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Extreme Horsemanship

6th January 2013

Top U.S. Extreme Competitor - Mark Bolender

Back in about 2005 when Stuart and Lesley Powell organised Europe’s first Ranch Horse event here in England at the Bar S, its unique nature was the “getting back to basics” of it all - ranch riding and competing with versatile horses that were judged according to their natural way of going in classes that were relevant to what they did in a normal working day. Back then, ranch horse competition had just started in the USA and the common sense of it has created a movement in the USA  that now has thousands of followers.

Of course, the “flavour” of Ranch Horse is to compete in classes that we all recognise -Cutting, Western Pleasure, Sorting, Working Cow Horse and Trail – but taking them back to their roots and giving it a bit of reality (and, incidentally, introducing some real horsemanship).

In the case of Ranch Trail, the ranch horse obstacles are altogether more relevant to the working

ranch horse. The gates we negotiate are all the gates on the ranch, there’s a water obstacle, a log drag, roping, trailering the horse and all the other side passing, backups and bridges that you used to find in a trail class. Suddenly, Western Trail had become a challenge, and continues to be a more absorbing way of showing what a versatile western horse is capable of.

Meanwhile, the traditional Western Trail has become a parody of what it should be about. Nothing more than a series of pole step overs negotiated by forlorn looking horses moping around with heads hung low and riders who get praised more for the quality of their “bling” than the standard of their horsemanship.

It’s not surprising that into this vacuum should step the sport of Extreme Horse Racing. I have to say up front that I think the Extreme Cowboy Association might have given a bit more thought to their branding.

Of course, it’s not for us, looking longingly across the Atlantic, wishing that we had access to everything that’s over there if you love a horse, to be suggesting that they’ve done themselves a disservice by using the words “extreme” and “racing”. But, as I contemplate organising a show on their model, I shudder to think of  the reaction I’m going to get from my insurers if I put a proposal to them that’s got either of those words on the page. And as for the word “cowboy” – well, heaven forfend. Sadly, it means something entirely different in the general language of England. Certainly not someone who makes a living working with cows. But that’s our problem not the Americans’...

I believe the concept is brilliant and is what versatile western riding is all about. But it’s not “extreme” (unless you happen to be reading this wondering what points you’ll get for your choice of rhinestone encrusted shirt) and it’s not “racing” (unless you ride a horse that’s happiest rolling peanuts along the arena floor).

What the Extreme Cowboys Association is doing is to put Western Trail where it should always have been: it’s Ranch Trail against the clock with horses that trust their riders and enjoy the challenge. Have a look at (and, while you’re doing it marvel at the commitment involved in setting up a course like that in what looks like a warehouse!!). That horse just loves it. Then go and have a look at  - see what I mean?

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