a really good presentation for the crowd. Entertain them and educate them, and have this be the best money they ever spent.

Parelli: To put principle before purpose. Put the relationship first. If you put that first, everything seems to take care of itself.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Cox

Cox😕 The focus for me is to stay true to Chris Cox, stay true to myself, and don’t change for anybody or any competition. At the end of the day, it’s me I have to satisfy.

AH: From zero to 100 percent, what are your chances of winning this event?

Anderson: All things being equal, I’d say probably 75 percent. The 25 percent is the unknown?the horse, the judges’ opinions, the crowd’s opinions. Each judge is subjective, and the crowd is about 8,000 judges.

Picking the horse is a crapshoot, as you don’t get to work with the horse first. So I only worry about what I can control: myself, and the horse.

I hope the fans have a great time, let their hair down and enjoy the weekend.

Pat Parelli | Photo By Kim Douglas

Parelli: I think I’ve got a 100 percent chance of winning that horse’s heart.

Cox😕 I don’t do that. I’m not gonna answer that. That’s just not my personality.

AH😕 There are some who say Road To The Horse is cruel because it rushes the process of starting a green colt in front of an overwhelming crowd of thousands. How do you respond to that?

Clinton Anderson | Photo By Kim Douglas

Anderson: First of all, everybody is entitled to their opinion. But they’re uneducated about horses. You can’t blame them for having an opinion, but if you’d educate yourself you’d have a different one. Those horses are in good hands with these three.

Parelli: You have to realize our program is number one in the world because we use love, language and leadership.? There’s principles, purpose and time, and if the horse is in charge of the principles and the timeline, anything is possible.

Cox: We’ve got professional judges with this event, and if they see any cruelty or stress, they’re gonna stop the event or disqualify the competitor. We also have a vet on hand 24 hours a day who is well qualified. Also, this goes on every day at a clinic somewhere. This is natural horsemanship. Why would you want to hide something like this?

Tootie Bland | Photo By Kim Douglas

It’s hard to catch up to a whirlwind in motion, but Road To The Horse founder and owner Tootie Bland took a few moments Friday to chat about the eighth competition that features three of the top clinicians in the country: Pat Parelli, Chris Cox and Clinton Anderson.

Amy Herdy: You got three of the biggest names in the industry. How did you do it?

Tootie Bland: It took five years. It helps when you know everybody. I grew up with Pat [Parelli]?and make sure it’s noted he’s older than I am?and my husband has known Chris [Cox] for years. And Clinton [Anderson] is a friend.

Still, it was a 5-year process. It took tenacity and persistence. It just wasn’t something they had thought about.

AH: So what did you say to talk them into it?

Bland: There’s always a world champion. There’s always a title. That’s what Road To The Horse provides. They are reassured that we bring the game here. And if you notice, the previous winners all use the title of winning. We established the platform for excellence.

AH: What does the top competitor win?

Bland: They win $10,000 and the memorial saddle?which has real rubies, gold and silver?and is worth about $7,000. There’s also a championship belt buckle worth about $3,000.

They also get an original art piece.

AH: How do you choose who the competitors will be?

Bland: It’s a combination of me reaching out to them and also of them sending in entries. It’s a process of choosing who will show diversified thought.

AH: Have you ever picked an unknown?

Bland: I picked a total unknown named Stacy Westfall (who won RTTH in 2006).

Patty Colbert | Photo By Kim Douglas

There are some who say that Road To The Horse is all about entertainment.

For those folks, Patti Colbert wants to clarify a point.

“The whole production has been an addiction for horse people,” said Colbert, 59, founder of The Extreme Mustang Makeover, a similar event that is a competition to gentle mustangs and is also a sponsor of Road to the Horse. “I think it’s a game changer. Tootie [Bland, the owner and founder of Road to the Horse] has combined education with content, talent and rock n’ roll?You can watch this for hours. It’s reality in the arena.”

