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With an amazing final obstacle course and beautiful freestyle ride, Guy McLean took home the Jack Brainard Horsemanship Award at Road to the Horse. He also won the championship title itself, earning a custom-made Martin saddle, a headstall, buckle, statue and $10,000.

“Thank you so much. This is what I got this colt ready for these past three days,” an emotional Guy said to the crowd. “He’s wonderful. I’m buying him…he’s mine forever.”

Guy then turned to Jack Brainard and said, “That you think of me that way means more to me than you’ll ever know.”

Going into the final obstacle course, Guy was in last place.

Before the start of the obstacle course, Road to the Horse producer Tootie Bland announced the scores of the third round: Sarah Winters and Dan James each scored 241; Obbie Schlom, 230; and Guy McLean, 222. So going into the final challenge, Sarah was in first with 704.5, Obbie was second with 695.5, Dan was third with 660, and Guy was last with 641.5.

The clinicians drew numbers to determine the order of the obstacle course, and were given this order: Sarah, Dan, Guy then Obbie

Bland also introduced the clinicians to the obstacle course:

1. Weave thru poles

2. Walk through zig-zag foam noodles

3. Walk the foam noodle pinwheel

4. Cross a blue tarp

5. Cross jump–get over a jump, then a pole, then a jump, then a pole

6. Jump with flowers

7. Noodle walk-through

8. Get rope and swing it and put it back. Get rope and drag a log at least 30 feet.

9. Open and shut a gate

10. Walk through a curtain of streamers

11. Step onto a platform

The clock read 40 minutes, and Sarah Winters let herself into the round pen where her colt waited. Each competitor was supposed to walk, trot and lope their colt, announcing each move first, and also stop, complete 180-degree turns, as well as mount, dismount, lead from the ground and pick up their feet.

Sarah quickly haltered her colt, saddled him from the right side and then began doing groundwork in each direction. She then led her colt, who snorted and jumped backward several times, around the arena so he could see the display of colorful objects. With her colt still wearing only a halter and saddle, she mounted and began to ride.

And from there things became difficult: When the colt was supposed to walk, he trotted, and when he was supposed to trot, he loped.

By the time Sarah began the obstacle course, only 19 minutes remained. Yet the colt moved willingly until he got to the tarp, where he snorted and balked for several minutes.

He went easily over the jumps, hesitated at walking through foam noodles and then balked at the rope obstacle because of a large shrub placed at its base. When she was able to reach the rope, it trailed into the dirt and the colt bolted.

“Uh oh!” Sarah said as she rode it out. The two of them then completed the rest of the course successfully until they got to the final obstacle, a bonus one: a tall platform. The colt refused and began to rear, so with less than two minutes to go, Sarah went into her freestyle form, the final portion, which was to have her colt work a young calf.

Bred to be a cow horse, the colt perked his ears forward and began to follow the calf.

Then with 15 seconds left, Sarah carefully stood on the back of her colt to a thunderous applause from the crowd.

Dan James was next. He slipped a rope around the colt’s neck, and then rubbed him with a blue tarp before bridling him.

“He was a little spooky with that tarp the other day, so I wanted to get him used to it as much as I could,” Dan said.

After saddling the colt, Dan rubbed him with the tarp again, then mounted and began his ride, all the while explaining to the crowd what he was doing.

“When he wants to run back to the gate, I’ll let him, but I’ll hassle him,” Dan said.

He then spent the next several minutes trying to coax the colt into moving forward, using a crop, to which the colt reacted by kicking out with his hind legs. Finally Dan dismounted and led the colt by the bridle at a jog around the arena, saying he wanted to avoid getting into a fight with the colt.

And it seemed to help: He was then able to successfully declare his walk, trot, canter, stop, turn, mount and dismount and the picking up of his colt’s feet.

With ten minutes left, he began the obstacle course, and when he started to forget to do the pole weave from the other direction, the entire crowd screamed at him and pointed.

“It’s good to have 8,000 judges out there,” Richard Winters joked.

When the colt refused to walk through the zig-zag of foam noodles, bolting and knocking them over, Dan said, “I’m thinking there’s a possible zero for that,” before finally getting off and leading the colt through.

He rode him over the pin wheel, then dismounted to urge the colt over the tarp.

“It’s O.K., just get one little corner of it and I’ll let you go. Good job,” Dan said, rubbing the colt’s nose as the crowd applauded. When the colt began to bolt away from the tarp, Dan said, “Yes, we all know you don’t like that.”

The rest of the course was worked mostly from the ground. Like many young and unsure horses, the colt just refused to go forward, so Dan coaxed him through the obstacles. He rode him to the ropes and the gate, but wasn’t able to close the gate or get to the final obstacle of the streamers.

