Team Australia wins Road to the Horse 2012

Mufreesboro, TN.  By Holly Clanahan for America’s Horse Daily.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie … oi, oi, oi!

That Outback spirit was alive and kicking in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, as Australians Guy McLean and Dan James won a hard-fought battle at Road to the Horse 2012, defeating teams from the United States and Canada.

After two days of round-pen sessions totaling four hours, the trainers were preparing for their final obstacle course on Sunday afternoon, when event producer Tootie Bland introduced yet another twist: 60 extra points for any team willing to switch horses with their partners. Team Australia was the only one to take her up on that offer.

So Guy, who said he’d always wanted to ride a Dan James-trained horse, took the ride on Remember Sunset, while Dan rode the horse that Guy had purchased from the Four Sixes Ranch, Valliant Paddy.

Guy joked with the audience throughout his obstacle course, at one point asking, “How do you steer this thing?” when the horse began going a little wobbly. He completed the entire course — which included among other things, upright poles to weave in and out of, a “wheel” of ground poles elevated in the center, some small jumps, a tarp on the ground, jump standards with foam noodles the horse had to push through, and a log drag. Bonus obstacles included a platform for the horse to step up onto so the rider could reach up to ring a large bell hanging from the rafters, and a water box. Guy finished these, then had time to read a poem he’d written as an ode to Australia, where he is known as a bush poet. He then returned to the round pen to unsaddle his horse and tell him, “Thank you, my friend.”

Dan had a quieter ride than Guy, who’s a bit of a comedian, but his was skillful even without much commentary. He completed all obstacles except the water box, which trainers were not penalized for bypassing because it was a bonus. One shining point was the way Dan helped his horse through his gate/buddy-sour issues. This was the first time for each of the colts to be alone in the arena, and all of them, to varying degrees, wanted to stay by the arena gate, where they knew their buddies were just beyond.

Dan explained that he just “hassled” his horse by strongly encouraging him to go forward each time he returned to the gate. Then, as the colt left the gate, Dan became quiet with his cues. The horse — whom Guy has nicknamed “Aussie” — caught on pretty quick.

After the Aussie win was announced, emcee Rick Lamb asked Dan and Guy why they’d been brave enough to swap horses.

“We wouldn’t have been allowed to go back to Australia if we didn’t,” Guy said. Before the obstacle course (and counting their 60 extra “switcharoo” points), they trailed the United States by 16 points. “Even if we were ahead,” Guy said, “they’d say ’switch’ just to see if we could stay on.”

Dan, the youngest Road to the Horse competitor at age 29, said, “It has been a hell of a ride.”

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