From Humble Beginnings …
In 2003, a small crowd gathered at the Cowtown Coliseum in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards to watch Clinton Anderson, Curt Pate and Josh Lyons compete in the El Camino del Caballo Challenge. From these modest and humble beginnings, Road to the Horse has developed into a worldwide phenomenon, inspiring fans from around the world to develop a deeper understanding of the horse.
A vision of Steven and Tootie Bland, Road to the Horse was created with passion and perseverance. Steven and Tootie were believers in a message they wanted to share with the world. The message: create a relationship which is based on a foundation of trust with the horse, and everything else can be accomplished.
A Simple Cowboy
Steven Bland was a Texan cowboy, born and bred. Hailing from west Texas, rodeo was in his blood. He considered himself a simple cowboy, but still waters ran deep. Steven’s passion was horses, and he had a way with them that bordered on magical. With a West Texas upbringing that gave him ample opportunity to hone his horsemanship skills, recognition of those skills came early and often.
Steven earned numerous titles during his distinguished rodeo career from the bucking chutes to the roping end. Steven was a Champion Calf Roper, Steer Wrestler, Bull Rider, Bareback Rider and an accomplished All-Around Champion. From his early days with the American Junior Rodeo Association to a long standing career as a Professional Rodeo Cowboy, Steven was honored with the the prestigious Bill Linderman award, a title awarded only a select few in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. With a natural gift of working with animals he went on to work in the entertainment industry as an actor, stuntman and animal wrangler. Working on production sets came naturally and with such an extensive rodeo career, he was well respected by actors and producers. Steven lived by the cowboy’s unwritten code of conduct that a single person has the power to make a positive difference in the world.
As Tootie recalls, “his life was truly fun. One thing Steven instilled in you – live every day to its fullest. That made for a fun ride. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t try.” Steven knew to live big and dream bigger. He couldn’t have found a better partner in Tootie. The dynamic duo would go on to ranch together in Texas. “I thought it was a town. It never occurred to me the town would be just a stop sign,” she says with a laugh. “Steven said well, we’re home. I had arrived in a pair of high heels, if you can believe it. But none of that really mattered – I was where I was supposed to be with person I was supposed to be with.”
Today, Steven ‘Dooky’ Bland’s legacy lives on in Road to the Horse. From the moment the AQHA Remuda steps off the trailer to the presentation of the ‘Legacy Awards’, Steven is present. Tootie continued on with Road to the Horse after Steven passed away unexpectedly in 2005.
“When you have someone that believes in you, you can’t fail. Steven said we were going to make Road to the Horse happen and we did – and I continue to do so. Go after your biggest love. You can have it if you believe it’s there.”
The ‘Legacy Awards’ honor Steven as a cowboy, a husband and a horseman. The World Champion is presented with the Road to the Horse Championship buckle forged from sterling silver and 14-karat gold by Gist Silversmiths. Only a few, the chosen, wear this buckle with honor and grace. Martin Saddlery hand crafts the saddle that is made to be ridden in with pride, adorned by the Steven ‘Dooky’ Bland Memorial Conchos laden with stars and rubies.
Before they met and more than a thousand miles away, Tootie grew up in California with the same values of hard work, determination, and an abundance of grit. Tootie is rough and tough in all the right ways. A rancher, business woman and producer she challenges herself and those around her to always be better, regardless of the circumstances.For Tootie, horses have always been some of her greatest teachers, imparting invaluable life lessons. “You can do anything that you really want to – it’s the belief they all gave to me,” Tootie says. She fondly recalls one of her first horses as an untouched and untried American Quarter Horse her grandfather gifted her before passing away. “His name was Slack – he was just a bunch of legs and rack of bone,” Tootie shares. Together, Tootie and her horse figured out how to work as a team. A successful duo, Slack enabled Tootie to attend college on a rodeo scholarship and move on to the professional ranks. After a pasture accident, Slack lost sight in his right eye, and a mutual bond of unshakable trust was formed between the two as a result. “Looking back, he showed me what courage was really all about. I trusted him and he trusted me and we continued our winning ways,” Tootie explains.
Tootie, like the man she would eventually fall in love with, has a strong background in rodeo. Active in and out of the arena as a rodeo secretary, performer and competitor she learned about live event production in a fast paced environment. Lessons she never imagined would lead her to be a pioneer in changing the face of horsemanship.
Like Steven, Tootie had years of experience in the film industry. Tootie spent 25 years in the industry as a stuntwoman and award winning producer. “It was a wonderful life packed with charged emotion, storytelling, travel and days of shear creation, incredible hours of work and raw courage, I learned the art of making an idea come to life,” she says. These lessons are clearly evident in Road to the Horse. An event that begins with the horses and what is best for their well-being, then builds from there to excite, educate and inspire. The Road to the Horse documentaries produced from the event has earned numerous Silver Telly and AEGIS awards. But the adventurous Tootie Bland is not happy to stop there.
A True Visionary
A true visionary, Tootie is on a mission for which she is uniquely qualified. Despite adversity she continues with persistence, perseverance and stubborn determination. Her love of the horse coupled with her desire to be a force for good has defined her calling. Such noble ideals set the stage for an individual’s finest work. Tootie recalls the initial venture was risky and not without challenges as they were blazing a new trail, but Steven and Tootie were also ardent believers in their message. The message is simple, but profound: create a foundation of trust with the horse, and everything else can be accomplished.