If you’re not already aware, Splash and I are members of the Ontario Mounted Special Services Unit. Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Kentucky with a few other team members to participate in the 33rd annual National Mounted Police Colloquium at the Kentucky Horse Park. This would be my 3rd visit to the park. The last time I was there was over 10 years ago with the Canadian Cowgirls to ride in the Kentucky Derby Parade twice and we were very fortunate to be able to be stabled at the Horse Park and participate in their daily Parade of Breeds show. One things I noticed right off the bat was that the iconic white fencing for miles was now black. Fun fact: black paint is wayyyyyy cheaper than white paint so it makes complete sense (and it doesn’t make the horse park look any less impressive!)
The Colloquium consists of both training and friendly competition. Units from all over the United States were in attendance: mounted police, search and rescue units, posse groups. We were the only ones from Canada this year. They’re going to have to change the name to National to International! There were training classes in equitation, jumping, crowd control, sign cutting (mantracking), horsemanship, formation riding, and officer safety. Competition consisted of an equitation test, team and individual obstacle courses. There was a uniform class competition but a Class A uniform was required (which our unit does not have). The Colloquium was Hosted by Kentucky Horse Park Mounted Police and Lexington Police. The instructors included retired RCMP, Toronto Police, US Border Patrol, and Maryland National Capital Park Police.
While any sort of vacation is good, it’s even better with horses. We had an uneventful drive down (and back) and arrived a few days early to ensure the horses were well rested before the week of activities. We went for a hack every morning on the cross country course; what a great way to start a day! The temperature during the day was very hot and humid so we tried to get rides in in the mornings and evenings when it was cooler. The horses did seem to handle the hot temps pretty well, but they got spoiled when we went and bought fans for them while they were in their stalls.
On one of our days off, we went on a farm tour, arranged by the Colloquium and got to see some pretty impressive farms. The first one we went to was Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm. For those of you who are interested in Thoroughbred history, this farm is where Seattle Slew is now buried. If the name sounds familiar, it could be because there are Canadian ties. The original Hill ‘n’ Dale was founded in Canada in 1960 by John Sikura Jr., the father of Hill ‘n’ Dale owner and president John G. Sikura and there is a Hill ‘n’ Dale in Aurora, Ontario, that is owned and run by by R. Glenn Sikura.
The second farm we visited was Four Winds Farm. If I recall correctly, this farm supplies the hay to the Kentucky Horse Park police horses and is also home to a number of retired police horses.
The last farm we visited was Katierich Farms. Not only did we get to see an adorable American Pharaoh baby (for those not familiar, American Pharaoh won the Triple Crown in 2015), this farm also had an indoor track to help with breaking young race horses during the colder months.
We also toured Keeneland Race Track. While this course hosts some of the major prep races for the Kentucky Derby (which is held at Churchill Downs about an hour away), most people may know Keeneland for their sales. Their September yearling sale is the world’s largest sale of yearlings; it’s like a Barrett-Jackson auction but instead of cars, you have horses. If you want to see the cream of the crop (and horses go for more money then I’ll probably every see in my lifetime), this is it.
On to the training. Day 1 we had classes in equitation, formation riding, and sign cutting/tracking classroom session. In the classroom session (which actually took place outside), the US Border Patrol showed us different types of tracks and we compared how speed, number of people, disguises, time, and light all affected how we saw the tracks. On Day 2, we did jumping, crowd control, and a practical tracking session where we were on our horses to find an “item of value”. While it was just a backpack full of horse treats, I’m sure the horses thought it was pretty valuable! Days 3 and 4 were dedicated to competition with the team obstacle challenge and equitation test on Day 3 and the individual obstacle test on Day 4.
We didn’t get any information on the obstacles until registration day and we didn’t get to see the obstacles until the day of when we did a course walk through prior to riding. That didn’t stop us from trying to recreate everything during the week though – including porta potties and bubbles!
They do say that horses keep us humble and Splash did just that. We had literally done the exact team obstacle course the weekend before with no issues, but we had a few bobbles that surprised me (especially when she balked at the car wash obstacle during competition yet walked right though it with no hesitation in the warm up ring! The same thing happened with our bridges in our individual obstacle test. You wouldn’t have known that just a few minutes before she was helping lead other horses over bridges, mattresses and a water box! As frustrating as it can be, it was a great learning experience because now I know where the holes in our training are and we can work on improving them. The only obstacle I 100% wanted to conquer was the carousel on the individual course. Not only was it visually spooky with bright colours, balloons, mirrors all inside it, and that it moved, it was also playing circus music and made a horrible racket once you started to turn it. She wasn’t crazy about approaching it from her left side but quick thinking had me try it on her other side, and she took it with little issue!
Side note – I was asked why I didn’t stop and work on the obstacles when Splash refused. We had a 6 and a half minute time limit on both the team and individual courses and instead of timing out and receiving no score, we opted to take a lower score.
I messed up my equitation pattern by not walking down centre line at the end but I was pretty happy with my other transitions as we had been having some difficulty with that (pic of test score); love that we got a score card back so we know what to work on and improve for next time!
Next year’s colloquium is held the last week of September but as of right now I’m not sure if I will be attending or not because I’ve been accepted to ride in Race the Wild Coast in South Africa just a few days after the clinic! There will be a bunch of fundraisers including a horse-themed paint night, massive garage sale/tack swap and more! In the meantime, if you want to get a head start on your holiday shopping (or any shopping for that matter), use our FlipGive link to do your shopping. It doesn’t cost you anything extra and we get $$ from FlipGive just from people using the link! https://www.flipgive.com/teams/51832-eat-sleep-ride-repeat?fundraiser_id=167720