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Trainers share horse sense in roundpen shootout

RONAN — As any horse trainer will tell you, starting a horse is no small matter. It takes diligence, a wealth of knowledge, a keen eye and the patience of a saint to effectively and safely train a 1,200 pound animal. 

In less than four hours between Friday and Saturday night, three local trainers each started with a 2-year-old relatively wild colt and ended with a saddled, responsive, respectful creature. What’s more, they each did it a different way, and throughout the process, each trainer stopped and explained to the audience exactly what they were doing, why, and how it would benefit the trainer, horse and future rider. 

While the event was a scored match with a cash prize, the trainers involved seemed to understand the true reason for their participation was the benefit of the audience rather than the weight of their wallet. 

At one point during the first night, Ty Heth’s horse began bucking around the pen in an effort to shed his newly acquired leather jewelry. It was Heth’s turn to speak with the crowd, and he took the opportunity to reassure everyone that the horse wasn’t in pain, it simply didn’t like the saddle. 

“If he wasn’t born with a mane and tail and we just pinned one on him, he’d be upset with that, too,” he said. 

The horse soon calmed down and within minutes Heth was sitting comfortably on a calm and relaxed animal. 

Next was Lee Lytton’s turn to explain what he was doing. While training the horse, Lytton often raised one or both of his hands as a command to the horse. 

“This means ‘stop,’” Lytton told the crowd. “It’s the first thing I teach the horses I train. This way, if your kid is on the horse and something goes wrong, you raise your hands and then all he’s thinking about is ‘stop.’”

According to judge Mike George, the scoring system was based on how a horse accepts certain directions, the mannerisms of the horse, how well the trainer reads those mannerisms, horsemanship, riding ability, finesse and trust. 

“All three of these men are incredible hands, and they’re doing a great job. It’s tough to pick a winner,” he said. “You take babies like this and put them in here with the crowd and music and trainers, and you can see how well they’re accepting it. It says a lot about the men training them and the man’s breeding stock who raised them.”

Local singer/songwriter Tim Ryan was in attendance as well. Taking a break from his normally hectic schedule of touring dates and recording sessions, Ryan carried a long-lens digital camera rather than his customary guitar and microphone. 

Walking through the crowd and stopping often to chat with friends and event organizers, Ryan explained he is currently working on a television show for a major network. The show seeks to encapsulate interesting and intriguing events or activities from around the United States, pairing them with music often bred in the same arena. The round-pen shootout could not have been a better opportunity for just that, he explained. 

“Hopefully they give us the greenlight soon; it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Ryan said. 

He hopes to include six Grammy-winning artists and at least 10 Hall of Fame artists to the show, adding that he’s “just swinging for the fences, and hopefully I get a big hit.”

After a rousing display of skillful horsemanship through an obstacle course, the judges held a quick conference before announcing Lytton as the contest winner. Lytton was only a whisper ahead of Charlie Hanson, with Ty Heth coming in third. 

A glowing Lytton laughed and smiled as family and friends surrounded him on all sides. His wife happily jumped into the pen and wrapped her arms around him.

“I’m so proud of you,” she exclaimed.

Seeing this from a distance, Ryan walked past with a grin and said, “That’s worth more than the trophy, huh, Lee?”

Needless to say, Lytton agreed. 

Standing in the arena’s center under the spotlights on a cool summer night, Lytton looked around and said, “I’m 62 years old and I may never get to do this again. It’s just fun to be able to pass this on ... to pass on my knowledge to others. That’s what this was about.”

 

Judges' opinions:

Judge Alta Boyes

It was a close contest, with each horseman showing great skill and methodology. My placings were Lee first, Charlie Hanson second and Ty Heth third.

Charlie Hanson did a great job on his groundwork, preparing his colt for the obstacle course with much forethought.  I scored him highest on completion of the obstacle portion of the event.  However, on several occasions I thought he pushed his colt too hard, to the point of resistance, with the colt kicking repeatedly and appearing to lose trust.

Lee Lytton  worked his colt quietly and progressively, giving the colt time to settle and process before moving on and building trust.  I scored him high on his final work even though he did not complete all the obstacles.  His decision to stop working his colt after a positive effort, even though he had time left on the clock, earned my respect.

Ty Heth worked quietly and consistently, and though I thought he could have made further progress, his colt did advance and showed confidence.

I would like to thank RMBA for inviting me to judge the colt starting event. Events such as this are a wonderful tool with which to educate the public about horses, horsemanship and training methods.  In my opinion it is important that the audience learn that it is not how much the trainers get done, but how they get it done.

 

Judge Don Thompson

 

In opening, I would like to thank all involved for giving me the opportunity to judge your colt-starting event.

In regard to the placing of the three riders, I had their scores quite close with all of them showing a great deal of horsemanship.

Ty, who I thought had the most difficult-minded colt, did a nice job of working his colt through it, but maybe could have pushed her more in his ground work to break her loose more before riding, but by the end his colt rode quite well outside and was not bothered.

Charlie had an average-minded colt but a little flighty. He did a great job with his ground work, and providing obstacles and challenges for his colt. His riding part was very good, but he pushed his colt to the point of being aggravated with being spurred and not understanding what was asked with it. He also took his colt out of the round pen the first day, in my opinion before establishing adequate understanding of direction. In the obstacle course I scored him the highest, with the most tasks completed, but he pushed his colt harder than what I would have liked to have seen in this kind of event.

Lee had an average colt and was very steady throughout his program, always setting his colt up to succeed in every task. He used props and obstacles well and never pushed his colt to the point of rebellion. His colt rode well outside and took things in stride; he gave her the time on the obstacles she needed to keep her in a good frame of mind. I think that is what should be looked for  in this type of event, not how much gets accomplished, but how it gets accomplished. 

Judge Mike George

Placings on my card for the roundpen shoot-out were as such:

My winner was Charlie Hanson by 1/2 point over Lee Lytton. My reasons for placing them in this order was Charlie's colt doing more in the trail part of the class. All three men did a wonderful job with their colts and proved they are true professionals. The race for first was very close, but I felt Charlie got more done in the time allowed. 

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