By Caitlin Cannon
It was a sunny and clear morning for the opening day of the first ever Horsemen’s Reunion held at the Mid-State Fairgrounds in Paso Robles, California. The event, organized by Cathie and Rowley Twisselman of Flying T Quarter Horses, featured twenty cowboys from around the world starting forty unbroken two and three-year-old Quarter Horses.
Unlike most colt starting demonstrations and competitions, which last less than three days and are often judged, the Reunion lasted a full week and was non-competitive. The event was advertised as a display of excellent horsemanship rather than a race to see who could start a young horse the fastest. Each trainer received two colts at random and ninety minutes of time each day to transform them into working cow horses. The horses, bred and raised by the Twisselmans, had been halter broken as yearlings to allow veterinary care but were otherwise previously unhandled. At the end of the week the horses were auctioned off.
In spite of the longer time frame there was a remarkable amount of stress put on the young horses on the first day of training, and many of the colts bucked and fought their trainers. Quite a few of the trainers relied on old-school methods of colt breaking such as hobbling or lassoing a rear hoof in order to prevent the colt from moving while they were aggressively sacked out with tarps or plastic bags. Although all of the colts were saddled and ridden on their first day many of the colts seemed overwhelmed by the intensity and more than one ended the day still fighting the trainer.
Despite the varied geographic origin of the horsemen participating in the event the training methods used were for the most part remarkably uniform. This no doubt resulted from the influence of Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance who trained or influenced most of the trainers present.
The event was an interesting look into the world of cowboy colt starting but to the untrained eye the horse training methods did not seem particularly different from the standard. Next year it would be wonderful to see a wider variety of training methods as well as some women colt starters!
Caitlin Cannon is a lifelong horse lover and a talented photographer/videographer. Check out her work at PurpleMockingbird.com.