Yet the bottom line, Colbert says, is all about horses.

“A true horseman cares first about the horse, and Tootie’s a true horseman.”

And so are the this year’s competitors, Clinton Anderson, Pat Parelli and Chris Cox, she said.

“These three guys?they have respect. They’re not going to damage the horse. You can’t do damage to a horse’s brain and have them turn around and give what these horses give over the next three days.”

Click ‘Next’ to learn about Amy’s experience on Day 2!

Road to the Horse competitor Chris Cox adjusts his colt’s saddle during the competition on Saturday at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. | Photo By Kim Douglas

Day 2
February 26, 2011
Photo Gallery: Day 2
Photo Gallery: Clinicians At Work

After hours of training demonstrations and grand opening ceremonies, the official Road To The Horse colt-starting competion started in earnest Saturday afternoon when the three clinicians stepped into the Tennessee Miller Coliseum to choose their colts.

Clinton Anderson, Chris Cox and Pat Parelli picked chips out of a hat to determine their order in choosing one of the ten Quarter Horse colts from the 6666 Ranch in Guthrie, Texas. The colts were herded into the arena Saturday afternoon and immediately began kicking up their heels and chasing each other, much to the delight of the crowd.

Each competitor was given five minutes to make their choice, which was done in order of their chips: Parelli, Cox and then Anderson.

As Parelli walked toward the herd, some onlookers in the crowd cheered, prompting host Rick Lamb to ask for courtesy while Parelli worked.

“Let’s give him a little bit of quiet, please,” Lamb said, and the crowd immediately hushed. Yet they broke that silence only moments later when Parelli, who had walked into the middle of the herd of colts, turned to walk away and the entire herd followed after him.

He chose colt #2, a gelding who appeared to be a sorrel with a flaxen mane and brown tail, and later said he chose the colt because he felt an immediate kinship with him.

“I connected to that horse,” Parelli told Lamb in an interview. “He looked like the one for me.”

Next up was Cox, who walked into the middle of the herd of horses and seemed to quickly make up his mind, choosing colt #8, a red roan colt with a white blaze on his face, and one he told Lamb looked athletic and “not too quiet.”

Last to choose was Anderson, who shooed the herd and clapped his hands, forcing them to move so he could watch the colts in action. Anderson chose colt #11, a chestnut gelding with a white blaze on his face and a white sock on his left hind leg.

“I picked #11 because he’s real athletic, and if you run out of gas by the end of the day, you’re not gonna get anywhere,” Anderson said. “He might be a challenge, but hopefully he’s gonna move his feet.”

The rest of the colts were herded out and then each of the chosen colts was brought back in, flanked by cowboys on horses who shepherded the colts into their own round pen to await their trainer. None of the colts wore a halter.

At that point, the clinicians each entered their round pens, and a two-hour clock began counting down the time. While the panel of judges walked the length of each round pen and made notes, each competitor began working their colt in a different way.

The colt chosen by Road to the Horse competitor Clinton Anderson gives Anderson his undivided attention on Saturday at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. | Photo By Kim Douglas

Anderson immediately began asking his colt to move, and the chestnut ran energetic laps around the round pen. Parelli began to lasso his colt, while Cox approached and then retreated from his horse, and opted to take a break within a few minutes, only to say, “Gotta go!” and hurry back inside his colt’s round pen just as Lamb approached him for an interview.

Parellli’s colt began to repeatedly crash against the panels of the round pen as he looked for a way to escape, while the trainer began using two long sticks to control his movement.

Cox offered his hand, and when his colt didn’t approach, used a twirling rope to urge the gelding to move.

Parelli took a break, telling Lamb, “If you touch his heart, there’s nothing you can’t do.”

Meanwhile, Anderson continued to work his horse in circles in the pen before gesturing to the colt to get his attention and walking away once the colt turned to face him.

“Horses learn from repetition,” Lamb said as Anderson repeated the maneuver again and again.