Guy McLean was next, and saddled his colt and then led him out, walking him around the arena before he finally mounted, talking to the crowd with every step.

He successfully declared his walk, trot and canter, stop and back, then turned to the other direction, clearly pleased with the colt.

“I’m proud of you, young man,” Guy said.

He easily picked up the colt’s feet and then led him the required ten meters. Referring to a piece of paper, Guy said, “Oh, what’s next, the obstacle course? You were born for that.”

The judges then asked Guy to perform his turns and backup again, which he did successfully. Then Guy rode through the poles and then the colt went into the zig-zag, knocking over two poles while Guy joked about it. He joked again when the colt first balked at the trot.

“If you’re lucky, I’ll let you trot over it. He goes, ‘I’m feelin’ lucky!’” Guy said as the colt trotted over it.

When he had to walk through some foam noodles, Guy said, “Here, let me help you,” and stuck his head forward through them first, garnering a good belly laugh from the crowd, one of many.

“Peek-a-boo!” Guy called out in a falsetto as they walked through the streamers.

“If I was moving, I’d be doing Western Pleasure,” he joked as he coaxed the colt’s head down to ask him to climb up on a raised platform.

Standing on the platform, Guy said, “Did you hear last year that I like to do poetry? …This poem is called, ‘This is War.’ Because when I first went into the round pen, this horse said, ‘I’m gonna bite you!’ And look at him now.”

Guy then recited a poem while the colt stood calmly, hip-shot.

“You’ve shown me I can trust, a partnership’s unfurled,” Guy said in one line. He then finished the poem and stood up on the colt’s back, and cracked two stock whips, one in each hand. He then did a head stand on the colt’s back, and with five minutes left, he took off the colt’s bridle and loped him easily around the arena with just a string, cracking a stock whip.

“I love him for everything he is, and everything he’ll be. I know I have a few minutes left, Tootie, but I’m gonna put him away. I’m so proud of him.”

“Mate, you are a champion in my eyes…I’m just a boy, chasing my dreams. Thank you very much.”

Standing on their feet, the crowd screamed their cheers. Many people wiped tears from their eyes.

Then it was Obbie’s turn. She haltered the colt and did a few turns of groundwork with him, and then asked him to pick up his feet before saddling him.

The colt seemed very interested in his own image on the big video screen.

“There he goes, looking at himself again,” Obbie said. “He says, ‘Oh, I’m handsome.’ I say, ‘I know you are.’”

She rode the colt out of the round pen and began trotting him in both directions.

“Doesn’t he have the most lovely trot ever?” she asked the crowd.

She then rode the colt through the required walk, trot, canter, turns, stop and backup. On one of the canters, the colt picked up the wrong lead, so Obbie brought him back to a trot.

“It doesn’t matter!” someone in the crowd yelled, to which Obbie replied, “It matters to me,” and the crowd laughed and applauded.

She picked up the colt’s feet easily, and did the required leading before beginning the obstacle course.

He walked calmly through the poles, the zig-zag and the wheel before they got to the tarp, where the colt balked.

“For his best interests, I’m gonna ask one more time, then I’m gonna leave him alone,” Obbie said, so when the colt finally just looked at the tarp, she said, “That’s enough,” and they rode away from it.

She did the same thing at the foam noodles–when the colt didn’t want to ride through and balked repeatedly, Obbie said, “You know, he’s not ready. I’m gonna move on.”

“I made the mistake of pushing him too fast the other day,” she said. “So shame on me for asking him to do something that he’s not ready for.”

They dragged the log, then opened and shut the gate.

“It’s amazing to me to this day what you can get an 1,100 pound animal to do in a matter of minutes,” Obbie said, “with just trust.”

Her colt walked through the streamers in one direction, and as Obbie approached the final one, the platform, the crowd yelled at her to go back through the streamers from the other direction.

“Thank you so much!” Obbie said in return. “I owe ya’ll dinner, except I’m not rich.”

At the raised platform, Obbie said to the colt, “All you gotta do is try.”

The colt would only stop and look at the platform, so Obbie rode him away from it.

With one minute left for the freestyle, she pulled the saddle off and hopped on the horse’s back and began to lope him around the arena bareback. As he came around the turn, the colt bucked, and off Obbie came, hitting the ground hard before remounting.

“Has anybody ever been bucked off before in their freestyle?” she asked the crowd, and then stood up on the colt’s back, bareback.

Be sure to check out all our coverage of this year’s Road to the Horse colt-starting competition with’s behind-the-scenes interviews and daily blogs and photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, brought to you by Spalding Labs. You can find them on Facebook or on Twitter at #RTTHFromtheStart.

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