Cowboy-Style Heel-Horse Training Insights with Miles Baker
Miles Baker shares with us the training insights that helped make top-tier heel-horse talent, brought to you by Manna Pro.

Miles Baker’s heeling horsemanship theory is a must-listen-to explanation of how great horses should work.

Miles Baker has drawn the attention of the team roping world as Trevor Brazile’s partner on many-a-great horses, and two weeks ago he shared with us an explanation of the foundation he puts in the head horses he and Brazile ride.

This week, Baker is back with his cowboy-style heel-horse training insights, straight from his Oklahoma ranch. Baker—who headed for Brazile at this year’s BFI—had a hand in the bay horse Joseph Harrison rode at this year’s National Finals Rodeo, and he shares with us the training insights that helped make that horse and other top-tier talent.

This episode is brought to you by Manna Pro.

Computer generated transcript (so please excuse errors):

Miles Baker: If a heel horse’s head is to the right, when you’re coming through the corner, trying to heel, that’s going to put his head right in your line of vision. And if his shoulders are down and he’s leaning in, then, he’s cutting in towards the head. So then you’re going to have to try to pick him up and scoot him over.

Chelsea Shaffer: this is Chelsea Schaffer, and this is season four of “The Score.” You all have listened to this podcast, three quarters of a million times, and we are here in season four to bring you even more of what you love.

Today’s episode is brought to you by Manna Pro. I’ll tell you more about them at the episode break.

Hey everyone. This is Chelsea Schaefer. Welcome to “The Score” this week. You all loved our episode with Miles Baker so much on his head horse foundation that he puts in the horses that he and Trevor Brazile ride that we decided we were going to give you a heel horse episode.

So, Miles so, so graciously recorded his own instructions for heel horse training. And this is your regular week of the score. So enjoy, let us know what you think, and don’t be afraid to leave us a review. We love to hear from you.

Miles Baker: Hey guys, this is Miles Baker. Um, driving down the interstate today, headed to the Lazy E for the BFI tomorrow morning. We’re looking forward to that.

I spoke with my friend Chelsea last night. She said some people got a little bit of good out of the head horse training podcast and requested a heel horse training podcast and just kind of get my philosophy on it. How I go about it on my horses or mine and Trevor’s horses. And just to get the, whether it’s setting a prospect up to go on to somebody that’s looking for a good prospect or whether it’s something that I’ve started, that is going to the BFI or NFR wherever.

And so I want to thank The Team Roping Journal and Chelsea for having me on. And I’m going to ramble about heel horses a little bit. Um, I would say first. To foremost, the, what I want in a heel horse is them to be super broke and not, not even broke. I don’t mean spin a hole in the ground broke. I mean, I need to have control of the head, the shoulders, the ribs, the hips from one end to the other and be able to manipulate everything.

If I can do that, I can truly use the entire … all the ability that that horse has to offer to reach his full potential. And I, fortunately enough, I grew up riding young horses in a feed yard and on wheat pasture and outside of the pasture doctor calves. And, uh, my whole life I’ve just had to use Colts. And I never realized how valuable that was until I would say probably the last four or five years when I started.

Yeah. Actually training for the public and then even more so now that, um, Trevor and I have someone chores business going on together because when you’re training them for like a guy like him, that asks so much for a horse and I’m not going to say demands, perfection, but a guy that thinks he has high expectations every time he steps on the horses back. He’s rode the greatest horses, a list of the greatest horses to ever do it in our industry, you know, head horses, heel horses, calf horses. And so it, it puts a lot of, not weight on my shoulders, but there’s a lot of expectations for what I train, uh, to go on and be something.

And so the background of me growing up on a ranch and using young horses is I felt like. Given me an edge over a lot of people that maybe just learned to ride so they could team rope, you know, maybe they didn’t learn how to use a horse as good or didn’t understand. Young horses as good. And I tell people this all the time, they come to me and man, my heel horse ain’t stopping. Man, he’s hitting on his front end or he’s quarter, or I can’t get him on his butt.

And they people want to come rope with me, but I, I ride Colts until noon and I rope after noon and the people that want to come learn that stuff, like why is my horse had known his front end? They want to come out there when I’m roping steers. And that stuff is learned before lunch at my house, because all of that goes back to riding them as Colt.