Cox lassoed his horse, and the other two trainers followed suit only moments later. The three men then took their time running their hands all over their colts.

“When they’re building trust, they’re moving slowly and deliberately,” Lamb said to the crowd.

Minutes later, Anderson haltered his horse, followed quickly by Cox haltering his and then Parelli. From there, their methods differed.

Anderson began throwing a rope on his colt in an apparent desensitization exercise, while Parelli used a stick with a flag on the end, rubbing it on his horse.

Cox used his hands, running them all over his colt, before asking him to move.

Parelli was the first to climb on his horse, bareback, while the colt stood quietly. Once he started to move, Parelli slipped off. He then placed a bareback pad on the colt and climbed on his back, where he began repeatedly starting to stand on the gelding’s back, much to the amazement of the crowd.

Parelli then put a saddle in the round pen, allowing his colt to sniff it, before placing it on the colt’s back, becoming the first competitor to saddle his horse.

A few minutes later, Anderson was the first to bridle his colt, while Cox continued to work with his, placing a pad on his back before saddling him with just 25 minutes to go in the first round.

Road to the Horse competitor Clinton Anderson pauses while working his colt during the competition on Saturday at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, while his image is broadcast above him on a wide screen. | Photo By Kim Douglas

The arena was packed, with dozens of fans crowding the rails in what became a standing-room only event. Most of them had strong opinions about who they wanted to become the next Road to the Horse champion.

“I want Clinton Anderson to win,” said 22-year old communications student Darlene Gay from Panama City, Florida, who said she didn’t know any of the clinicians before the event began and picked Anderson based on his “personality.”

Who did Gay think was winning so far? “Right now I really don’t think there’s any way to tell,” she said.

Another audience member agreed.

“It’s tough, really tough,” said 54-year-old Lucerne Farms employee Ann Dionne of Fort Fairfield, Maine. “I like aspects of all of them.”

Others had their favorites.

“I like Chris Cox,” said John Lane, 63, a schoolteacher from Memphis, Tennessee who said he doesn’t have horses but accompanied his sister, who does, to the event.

Why Cox?

“I had never heard of him, but I’m picking him from just listening to his interviews–I liked him the best of the three,” Lane said.

Who did he think was winning so far?

“This guy right here,” Lane said as he pointed to Parelli.

A few yards away, 60-year-old Paula Linam of Stephansville, Texas, agreed that she thought Parelli was winning, although he wasn’t who she was rooting for.

“My favorite is Clinton,” Linam said. “He’s so good lookin’! And I like his and Cox’s attitudes. They’re more down to earth.”

While Parelli looked to be ahead so far, Linam said, he also appeared to be skipping certain important steps.

“Parelli is doing it faster but he’s not doing all the things he should be, like working his horse on both sides,” she said. “Cox and Anderson did both sides.”

Parelli fan Phala Wriston, 50, an electrician from Ocala,Florida, said she thought Parelli was “more natural” than the other two.

Road to the Horse competitor Pat Parelli hugs the head of the colt he chose to work with during the event on Saturday at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro,Tennessee. | Photo By Kim Douglas

“He builds a relationship with his horse first,” Wriston said. “He doesn’t use aggression–the other two have been more aggressive with their horses.”

Just then, Parelli climbed into the saddle on his colt, holding onto the lead rope attached to his halter. A moment later, the colt bowed his back and began to buck, and Parelli landed on the ground.

“The other two horses were winded,” Wriston said. “His horse was never winded.”

With only minutes left, Parelli did not attempt to climb back on.

After taking a required break, Anderson, who did not saddle his horse, continued to alternate between asking the colt to move and desensitizing him.

Cox, meanwhile, climbed into the saddle on his gelding and began urging the colt, still wearing a halter, to walk around the round pen.

Then all three competitors took everything off their colts in order to make it out of the round pens before the timer ran out.

