This month, Lindsey looks back on her experience with Kibou at the Extreme Cowboy Racing Association World Competition in Texas.
Thundering hooves as the horse gallops around the arena at full speed, turning the corner and onto the straightaway. Charging to the far side of the arena and then you see the haunches tuck under as the horse comes sliding to a stop and turns sideways so the rider can maneuver through a gate.
This was the opening task for some of the patterns during the Extreme Cowboy Association (EXCA) World Competition in Texas this past November.
It was my first time going to worlds. I headed south so I could compete with my Mustang, Kibou, in the Mustang class. The Mustang class is limited to Mustangs that have were adopted no more than six months prior to the competition.
This means all of the Mustangs competing in that class are relatively green and have been tamed for less than six months. In my case I started gentling Kibou on July 1st, so we had about four months of training under belt when we headed to worlds.
It was such an incredible experience to watch all of the talented horses and riders compete. The versatility is unreal. Within the same pattern you may be asked to jump, perform flying lead changes, canter a tiny circle, work a cow, roll back, spin, dismount/remount, walk on a loose rein, gallop, cross combinations of bridges, pick up a passenger and much more.
The impressive part is that with the training these horses receive it is clear just how versatile, sane, happy, athletic and safe they are. The element of having to handle speed and maintain sanity is where I think competing in EXCA really challenges horses and riders to be among the best in the world.
It is challenging to teach a horse to navigate a gate obstacle, bridges, do collected 5m canter circles, a flying lead change serpentine pattern, among other tasks — but adding the element of speed bonus points and a free ride really tests the emotional control.
A free ride is usually at the start of the pattern and the objective is to be fast and on a loose rein. Each obstacle of a pattern is judged out of 10 points and then you also get bonus speed points depending on your overall time. The objective is to have the highest scoring round by being accurate and fast.
I was super impressed with Kibou — we did our preliminary round and hustled between the obstacles. He didn’t question me, he was responsive and trying his best. We walked away in first place by about eight points.
Then into finals, where the top 10 compete for the overall awards. We had a tough pattern ahead. One of the fun things about EXCA patterns is you get to demonstrate your horse to the best of its ability. The objective is to show off your horse without wasting time.
Our first task was to run to our horse and mount… so I decided to show how quiet Kibou is and crawled under him and mounted from the offside. Next was our free ride, which definitely started pokey. Speed isn’t Kibou’s strong point.
He navigated the rest of the course really well, gave me the correct leads through our miniature barrel pattern and decent tight turns throughout our course. As we came into the narrow bridge I was a bit too ‘hot’ and didn’t quite line him up properly so our approach was crooked.
Still Kibou was honest and we galloped (okay, we did a fast canter) for the home stretch, screeching to a halt where I did a backflip off and ran across the finish line.
What a rush! I am super proud of my boy. We ended up getting reserve champion by just half a point.
Even though we may not all want to compete in EXCA, I think we have a couple valuable lessons we can walk away with and learn from the horses and riders that do. There is value in challenging you and your horse to add some speed into your tasks — even just a little so that you can manage to bring your horse’s emotions back down.
One day you might be riding and your horse might spook or be overly energetic — if you haven’t practiced handling speed or emotions, then this is going to make the situation even worse.
There is also value is challenging your horse to navigate different patterns, obstacles and tasks — this keeps life interesting for your horse, helps them be brave and ready to take on whatever comes next. For example Kibou got a role in a commercial last month and his EXCA confidence building training definitely paid off.
If the thought of speed is intimidating for you or your horse, start with a fast walk or a faster trot for short periods of time. Try an exercise where you have two pylons set a part at least 20ft. Practice doing the fast walk or faster trot between the cones and challenge your horse to slow down and speed up right when you are passing the pylon.
As you improve together you can increase the speed to include canter or gallop and use different distances between the pylons.
If you aren’t sure of some ideas of patterns or tasks to do with your, definitely check out some extreme cowboy racing videos — no pattern is the same. That is one of the best parts about EXCA, there are infinite possibilities and tasks to be asked at a show.