Versatility Ranch Horse Clinic

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I have never been so glad to get back in my own bed, after spending three long nights at what Rich and I both agreed was a hotel we would never stay in again, no matter what the price. And sadly, it wasn’t cheap—over $100 a night! I’ve stayed at better hotels at half the price. But in spite of our pitiful accommodations, we had a great weekend of riding, training and socializing with friends at a Versatility Ranch Horse clinic in Granby, Colorado.

Rich and I took our horses, Diggs and Dually, up to Granby Thursday night—it’s a beautiful three hour drive through the middle of the Rockies. We stalled at a private barn across the street from the clinic site so that our horses could have a real stall with a roof over their heads to ward off either rain or sun (we had both) and a soft place to lay down after a long day’s work. They were very comfy there and our friends that hosted us watched over them like they were their own. Horse people are just like that, you know?

There were 15 of us in the clinic (half full) and we split into three groups and rotated through three clinicians—any one of whom would have been great to spend the whole weekend with. Joe Wolter, renowned ranch horse clinician; Terry Wegener—an icon in Colorado amongst performance horse trainers; and Merritt Linke, an outstanding ranch roping clinician and the man that coached me through my first steer stop a couple years ago.

We started the first morning with Joe for ranch cutting for half a day. With a small group of five riders, it seemed like a private lesson—especially given that all five of us were already good friends and we knew each other’s horses. We had a blast, learned a lot and our horses progressed. What more could you ask? Dually cut well the first go-around, which was a surprise since he was very fresh on cows—but in the second and third rounds his freshness eeked out. The more he is in front of cows, the more he wants to eat their lunch. On the third round he fell down on me in an over-zealous moment, but both of us were unscathed in the fall and he cut well after the incident. Just to be safe, and remembering the previous back injury that he had from an over-strenuous move, which I nursed for 9 months, I let him rest that afternoon while I audited the intermediate cutters and watched Rich rope.

On Saturday, our group moved on to Terry’s clinic on working ranch horse, which is a combination of several disciplines: reining, boxing (similar to cutting) and working cowhorse—with a single cow in the arena, the rider takes the cow down the long fence (at speed) then turns him once in each direction, then brings the cow off the fence and makes the cow circle in each direction. In some VRH competitions you have to rope and stop the cow, instead of circling; in some competitions you have a choice of roping or circling. Again, we had a blast and learned a lot and Dually smoked a couple cows. It’s the speed work he really loves—and he is built like a speed machine.

Saturday afternoon it was the rider’s choice and Dually and I spent some more time with Terry—got a private lesson in fact, working on refining our reining maneuvers. Terry rode Dually quite a bit and had a blast doing so and it was very fun for me to see my horse being ridden. Dually’s a highly sensitive and forward moving horse, so he’s not a horse you could put anyone on, so I’ve really not seen him under saddle except from on top of his back. So I got some good training, as did my horse, and I came home with a notebook full of new exercises I am going to work on with my horse. I guess that’s why you go to clinics!

On Sunday, there was a full VRH competition, but since there was not an open division, I could not enter. Which is fine, since I really just like to go out and have fun on my horse. Instead, I enjoyed sitting with the judge (Terry Wegener) and hearing his comments and scores for each horse. Rich did well on his horse but had a couple off-pattern mistakes that cost him dearly (that’s where the patience and persistence comes in). With a three hour drive home, we didn’t stick around for the awards but instead made it home in time to soak in the hot tub, order a pizza and watch our favorite line-up on HBO (we love True Blood). A fitting end to a great weekend.

There’s a lot of interest in ranch horse competition these days—all over the country. It’s been very popular in Colorado for some time, but the rest of the country is just now discovering the fun and challenge of VRH. Rich and I are headed to Massachusetts in a couple weeks where we’ll give two VRH clinics (plus a horsemanship clinic). In the VRH clinics, we will go over the four riding classes: ranch cutting, working ranch horse, ranch trail and ranch riding (kinda like a simple dressage test), and review the rules, the class procedures and work on building skills.

One of the greatest things about VRH is that you have so many different things to work on, with the two cow classes being the most challenging and the most difficult to train for. Most people don’t have the capability to work cattle at home, so you have to go somewhere for lessons or go to some cowhorse clinics (either cutting or working cow or both), and put all the components together. Even just going to a reined cowhorse show or a cutting to watch will  help you learn something about the complicated disciplines.

And by the way, for those of you just getting into VRH, you should know that along with the fun and the challenge, comes the need for a great deal of patience. You can’t just get this stuff figured out in a weekend—it takes a long time for a horse and rider to hone all the skills needed for this event, but you’ll certainly have fun along the journey. If you start with a trained and experienced horse, it goes a lot quicker (and can be a lot more fun). If you’re both trying to figure out all this stuff together, it’ll take some time and persistence. But that’s true of all disciplines, isn’t it?

Enjoy the ride,

Julie