Road to the Horse resumes on Sunday, with the competitors working their colts from 10:30 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. (with required breaks), before undergoing an obstacle course challenge and giving a freestyle presentation from 1:20 p.m. to 3 p.m., with the winner being announced a few minutes later.

Click ‘Next’ to learn about Amy’s experience on Day 3!

As soon as the Road to the Horse began on Sunday morning, Clinton Anderson began longing his colt. | Photo By Kim Douglas

Day 3
February 27, 2011
Photo Gallery: Day 3

How far can you get starting a green colt under saddle in two hours?

That was the question facing Clinton Anderson, Chris Cox and Pat Parelli on Sunday morning at the start of the final round of the Road to the Horse competition in the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The morning’s competition got off to a late start when efforts to herd Chris Cox’s colt into his round pen went awry as the colt bolted down a coliseum arena entrance alleyway. A few minutes later, wranglers had herded all three colts into the arena and drew each one into its round pen using another horse as a lure.

Host Rick Lamb checked in with the judges: head judge Bob Moorhouse, Jack Brainard, Marian Buehler, Cody Lambert and Bill Enk. Lamb also acknowledged Dr. Robert Miller, who was “watching from his hospital bed” after undergoing surgery this past week to relieve pressure in his brain caused by an injury.

Then the clock, timed out at two hours and twenty minutes, started counting down as Lamb explained that the clinicians were each required to give their horse a twenty-minute break.

Lamb also addressed a lingering question from the previous day, when he had announced to the crowd during the final minutes of Saturday’s clock that each competitor had to have all tack removed from the round pen before they exited. All complied but Cox, who left a saddle on the ground. The judges consulted the written rules, Lamb said, and since the written rules did not stipulate that the tack must be removed, Cox would not receive a penalty. The crowd met the decision with a round of cheers and applause.

The clinicians each began the competition on Sunday morning in different ways. Anderson immediately began asking his colt to move, while Cox began to approach and then retreat with his. Parelli, meanwhile, rubbed his horse, who stood motionless under the attention.

At 2:10 on the clock: Cox was working his colt from the ground, asking him to back, one of the competitions’s requirements. Anderson was working his colt from the ground and asking for changes in direction, while Parelli was picking up his horse’s feet, another criteria of the event.

A rainstorm began, adding a dull roar to the already noisy arena.

Commentators Stacy Westfall and Richard Winters, both previous winners of Road To The Horse, kept up a running dialogue as the clinicians worked. Westfall, who said she practiced for her winning performance by starting eight green colts under saddle, said that the colt she won with, Popcorn, was no more advanced in his training than other colts, and that after buying him, she started him under saddle all over again.

“I was afraid he would have holes in his training for steps that I either rushed or skipped over,” she said.

Winters, who also bought the colt he won with, agreed.

“These clinicians-they have poured the concrete,” he said. “These colts will be very green. They will not be broke. They will not be trained, but they will be started.”

Chris Cox prepares to halter his colt on Sunday morning on the last day of the Road to the Horse competition. | Photo By Kim Douglas

During a break, Lamb asked Parelli, who was unseated yesterday when his colt began to buck with him, how he was feeling.

“I’m not sore in any way,” Parelli replied. “You need to focus on four things with a horse: rapport, respect, impulsion and flexion. The two things I’m gonna focus on today are respect and flexion. He gave me a green light on the left side, but a yellow light on the right side. I made a mistake yesterday and pushed over the limit.”

With 1:58 showing on the clock, Anderson began using a stick with a string, cracking it rhythmically on the ground, while Parelli got his colt used to a flag on the end of a long stick and Cox, from the ground, began urging his colt over obstacles inside the pen.

1:35: Anderson was putting on a saddle pad and saddle, Parelli was line driving his colt and Cox was saddling his.

50: Working from the ground, Parelli put balloons on his colt’s saddle. The gelding began to buck vigorously. Cox began longing his saddled colt, and Anderson, whose colt was saddled and bridled, began cracking a whip on the ground.