Um, if they’re not taught that stuff, when they’re little swinging a rope and pulling on two reins is not going to fix the problem. So, I’m fortunate for the background that I grew up with as a kid.

Because it’s helped me get where I’m at today. Training. So I want to talk to y’all a little bit about how I like to go about training the heel horse. When I have them broken before I start swinging a rope on a mile thing. Sure. Make sure I have them broke because if, if they’re not broke to the best of their ability, when I start roping on them, I’ve taken shortcuts that will catch up later, or it will hinder their potential going forward.

So once I have them broke like that, I, uh, I want them to I’ll start them on like breakaway and Holsteins and it’s heel horses for me, training heel horses is all about discipline. Um, I have to be disciplined about how I ride him because it’s his horses. There’s, uh, pockets and boundaries I’ll say is the best way to explain it.

There’s when I’m behind the cow say in the tracking phase, there’s a boundary behind that steer say it’s for, and everybody’s different there’s guys that are Allen Bach’s size and there’s guys that are mine and Trevor size. And we probably all require different positions to feel comfortable heeling.

But so for me, training and say, I’m going to set up, there’s a brick wall, a foot off of that cow’s Tail. And my horse is not allowed to go past that wall. So I’ll set that boundary when I’m breakaway and in what that’ll do later is if I get that brick wall right there, solid, I can push my horse up into that cow and pick my timing up to heel and help him stop.

So that’s the very first thing that I work on once my horse learns to track, obviously, like I said, on the team rope or on the heading. I spent a ton of time roping a lead steer breakawaying, and just tracking and breakaway in a horse has to go find the cow, hookup to the cow, lock on pay attention and just be a student of the cow horse has to be locked on.

And so once I get that, I’m going to set the boundary say in the tracking phase where my horse knows to not go past this point, because everybody that ropes knows there’s no, there’s nothing worse than trying to rope when your hands back here in your chest and your shoulders are back and you’re leaning back, pulling on your horse, trying to throw your rope.

It don’t matter if you’re Junior, Jade or anybody, that makes roping and hard. I’m not saying some guys, they may even make a living doing it, but it, it, it makes heeling. It makes any kind of rope and hard when you’re having to pull on your horse to throw your rope. So that’s. Phase one, the next phase, when I’m going on to heeling steers, there’s, I’m going to set another boundary going down the pen.

So now say, and like I said, everybody’s everybody rides a different corner. Everybody wants to maybe see a different shot for me, training horses. I would rather train them farther back and let a guy push him up into stuff then to train one that it goes too far on the cow. And overruns the room and then you’re trying to pull him back down into the run.

Cause it’s, it’s always either easier push a horse somewhere then to pulling back off of it. So my boundary going down the pen say, I might run a line straight off that steers tail head, and just say back three or four foot. So now going down the pen, I’m going to let my horse freewill is I would call it like he’s on his own.

I’ll throw him his head or whatever. But when I get to that point on the cow, I’m going to expect him to gather his stride up, to collect, lock onto the cow in stay right there. He doesn’t get any farther down the pen. He doesn’t fall back. He gets to that position and he holds it. And so what that does later is it puts a little bit of weight on the horse for, if something bad happens, say you’re in a rodeo, and you jump out there to haze and your steer, just your guy hooks him in your steer checks off.

Well, there’s only so much like we’re human. We have to see stuff happen and then react to it. So if my horse has no reaction of his own or no, you know, if he’s not paying attention to what’s happening in the run, then I have to have the reaction time to pull him back around into the run. he has to React to me pulling on him. And then I have to try to get back around where I can see the feet.

That’s a lot of reacting going on in a short amount of time. So if I can teach my horse, if I jump out there to haze one and he knows to only get so high on the cow, unless I push him farther, then he can react on that. Cause he knows to get to a spot and pick up the cow and read the cow. And so that’ll help later on with your horse helping you out and then.

Next thing, uh, is my pocket in the corner. There, it, I, I would say train and heel horses, uh, young heel horses. I’ll look at, obviously on a prospect. Everybody’s going to look at the stop.

You know, if a horse is round and stopped and drags his wheels, that’s awesome. But when I, when a horse has had two or three or four months of roping, I’m probably going to watch a horse through the corner, more than anything, because if a horse isn’t good in the corner, you’re going to have a hard time making a living on him.

