By Bailey Bryan
Cutting’s Kate Neubert is embarking on the ride of a lifetime as she vies for the coveted World Championship of Colt Starting title in March. Kate is one of five women contestants invited to compete in the annual Road to the Horse (RTTH) at Lexington Kentucky, the first time the event has featured an all-female lineup. Kate will be putting her skills, knowledge and ‘feel’ for a young horse to the test as she takes an untouched 3 year old quarter horse to break in and train in front of a panel of esteemed judges and a crowd of thousands.
“I think this is a unique opportunity and will be a lot of fun,” Neubert said. “The whole event is designed to be educational and entertaining at the same time while [you are] presenting your ideas of horsemanship to people.”
Road To The Horse is a colt starting and horsemanship tournament that began in 2003, boasting such winners as Clinton Anderson, Chris Cox and Craig Cameron. Kate will be up against horsewomen from around the world including High School Rodeo Champion Barbara Cox (married to Chris Cox), two-time NRCHA World Champion Sarah Winters Dawson, clinician and assistant trainer Rachelle Valentine and New Zealand National show jumper, Vicki Wilson.
The event covers three days and consists of 4 rounds beginning with competitors watching and choosing a colt. After selections are made, each individual has two 90-minute training sessions and the finale obstacle course to undertake with the colt. The contestants also have to give a 30-minute clinic where Kate said she plans to promote the skills of the cutting horse. Lastly, the women will get a 3-minute opportunity to wow the crowd with their horsemanship, which Kate is keeping secret until the event.
Kate, who is assistant trainer to Morgan Cromer based in Templeton, CA, grew up on ranches learning how to ride, rope and start horses from renowned horseman and father Bryan Neubert. Bryan himself learned from the legendary Bill Dorrance as well as other icons like Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt.
Kate said she learned by age 12, while starting her first horse, that preparation and safety is top priority. Kate believes that learning to communicate with the horse and where the horse is at mentally and physically is key to training.
“I don’t have a set pattern for training a horse,” Neubert said. “I try and evaluate how they think, move and learn as well as how does the horse respond and react. If you don’t read that well then you can cross a dangerous line for you and them.”
This year, the judges panel is lined with champion riders, cowboys and equine experts such as: Yvonne Barteau, Jack Brainard, Dr Jim Heird, Suzy Jeane, Cody Lambert and Jeff Williams. Kate’s own accomplishments include winning the 2012 PCCHA Intermediate Open Futurity title and advancing two horses to the semi-finals of the 2014 NCHA Futurity, her first year at the event. Kate has won more than $211,000 in NCHA earnings. Although in the middle of a demanding training schedule, Kate has said she has had to carve out enough time to mentally prepare for the event as well as address what challenges she might face.
I’m really working on my time frame,” Neubert said. “I’m trying to figure out what I can get done and how I can pace myself during the hour-and-a-half first and second day rounds.”
Kate said it will be a high pressure environment with the clock ticking down on an extremely short amount of training time while having to communicate and entertain the crowd.
“Everyone has a mic on,” Neubert said.
“The commentators are pretty good at not jumping in at a critical moment, but to shift focus from talking to them and training will be a bit of a challenge.”
Despite the time restraints, distractions and other factors, Kate is being strategic about one of the most crucial aspects of the event: choosing a colt.
“Everything is new for a horse at that stage,” Neubert said.
“The way the horse moves and thinks as well as which ones seem more agreeable are important. The ones that want to be [trained] and not have as much fear and nervousness from their environment growing up are key.”
Kate says that her love of working with young horses comes from how quickly they learn as well as watching their development.
“Watching them progress right in front of you is fun and rewarding,” Neubert said. “When everything is new to a horse, it is how you present it to the horse. They can handle a lot if you get them trusting you and present a little at a time.”
With the RTTH event set for March 23rd, Kate looks forward to it with both excitement and a few nerves and plans to set some personal goals.
“Hopefully I’ll have a good final round,” Neubert said. “To know you did as good a job as you can do and to get as far as possible.”