45: Cox was riding his colt, Anderson was picking up his colt’s feet, and Parelli was longing his colt.

15: All three competitors were riding their colts in their respective round pens, with Cox and Anderson’s colts bucking from time to time.

10: All three competitors were riding their colts, who loped around their round pens with no further signs of trouble.

5: In keeping with the rules, all three competitors removed all tack before leaving their round pens.

Click next– find out the winner and read about the competition’s obstacle course and each clinician’s freestyle presentation with their colt.

The judges of the colt-starting competition Road to the Horse didn’t take long to choose their winner on Sunday: Chris Cox, who became the first clinician to be a three-time winner of the event.

“God has been good to me and my family,” said an emotional Cox after the announcement. “I wanted everybody to do good but I just wanted myself to do a little bit better…The biggest prize of all is being here with this crowd and sharing horsemanship.”

The decision was met with roaring approval from the crowd after an afternoon of the final training session and then rigorous tests.

The test in the Road to the Horse competition is two-fold: The clinicians must saddle their colt and then ask them to trot, canter, turn, circle, stop and back on cue, as well as allow the trainers to mount and dismount and pick up their colt’s feet.

And then they face the obstacle course.

The obstacle course at Sunday’s final round in the Road to the Horse colt-starting challenge featuring Clinton Anderson, Chris Cox and Pat Parelli contained some creative tests. The competitors had to be able to weave their colts through poles, over jumps, through foam noodles and over a tarp. They also had to be able to ride their colt onto a thick pile of sawdust in order for the trainer to reach for and ring a bell.

The competitors also had to be able to reach a coiled rope and throw one circle over their horse’s head, as well as drag a log tied to another rope.

After that, the competitors gave their own freestyle exhibition.

With a total of 35 minutes for the obstacle course and their freestyle exhibition, the competitors each took their time in re-establishing rapport with their colt and saddling it.

Anderson, who drew to go first, did ground work with his colt before riding him through a clean round, missing one obstacle, the tarp. When his colt snorted and became skittish at the tarp, Anderson told the judges he was going to skip it.

And then it was time for his freestyle exhibition. With that, Anderson said that his mentor, Gordon McKinley, said, “You never really know what you’ve got until you turn it loose.”

With that, Anderson slipped off his colt’s bridle and urged him into a full run as another horse was released into the arena. As he galloped along on the bridleless green colt, Anderson cracked a bull whip on the ground.

The crowd exploded, with people standing up and screaming in excitement.

With 17 seconds left, host Rick Lamb asked Anderson, who stopped his horse by using the handle of his whip, if he had anything to say to the crowd.

“Thank you for your attention and respect,” Anderson said before riding his colt out of the arena.

Next up was Chris Cox, who also took the time to work his colt from the ground before saddling and bridling him.

“It’s all about tomorrow, not just today,” Cox said, who took his time bridling his horse.

“He’s ‘funny in the face’ which means he doesn’t want to accept the bit,” Cox noted. “So I do more body work with him.

Cox rode a clean round, performing all the criteria asked of him and his colt and completing every obstacle successfully.

For his freestyle exhibition, he loped his colt through the arena, then tied his reins and waved his arms around, turning and twisting in the saddle to do so, before standing up on the saddle while his colt remained motionless.

Cox then leaped off his colt and ran through the arena, punching his fist into the air. The crowd was on its feet, cheering and clapping, as Cox ran, then returned to his colt, who turned to face him. The clinician then unsaddled his colt before calmly leading him from the arena.

The last competitor, Pat Parelli, also moved slowly and deliberately with his colt, keeping up a running monologue as he did so. His colt performed every test cleanly, and passed through all the obstacles with a calm demeanor.

At the end of his round, Parelli loped his horse, then took a giant green inflated ball and repeatedly bounced it next to his colt, who stood quietly for it.

Parelli then rode his colt around the arena, taking off his hat and waving to the crowd, who cheered and clapped.