A horse can mess a run up more in the corner for you than, I think, than he can stop. The stop can be manipulated in a lot of different ways. You know, certain ropers have different timing, maybe a horse, the stop isn’t good for one guy, maybe good for the next, but through and through. If a horse is bad in the corner, it’ll screw anybody that gets on him.

And so I create in my mind a pocket, so I’ve set a boundary going down the pen. Now I’ve got a pocket to where, say there’s a bubble around that steer that say it’s 10 foot big. I’m not allowed to get into that pocket. Like I can’t go through that bubble until that steer is all the way through the corner.

So. Through the corner I can. When the steer hit, when his head bends, I should be able to see his feet and see him hop all the way through the corner without having to pull my horse back. If I’m having to pull my horse back out of the corner, then it’s going to throw my timing off. If, if my horse knows where to be going down the pen, and then he doesn’t collapse the pocket, I can always see the feet I can always get in time and I can always go to the feet and.

So the corner, which for me, it can get, I make it very complex, but like I said, I that’s one place that I feel like a heel horse has to be good. So I don’t want to collapse the pocket. I don’t want to get too close. So then the next step is goes to them being broke. I’ll want my horse’s head like his nose ticked to the inside just a little bit, all the time.

It, I’m not going to say it’s a necessity. There’s, uh, some of the greatest heel horses to ever live. I don’t think maybe did that, but their shoulders were always in a good place. I can control my horses, shoulders with my bridal reins. And that goes back to them being broke. If I pick up my inside rein my horses, nose should come to the inside and that should lift his shoulders up and move his shoulders out so I can control his head and his shoulders with my reins alone. If I want to control his whole body, I should be able to lay my leg on his side at any time in the run. And that should push him just in the direction that would be getting wide to the steer. So I’ve got to have those cues in they’re going to, the main place those cues are going to come in handy is the corner.

If something’s funky in the corner, say I let my horse come in too soon and I can pick my inside rein up and my horse will lift his shoulders and scoot over, closer to the steer. Then I’ve got an advantage because even though maybe I rode bad or maybe a steer went downstream or something, I can make one reaction with my reins. And all of a sudden my horse has me right back where I need to be to see the feet and heel.

So yeah, when I do come to the corner, as I was saying, there’s a pocket and I don’t want to collapse the pocket. I want to keep my distance if I’m just riding, which. The professional guys, I’m sure they would. If they’re just catching, they’re going to make sure they can see the feet all the way through the corner.

I’m no professional heeler. I’m talking about from the aspect of training, a colt or not a colt, but, uh, you know, a greener heel horse in the early stages of it. And then as they get on older, I may let the boundary go up a little farther. I may I’ll start letting them get away. A little higher, I’ll start letting them stay, What I call around the steer a little more and just making them more dependent to where if I want to ride higher or ride around the steer more so to speak and set up for a faster shot that they can do that on their own without me having to control everything.

So when I, if I’m riding in perfect position on a Colt, when I go to come to the corner, I want his ribs bent out. Just a little bit. I don’t, I don’t want to, his ribs bent in, I don’t want his shoulders in. I want to shoulders lifted up on his rib had been out and his head ticked to the inside that keeps him I would, I call it framed. So he’ll be framed up all the way through the corner. 

Chelsea Shaffer: Today’s episode is sponsored by Manna Pro. Champions, colleagues, roommates, and personal trainers, whatever role they play.

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Miles Baker: If a heel horse’s head is to the right, when you’re coming through the corner, trying to heel, that’s going to put his head right in your line of vision. And if his shoulders are down and he’s the lean in the end, he’s cutting in towards the head. So then you’re going to have to try to pick him up and scoot him over any of that stuff.

I’m not saying it. Well, always mess you up catching two feet, but that stuff will make catching harder. It’s going to put your you in an awkward position and you’re going to have to manipulate more things through the corner, as opposed to your horse, staying in a perfect frame and staying with the steer, basically mirroring the steer through the corner.

So when I’m teaching that, I may let somebody turn a steer and I may just hold. Keep my horse’s nose inside. Keep his shoulders picked up and keep his ribs bent out in, just idle him down right there and let the cow turn. Or I may let the cow turn and I may push him up there a little bit higher and just keep him in my hand and just teach him body control.

