Going to Extremes
We take you to an Extreme Cowboy Clinic hosted by trainer/clinician Lantz McLaren at Horse Country Campground in Ontario, Canada.
II was pretty confident that my Appaloosa gelding, Bailey Boy, and I were well-prepared for the Extreme Cowboy Clinic I’d planned to attend. I soon learned that there’s a fine art to training and executing this trending sport. I also never expected to have so much fun. Hosted by Canadian trainer/clinician Lantz McLaren, president of Ontario Xtreme Cowboy (an affiliate of the Extreme Cowboy Association), the clinic would be held at Horse Country Campground, a 5,000-acre facility nestled in the Ottawa Valley just outside Foresters Falls, Ontario.
This was my third visit to the campground, which allows horses and their owners to enjoy the wilderness together. My friends and I traveled to the campground in a three-trailer convoy. Although I’m a member of USRider Equestrian Motor Plan in case
® of emergencies, I find comfort in traveling with others.
Horse Country Campground co-founder Walter Willett greeted us when we pulled in. Walter and his wife, Brenda, founded the camp in 2013, along with partners Larry Davis, Danielle Levine, and Jason Daley.
I quickly noticed upgrades they’d made to the grounds since my last visit. The main arena now sports 30 obstacles. The campgrounds have grown to 40 campsites, each with its own corral and water hookup. Gen- erators, trailers, and cabins are available to rent, and a few rough sites are planned for those who like to tent camp.
Walter led us to our sites — five total. We unloaded our horses and hand-walked them so they could stretch their legs. Then we settled them into their respective pens, arranged our trailers in a circle, and sat down for snacks and celebratory drinks.
A Relaxing Start
Monica, the trail-riding manager, invited us on an evening ride. I hopped on Bailey Boy bareback. Trails are accessed by crossing a small river, either by going through the water or over a wide, inviting bridge.
We wound our way up a trail through the woods, walked down a mowed path in a hayfield, then headed up the hill to Eagle’s Nest cabin for a spectacular view of the Ottawa River. On the way back, we spotted seven black bears — mothers and cubs — in the neighbors’ cornfield.
When we returned to camp, we watched other participants playing with their horses in the obstacle course, preparing for the clinic.
After a communal meal of chili and salad, our camp neighbors pulled out an upright base, a guitar, and a banjo, and spent
We take you to an Extreme Cowboy Clinic hosted by trainer/clinician Lantz McLaren at Horse Country Campground in Ontario, Canada. STORY AND PHOTOS BY SHAWN HAMILTON
the evening singing old cowboy tunes. It was the perfect end to a great day.
We’d arrived a day early to explore the 25 miles of trails, but the next morning, we awoke to a dreary, gray day, so we decided to explore Wilderness Tours Resort, instead. This resort is affiliated with Horse Country Campground; campground guests enjoy full access. Amenities include a restaurant, bar, hot tub, pool facilities, and beach and water sports.
The weather cleared in the afternoon, so we hit the trails. When we returned, I let Bailey Boy look over at the obstacles in the main arena to prepare for the next day’s clinic.
‘Ride with Intention’
Lantz McLaren began the clinic by introducing himself, then asking each participant to do the same and add what he or she hoped to get out of the experience.
The trainer watched us walk and trot around the ring a few times to evaluate our riding level. I was immediately impressed with his intuition. Right away, he nailed my high energy, which he called “electric gas.” He advised me to slow it down, look forward, and relax.
“You have to not only be able to channel your energy, but also to be able to turn it off,” Lantz explained. “A horse-and-rider combination that can gallop through a course then completely shut off and stand still is a pair that will continue to win.”
Lantz also focused on precision. “Do an obstacle five times at a walk, and don’t speed it up until you have it precise,” he told us. “If [the obstacle work] loses its precision at a trot, slow it down again until you get it right.
“Don’t worry about going too slow. You’ll surprise yourself how confident and successful you’ll be when you do the obstacles at your own pace. Ride with intention. If you’re not being fluid and precise, then slow down.”
Lantz noted that the Extreme Cowboy competitions aren’t judged on speed, but on horsemanship, strategy, and efficiency.”
Every time a rider went through an obstacle, I learned something new. One rider had trouble going through the “car wash” (hanging strips of rubber).
“Your legs are saying yes, but your hands are saying it’s tentative,” Lantz told the rider. “Do not use your hands for balance — use your legs.”
Another rider tended to look down at each obstacle, which Lantz explained is a tendency of fear-based riders.
“Stay vertical, look beyond the obstacle, and ride with determination,” Lantz instructed the rider.
Another participant had trouble with the bridge. Lantz told the rider to circle his horse around it a few times before asking him to cross it again. If the answer is no, this means work. Circle again, then ask him to cross again. Repeat this exercise until the question to go forward is answered with a yes, then continue over the obstacle.
Bailey Boy didn’t want to go through the mud. This is a difficult obstacle to circle around, so Lantz told me to take the threestep approach: (1) Enter, and give my gelding a scratch on his neck as a reward; (2) ask for three steps forward, stop, and scratch him; (3) give him a huge reward at the end. This worked well. Patience was the key.
