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A Look Back at Road To The Horse, by Craig Cameron



road to the horse 2010 palominoCraig 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.

Thanks, Craig

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[This article was published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 3, Issue 7.]


Here’s a little trivia question for y’all . . . What are the winner’s names (Trainer AND Horse) from each Road To The Horse Competition?

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