Craig Cameron stands on his colt, “Troubadour,” during freestyle.
Photo by Hailey True, courtesy Road to the Horse.
When Darrell Dodds of Western Horseman Magazine announced “and the Winner of the 2010 Road To The Horse World Championship is “¦ Craig Cameron” those were words that I had worked hard to hear since the inception of this great event almost 10 years ago.
This World Championship serves as a tough event that weighs on its competitors all year long as they prepare for a competition that is definitely a physical, mental and emotional roller coaster ride and challenge. Each contestant must call upon his very best to come out on top. He must be equipped with the skills, patience, timing, feel and balance. To be a champion he has to call upon a wealth of experience and a heart full of courage to display his best work.
Lastly, and maybe the most important ingredient, he needs a darn good horse. In the “Road To The Horse” event a competitor chooses his own horse out of a herd of ten unbroke wild horses. His pick sometimes is his fate. Each contestant must be able to read horses well to pick the all-important partner to take him to the end of the road: the end of the rainbow, “The World Championship of Colt Starting”.
This year, I think the one question that I was asked most was: “Craig, why did you choose that horse?” I do not think my fellow competitors, Ken McNabb and Richard Winters were asked that question near as much as I was. In fact, they might not have been asked that question even once. Why? Both horses Ken and Richard picked were very good looking Quarter Horses. My pick on the other hand was a small, rough looking, extremely shaggy and somewhat thin colt. I think many people were shocked by my choice, if not altogether puzzled, as I was asked over and over “Why the heck did you choose that little ragamuffin of a horse?” “What were you thinking about?” “Craig, have you gone loco or just lost it altogether?” I was also asked, “So, why the name Troubadour?” Of course, I did not give him the name Troubadour until the freestyle part of the competition. Until then I just called him “the little yellow #10 horse”.
So why would I choose such a rough looking little horse, when the other choices seemed – on the outside – so much better? As a horseman, I never stop watching and reading horses. Tootie Bland, creator and producer of Road To The Horseâ„¢ keeps making it better each year and the rules give competitors a chance to study their young horses in a natural environment.
The herd of prospective horses is turned loose together in the middle of the coliseum. Here, they move around in a natural herd atmosphere, free to do as they please. This gives the contestants and all the spectators the chance to study, evaluate and choose the horse they think will be the best for this competition. The competitors draw to see who will be first to walk into the arena with the ten prospective horses to pick out his horse for the competition. In the draw for order of go I got the #1 position. I had first pick from the entire herd of ten horses. So what made me pick the roughest looking and maybe the smallest horse in the bunch?
As a horseman, I am in the habit of evaluating any horse I see or come in contact with. Like any good horseman you check breeding, conformation and disposition. All the contestants were able to look at the papers of these horses and see the bloodlines. The horses were from the Wood Ranch in Heber Springs, Arkansas and had excellent bloodlines. Some of the horses were Hancock bred. Hancock horses are excellent horses, but some of them have been known as tough to start. Other horses had Shining Spark bloodlines, also great horses that can sometimes be tough in the get go. My inclination was to lean toward the Shining Spark bloodlines. I like them. They are usually really good movers with a lot of “natural”. When I evaluate and study potential horses to buy or train I want to see them move. Do they have a nice flat smooth looking trot? Do they naturally pick up the correct lead? Are they traveling with a nice level top line? Does this horse have a kind eye? Is there a slope to his shoulders and matching angle at the pasterns? Does he exhibit a good trapezoid – in other words ““ a balanced look: good neck, short back, deep heart girth, long on the bottom, short on top, good loins, croup and hind quarters? How about straight legs and good feet? There is so much to consider when looking for a good prospective horse. However, at the Road To The Horse competition we are looking for the horse that will carry us to a world championship. This means a horse that will do well with just three hours of training. With that in mind, it puts a whole new twist on what one might look for in picking out his horse.
In addition to the traits I’ve mentioned, I was looking for a special ingredient that I think may be the most important for this world class colt starting competition. You might think it would be good old fashioned trainability. That would be a good guess and a component all competitors and horse trainers desire. However, that trainability or willingness is sometimes only able to be identified when you actually start working with that individual horse. You hope you find it in your choice at Road to the Horse. There are no test runs.
The key ingredient I was looking for was bravery; you know, old fashioned courage. As I watched those horses, I noticed that the little raggedy #10 horse would always move away from the herd. He would put his head down instead of up, just walk right up to things and check them out. He had a lot of curiosity which I believe to be a sign of intelligence. Instead of being worried, unsure or looking scared (which would be natural to a horse that has had very little handling) the yellow #10 seemed cool, calm and somewhat sure. That is what caught my eye. I kept looking at a really good looking palomino which was the #2 horse, but something just kept drawing me back to that little hobo looking #10. The shaggy horse gave me a good feel and connection. When my time had run out and the decision had to be made, I spoke into the microphone: “I am going to choose a horse I don’t think one person here would pick. I choose the #10 horse.” A hush fell over the Coliseum. All I could do from that point was hope I made a good choice and give it my best.