In the afternoon, Lantz got into more of the particulars of the sport. The Extreme Cowboy competition challenges the skills of a horse-and-rider team. Any horse may enter, no matter what his age, gender, breed, size, or cost, but there are key skills he should know to be a successful contender. Here’s a rundown. • The ability to stop and stand still. If you and your horse can go fast and hard, then completely stop and stand still, you’ll be at an advantage • Lateral movement. If you can take your horse left and right laterally, you’ll have an advantage in most obstacles. • Control your horse at the backup. This is often the most overlooked ability, but it can be very important. • Forward movement. You have to be able to take your horse forward. If you approach an obstacle and lose forward motion, you’ll lose points.
“The judges aren’t looking for a horse to be managed through an obstacle,” Lantz explained. “They want the horse to pick his way through and choose the path.”
You, as well as your horse, must ride through the obstacle. If your horse makes a mistake and you abruptly make a correction, you’ll lose points. The judges look for no loss of forward motion.
Each obstacle is judged by entry, execution, and departure. If you simply approach the obstacle and get through it, you’ll get an average mark. If you take the obstacle with conviction, and your horse stays fluid throughout, you’ll get a higher mark.
Precision is more important than speed. Taking the most efficient route between obstacles will also be scored. The judges will walk the preferred course, so take note.
Competitions are held in all types of terrain, so know your horse’s ability level. There are 13 obstacles in a standard race. Typically, you get two free rides to show off what your horse can do. You can show off with tempo changes, speed changes, riding with no reins, etc. Find a niche that will impress the judges.
Lantz watched us attempt each obstacle at a trot; then we tried them in a course. Bailey Boy and I had trouble with the backup.
Backing up isn’t natural for horses, as they can’t see where they’re going, so teaching the backup takes patience and praise, Lantz explained. If your horse throws his head, stop. Stopping is more constructive than hitting and fighting back.
“Our worst enemy is our temper,” noted Lantz. “If we let our tempers get in the way, the horse will figure out that if he makes his rider mad enough, she’ll quit.”
I followed Lantz’s instruction. We managed to get through the obstacle, but it was apparent to me that we needed more work.
The clinic finished in time for a short trail ride, then we all headed for the main lodge, where we played pool volleyball and watched the bungee jumpers from the hot tub.
After dinner, everyone gathered for a true hoedown. I took a turn onstage to play a few songs I wrote on the guitar. Walter Willett joined in on the jam.
Day Two began with a few hints of how to practice at home. “When schooling your horse through obstacles, never start with the one he’s uncomfortable with,” advised Lantz. “Prepare your horse mentally and physically to get him compliant and willing as you build confidence.”
A gate is a good practice tool, Lantz explained. Break the gate obstacle into steps, and be patient with your horse at each step.
To create other obstacles, use a plank over a log to form a teetering bridge. Cover a mattress with a tarp and walk your horse over it. Add ditches. Practice riding in small spaces.
To get Bailey ready for the clinic, I placed a tarp in front of the barn door and hung pool noodles at the entrance. He had to walk over the tarp and through the pool noodles to get to his daily grain. It worked like a charm.
When schooling with a drag obstacle, start with the drag in the front of your horse so he can see it. If you get caught up in a drag, release it, and regroup. A drag must be tied to the horn; never try to pull a drag with your hand.
On the Course
Next, we learned the competition rules. If you miss an obstacle, you’ll earn a zero. If you miss one and go back, you’ll be disqualified for going out of pattern. If you take longer than 30 seconds, you’ll be whistled out of the obstacle and will move on to the next. Lantz walked out a course for us so we could apply what we’d learned through a timed pattern. We were given one free ride, as well. I took a deep breath and tried to relax.
Bailey Boy balked at the water as we exited the bridge, but we managed to get through the mud and most of the other obstacles with ease. We did have trouble at the backthrough logs. Lantz allowed me extra time to get at least two steps, then told me to move on, so that I’d stop on a good note rather than continue to fight.
Everyone did an amazing job. One girl managed to get through the course at liberty, which was exquisite to watch. We cheered each other on and all had a good laugh. I couldn’t believe how much adrenaline was pumping as we zinged from obstacle to obstacle.
After the competition was over, we put our horses away and met in the ring for the final wrap-up and prize ceremony.
Bailey Boy and I had gotten a fourth out of at least 12 participants. Not bad for rookies! Luckily, there’s a rookie division. Now, onto an actual competition! TTR
As the owner of Clix Photography (www.clixphoto. com), Shawn Hamilton travels worldwide to cover equestrian events. Her images regularly appear in top magazines. She lives with her husband, four children, and five horses on a farm in Ontario, Canada.
“Lantz [McLaren] walked out a course for us so we could apply what we’d learned through a timed pattern,” says Shawn Hamilton. “I couldn’t believe how much adrenaline was pumping as we zinged from obstacle to obstacle. Everyone did an amazing job.”
“We wound our way up a trail through the woods, walked down a mowed path in a hayfield, then headed up the hill to Eagle’s Nest cabin for a spectacular view of the Ottawa River,” notes Shawn Hamilton, of the pre-clinic trail ride.
Participants in the Extreme Cowboy Clinic at Horse Country Campground in Ontario, Canada, began the experience with a relaxing ride.
There are 25 miles of trails to explore at Horse Country Campground. “Trails are accessed by crossing a small river, either by going through the water or over a wide, inviting bridge,” says Shawn Hamilton, who took her Appaloosa gelding, Bailey Boy, to the clinic.
An Extreme Cowboy Clinic participant practices crossing a log with just a neck rope.