A Dream Deferred

Ten days ago I went to Lexington, Kentucky, to root for Wild Card James Cooler and his colt Deuce at Road to the Horse. They competed in the first round on March 13, but something wasn’t right with Deuce; he was clearly off his game.

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When the obstacle course came up next, James and Deuce were nowhere to be seen. Those of us in the stands wondered and worried, aware that only a major issue could take James and Deuce away from the competition they’d been preparing for all year. It turned out that James had bowed out of the Wild Card competition.

 As he later explained on Cooler Horsemanship’s Facebook page:

I could feel that Deuce was not 100% during the reining portion of the Wild Card competition on Thursday night, and his care is always my highest priority. He has a very special place in my heart, and when I felt he wasn’t at his best I decided not to continue with him in the competition.

My problems came up during the opening flag ceremony, and I could tell he was in pain from the behavior he exhibited, which was stomping and unusual urination… bless his heart for trying as hard as he did, but after that I knew it was not fair to him to continue.

Many people responded to that Facebook post, and the gist of every message was: You are a champion for putting your horse’s needs first.

James and Deuce’s withdrawal from the Wild Card competition was surprising, but Wild Card James Anderson’s steep ascent to 2014 Road to the Horse champion—besting three of the world’s finest natural horsemanship trainers, Dan Steers, Jonathan Field, and Antoine Cloux—was a total jaw-dropper. The idea that a little-known trainer from Alberta, Canada, could become the world champion of colt starting gave horsemen and horsewomen around the world something to dream about.

The Wild Cards proved so popular that they’ll be back again in 2015, and James will be among them. So will several of his fellow 2014 competitors: Trevor Carter, Mary Kitzmiller, and Sean Patrick. Three new trainers have joined the mix: Shamus Haws, Dan Keen, and Bobby Knight.

My favorite moment of the weekend took place when the 2015 Wild Cards entered the arena. As the announcer introduced them to the crowd, one of the newest Wild Cards—I’m not sure whether it was Shamus Haws or Dan Keen—dropped down in the dirt and rolled like a happy puppy. He was that excited.

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His ebullience reminded me of the extraordinary opportunity the Wild Card competition offers to under-the-radar trainers. Suddenly they’re vaulted into the big league, with Road to the Horse’s Facebook fans, 40,000+ and counting, following their every move. And then the big event: a chance to win the title of best natural horsemanship trainer in the world and to take home $100,000. Jim Anderson will be back in 2015 to defend his championship title; the other Road to the Horse competitors will be announced throughout the year.

James and his new 6666 Ranch colt, Stoli N Water, are already laying the groundwork for the ultimate trusting relationship. I saw him achieve that with Deuce, and their deep bond is a wonder to behold. It’s a relationship that will endure long after the Alltech Arena’s lights were dimmed and the last trailer pulled out of the parking lot.

Deuce and James

Deuce and James