Two American women, Sara Winters and Obbie Schlom, are the final two competitors for the 2013 Road to the Horse. The California natives will put their hat in the ring against reigning 2012 champions from Australia, Dan James and Guy McLean. The four will square off as individuals next March to compete for the 2013 Road to the Horse Champion title.
Winters, 22, and Schlom, 18, will be the youngest ever competitors and this will mark only the second time another female has competed in the 10 year history of Road to the Horse.
There isn’t a time when either Schlom or Winters wasn’t on the back of a horse. Moving straight from their first steps into a high lope, these women have continued moving forward. But don’t think these undeniably fearless women forget where they come from.
Shlom is the small-town-girl with the can-do attitude. She lets nothing stand in her way. Winning over fans everywhere she goes, and us, she can make the best of any situation given to her. She may be, as she says, ‘just barely legal to vote,’ but we can’t wait to see what she does with her colt at Road to the Horse 2013.
At 22, Winters pretty much has everything a horse enthusiast could ask for; a world class training facility, a number of championships under her belt and a rock solid team of horses. This year, she’ll once again prove how talented she is — competing in her first Road to the Horse. Pretty impressive.
Proving to be Resilient
The life of a horse trainer is not always an easy one, a lesson Schlom had to learn the hard way. “At a young age people started to see that I wasn’t afraid they started sending me horses they couldn’t control. It was one challenge after another.” Schlom reminisces about the long days she endured just to stay on track.
“Then I got a black thoroughbred. He was a challenge but we overcame everything together.” Devastation hit when he had to be put down. “Last October we went to a cowboy race and he coliced. By the time we got him into surgery it was too late.” Schlom says with a melancholy tone, “That horse was my world and when we put him down I thought to myself I worked so hard with him, now what’s the point? But I just kept reminding myself that he will always be with me watching over me.”
Every trial and tribulation comes with a lesson. “I realized that there are going to be stumbles in the road, I just have to pick my head up and keep going. Things are going to happen and I have no control over them.” Schlom has learned to keep moving forward no matter what obstacle may lie ahead; a value that will certainly prove handy during competition.
The pressure is on
Winters not only bares the pressure of being a trailblazer herself, her father, Richard Winters, is also a former Road to the Horse Champion. “Any of the extra pressure would be self-inflicted,” says Winters, “He has set the bar pretty high within the industry, so I do put a certain amount of pressure on myself to be the best that I can be.” Winning several world titles sounds like she’s hanging out at the top of the industry. “I don’t know,” Winters says with a cool and comedic tone. “If I meet someone at the top I’ll ask them!”
In a very much male dominated society sometimes it’s hard for women to stand out, so the saying must be true that “well-behaved women rarely make history”. “It is a very much male dominated industry,” Winters says with a short snicker. “But it’s funny because 80 percent of the clinic participants are women.” Demographics won’t slow this go-getter down. “It’s my goal to show that women are capable of getting great things done with their horses, and they don’t have to settle for anything less than excellence.”
Schlom says with true country charm, “I think Sarah and I need to step up to the plate and practice so when the time comes we can shine through. It’s pretty intimidating going up against two of the handiest men in the world but we’re going to give them a run for their money.” We don’t doubt that for a second.
Age is just a number
For these two competitors their gender is not the only thing that makes them unique to Road to the Horse history, they’re also the youngest to ever compete. So both women are calm and confident, right? “For me this is where most of the pressure comes from,” Winters says, tensing up. “I have never started a colt in front of thousands of horse enthusiast. This is very exciting and just a little scary!”
“I’m really blown away,” says Schlom, “I know there are so many that would love to be in my position.”
Although performing the most difficult of tasks with the world watching can be a bit intimidating, Winters still gets a twinkle in her eye when talking about her future. “I have confidence in my program and when a door opens up there comes a point when you need to walk through it and not look back!”
Road to competition
Knowing you’ve been chosen to compete at Road to the Horse gives competitors time to prepare themselves and maybe built a bit of anxiety. Apprehension isn’t a word in Winters’ dictionary, she welcomes the competition with years of preparation. “I am fortunate because my job naturally prepares me for Road to the Horse. We constantly have new horses coming in either for clinics or for training.”
How does Winters plan to get into competition mode? “There will be a lot of colts to start come January 1st, so I am definitely going to have Road to the Horse in mind as I start each one.”
Taking an untouched colt through their first interactions could go really well for some and could spell disaster for others, just ask some of the past competitors. Either outcome, each competitor is responsible for what will be the foundation of the rest of that colt’s training. No pressure. During a competitor’s time in the show ring they’re equipped with a microphone to talk about their process aloud with thousands watching and waiting. This is the chance for competitors to connect with the audience and walk them through their technique. Winters is prepared for what may lie in her future, “At Road to the Horse I want to be very careful to not get caught up in the competition, but to be there for the horse. Of course I want to win but I am not going to put winning above what is best for the horse.” Not to forget about the audience she hopes that they understand her smooth and deliberate style. Showing people that working smarter, not necessarily harder, is the key to a successful relationship with the colt.
Schlom’s goal for her time in the show ring is also to put the horse above the win. “It’s about getting the horse as solid as possible with my time. It’s not going to be an easy task but I want to apply my technique and teach people that getting in a rush doesn’t produce results. My competition is pretty stiff but I’m going to do my best.”
“These two have a big job ahead of them and tough competition standing in their way,” said Producer Tootie Bland. “They also have the incredible talent and skill to showcase the next generation of natural horsemanship in the United States.”
The four competitors will come together in the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, to compete for the Road to the Horse title in March 2013.