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.

Up­graded Grounds

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.

Sport Par­tic­u­lars

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.

Prac­tice, Prac­tice

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.”

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...

An Ex­treme Cow­boy Clinic par­tic­i­pant prac­tices cross­ing a log with just a neck rope.

“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.

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