To tell you the truth, when I was into my first hour of training, I truly thought I had made a big mistake with my choice. The little guy avoided me completely. He was really spooky and did not give any positive response to my work. I roped him with my first shot, but he fought the rope and would spin away, avoiding any touch from me. “The horse is not even going to let me halter him” was the thought going through my head. Quit is not in my vocabulary so I really bore down. Finally, using all my skills and an ultra soft touch, I finally got the little outlaw haltered. Believe me, I may not have looked like it, but I was extremely happy to get that all-important step done. After that I began to make fast and strong progress.
Although this little guy was very touchy, he was also brave, just like I thought, and the change I wanted began to take place. At the end of the first hour, I was pleased and happy with my progress. I felt like the choice I had made might possibly be a good one.
Day 2: Two hours to work and I wasted no time. I got “little yellow” haltered with no trouble, although he was extremely touchy around his head. I presented him with a feel from head to tail with my hands and ropes. He adjusted well and was “learning to learn” and to give to pressure. I worked diligently and got him very soft laterally and vertically through his head and neck. I went to the surcingle to prepare him for the saddle and he accepted it without much fuss. In short order, and without missing any steps, I had him saddled. I worked the saddle – and his heart and bravery were intact – just as I had hoped. I introduced him to the snaffle bit. I immediately realized he did not like or accept it. Avoiding any fight, I went straight to a simple Craig Cameron Rope Hackamore. It worked like a champion and he followed the feel of the good hackamore. I ground drove him and I think we did exceptionally well, garnering more points from the judges.
Finally, the Cowboy moment of truth”¦time to get on. I stepped up slowly in the stirrup and swung on. Using a short crop, I touched him on the rump and got the forward movement I wanted and needed. We were a good pair finding the walk, trot and canter with little problem. I rode both directions and I must tell you I felt good about him.
Before the mandatory break, I unsaddled him, and set up several obstacles to present to the good young colt after the break. As I walked out of the round corral, the crowd started to applaud as this interesting, shaggy and rough little guy started through the obstacles on his own. I knew then, he was the brave horse I thought he might be.
As I entered the round pen after the break, we went straight back to work, crossing obstacles, swinging my rope, dragging a log, walk, trot, canter both directions and more. When time was up, I felt this young vagabond and I were ready for the final part at the competition – the obstacle course in the big coliseum. We were briefed on the course. Saddle your horse and ride both directions at a walk trot and canter. Step off and pick up all feet. Re-mount and start the obstacle course. The young colt kept me honest by making me use the best of my skills and experience. Next we went through the obstacles: poles, jumps, tarps, ridethrough, circles, roping, dragging and all on a young horse with just three hours of training. The surprise obstacle was a person dressed in a gorilla costume and you had to ride up to it. My horse nailed the whole obstacle course, including the gorilla, which he touched with his muzzle.
This little guy was truly brave, but in my opinion, he also had heart. So much was going through my mind. “I am almost done. All I have left is my freestyle. I feel I am doing well. I want this championship. I need this championship. It is important to me personally and I do not want to blow it now.” I really did not have any special plan. I knew I would have to feel the horse out. I had a few ideas, but it really depended on my horse. I stepped off, adjusted my saddle. Without any previous thought or plan I said over my microphone” I am going to call this horse “˜Troubadour’ after my favorite George Strait song. We are going to make some sweet music!” I looked up at the sound booth and said to the sound man, “You don’t have that song “Troubadour”, do you? That guy was good at his job because 5 seconds later George Strait began singing “Troubadour”. I pushed my newly named horse, Troubadour, into a trot and right on into a lope. We were headed around the coliseum. As we came around the perimeter of the arena I asked Troubadour for more speed, and then dropped the reins on his neck and held my arms straight out from my sides like Kevin Costner in “Dances with Wolves”. Little Troubadour never weakened and we made it all the way around. As I came to a stop, he gave me all his trust and I gave him all mine as I stood on his back and tipped my hat. A standing ovation was our reward.
We won the Championship: a World Championship! I say we because I could not have done it without him, little Troubadour, the little ragamuffin horse, the ugly duckling. He was now a swan. He was brave and most of all he had heart.
Never judge a book by its cover. Beauty is more than skin deep. Look on the inside.
I will always be in debt to that horse. I will always respect and remember him: A little Champion with the big heart, little Troubadour.
Visit our website at www.craigcameron.com
[This article was published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 3, Issue 7.]
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