Considering the Horse – Colt Start Competition 2016
by Kate Mably
Featuring 4-Star Parelli Professional & Horse Development Specialist Angelika Schneider / Italy
Who can resist an all expenses paid trip to play with horses in Poland? The only hitch was that it was a Colt Start competition. Since I had already said yes, was ready to try anything, and had some horse sense, I figured I should go. After all, how difficult could it be to train a young stallion to be ridden in 3 days and complete a crazy obstacle course that most normal horses would be terrified of at the end of it?
Considering that Poland was an unknown country and that no one would know me, it would be a good place to try something new! Luckily, I had a little savvy and invited my friend, 4-Star Parelli Professional and Horse Development Specialist, Angelika Schneider to come a long just in case (thank goodness I did). We arrived in Western City, which seems like a strange place to be in Poland because it was like a film set in Hollywood. The facilities were great, and it was the perfect place to host the Colt Start competition.
The idea behind the event was to present different trainer’s techniques from different countries—all of which followed the principles and concepts of natural horsemanship. This was the seventh anniversary, and previous participants included Chris Cox (USA), Dale Myler (USA), Marry Kitzmiller (USA), Reiner Schelbert (Germany), Gyula Mesarosz (Hungary), Katka Santarova (Czech), Josef Jaromiś (Czech), and Maciej Czinczol (Poland), and Wojciech Orlik (Poland). In addition, the previous winners included Richard Winters (USA), Guy Robertson (UK), Pawel Jachymek (Poland), and Monika Damec (Poland).
The Polish organizers warmly welcomed the three competitors—Thierry Dehaussy from France, Ireneusz Szlacht from Poland, and me.
Day 1: I felt confident and ready to get going. After much hustle and bustle, the horses came charging into the arena to be sorted and placed into individual round pens, which proved quite difficult since the three young colts seemed worried and confused.
I was given the colt named Talisman, who had pushed through some of the handlers several times. I was very nervous as I entered the pen. I was beginning to feel the pressure of both the competition and the crowd as well as realizing that this was a little different than starting an already haltered and well-handled youngster. After about 2 hours, I managed to touch Talisman, but he was not at all interested in me or worried about me. I struggled to read him and wished that I had taken more interest in Horsenality. I managed to touch and walk with Talisman, mirroring his movements, but that was about it for the day even though the other competitors were already working with halters on their colts.
That evening over drinks with Angelika, I happened to mention that this was my first proper colt start ever. Angelika’s shocked expression that seemed to question my sanity said it all.
Day 2: The second day was worse. I was still trying to halter my head shy colt. Between the time pressure, the crowd, and knowing that the competition was being streamed live around the globe, I lost it. I put my hand up and asked to withdraw, knowing that Angelika would replace me. While it was a big decision, the organizers and the audience were so supportive and generously allowed me to swap places. Feeling my emotion, most of the audience were in tears with me. My fellow competitors were amazing. Thierry shook my hand and said how much he respected me and that, in his opinion, I had already won the competition since it was a tough decision to withdraw.
I knew that Angelika could take my place but was not sure that we could still compete. After the second half of the first session on Saturday, Angelika was allowed to enter the competition without my scores from the day before.
Within 10 minutes after she entered the round pen, the halter was on. It was so obvious to everyone that Angelika was a real professional with a well-practiced system, the Parelli Program. Watching her work with Talisman was amazing. She knew how to read him, understanding that he was left brained, shifting between extrovert and introvert, and that he needed something to play with. As soon as she introduced obstacles, Talisman loved it. He was curious and soon started stamping on the barrels, going over them, eating the tarp, which was soon draped all over him—he was certainly not scared. Yet, he was still reluctant to engage with a human.
Angelika said that Talisman was basically wearing a “you are not the boss of me!” T-shirt. Understanding and working with Talisman’s sense of curiosity and play was a great idea. Angelica had so many tools up her sleeve that Talisman began to find her interesting and fun to be with. Even as she put the bareback pad on he thought it was a game and was not at all bothered. She then asked him to go over the barrels to see if he would buck with the pad on. He was far too busy working out his feet over the barrels to buck. By the end of Day 2, she was comfortably sitting on his back and even able to have some fun with the audience. Everyone could see her professionalism, fantastic horsemanship skills, and vast range of well-practiced techniques.
Day 3: The next morning, he looked so much more soft, beautiful, and ready to play. It was noticeable the difference between Talisman and the other competitor’s horses, who were sweet but not really working with their trainers in the same way.
Angelika had only had a total of 5 hours to get him ready for the competition. As we watched the organizers set out the obstacles, we thought they were crazy! There was a circle of poles with plastic wings that would scare a novice horse; a tarp with a large plastic shark, poles, and a badly fixed plastic curtain to walk through; a station for standing still to be saddled and mounted; the horses had to stand under an umbrella, walk and trot, and drag an object behind them. One of the scariest obstacles was a person dressed as a tiger, and the riders had to go up to them and say hello, which was fine except that the audience was prone to clapping at everything. I thought that the person in the tiger costume was lucky not to have been knocked over by one of the horses.
None of these scary obstacles phased Angelika and her newfound partner. They performed all the tasks easily, calmly, and with a soft rhythm. Her finale was playing with the Polish flag. By this time, the members of audience were on their feet, giving a standing ovation to the pair. Although they came in second place thanks to the late start, they were the real winners. Angelika was a true ambassador of the best of Parelli.