And in the I’ll play with their hips a little bit. It’s nearly, like I said, in the head horse podcast, I’ll teach a horse to push his hips out To the left when I’m steer stopping or when I’m turning them in an early stage. And all that’s doing is re reassuring that, Hey, where our hips, if anything, need to come this way, because we cannot get them up under the rope.

It’s the same way on a heel horse. For me, if, if their hips swing to the outside in the corner, I’m losing power. All the power on a horse comes from their butt end. And so if I’m going through the corner and I see it happen, a lot, horses will get bent with the cows through the corner, but they’re hind end will start drifting down the pen a little.

Then it’s hard to gain ground on the cow, or it’s hard for your horse to be in a position where he’s driving in there on his butt and. If you throw everything set up to come tight and be strong. So I might stop in the corner and I might push my horse’s hips to the inside and just make his, make him hold his hips to the inside with his nose in with his shoulder picked up.

So basically what I’ve done to my horse’s body is basically cupped him around my left leg, which is what I always want. I never want him going through my left rein with his head and shoulders. I never want him pushing through my left rein and I never want him pushing through my left leg.

If they’re bent around my leg all the time, they should always be in a perfect frame for, to give me a good throw, whether it’s throwing in the corner. Or whether it’s tracking across the pen, if they hold that same frame, every jump should be the same for me heeling.

And so I’ve talked about the pocket, we’ve talked about the position.

And then when we come through the corner, basically in the tracking phase is where it goes back to the breakaway and, and that boundary behind them, I want them to keep that distance. Um, every horse is going to get chargey at some point and that’s something that keeping that boundary is going to require you to maintain that Getting chargey.

Sometimes I’ll hustle to swing my rope real hard and I’ll get them in there to that spot. If they want to go past this spot, I’ll pull up, pull, pull up my bridle reins and just back them out and let them slow down and relax. Sometimes you may have to drag their butt right there. I think a lot of people do that and end up kind of picking a fight with the horse.

Or getting after him too much. And then they make the horse nervous right there. And so instead of him not respecting his boundaries, now he’s not respecting his boundaries and he’s scared of getting in trouble, you know? So that’s not doing them any good either, but anyway, that’s kind of just a broad spectrum of how I want to go about the heel horses.

It’s a lot of body control. Um, I spend a lot of time loping across the pen and picking their shoulders up and, and moving their shoulders out and being able to lift them. And it stays smooth. I spend a lot of time and a counter canter going to the right and the left lead, and just making sure I can lift their shoulders up, you know, at any time.

And as they get older, um, like I said, I’ll all that Kind of run through of a run on a young one is what I’m doing on the three and four year olds. Um, and then when you start adding speed to it, by the time I add speed to it, I should have all of those moving parts working together, um, to where they understand any cue. If I, if I put my leg in them, if I lift my reinup, if I say, use my right leg back by my back cinch to scoot their hips in, to keep their hips up under him.

Um, Their hips have to be under him all the time. Everything needs to be square. If, if you throw fast and take a hit, their hips need to be in line with their shoulders all the time. That’s, you know, 80% of the horse’s body from his shoulders to his hips is where all of his strength is going to come from. So if his shoulders are to the left, his hips to the right, he’s not going to take a hit Good. If it’s vice versa, he’s not going to take a hit Good.

But if, if he can, if everything can be in alignment, When he takes a hit, he’s going to take a hit. Good. You’re going to get a good, fast finish. Um, I don’t mind their heads being to the left just a little bit when they’re taking a hit, you know, a lot of horses, I think Jake Smith’s roan is he’s. That’s a Perfect horse to watch. As far as a heel horse being fundamentally correct. Uh, all the Joseph’s horses are Super good. Uh, I just, I enjoy watching those horses that can use their body Good. I don’t think it’s any mistake that some of the best heel horses in the world, uh, do those little things, right.

Men and a lot of horses lose their, um, I don’t know. They kind of lose their Polish after a lot of rodeoing and jackpotting, all the, those good horses have had these fundamentals. Put in them from an early stage and they’ve stuck with them long enough that those guys can make a living on them horses. Cause they know how to do their job and stay out of the way and keep it to where you don’t get, You don’t get in a bind where you can’t catch two feet or you’re never in a bind where one movement can’t correct it and get you back in the run, you know?

Um, so that’s kinda how we go About it. Um, like I said, when you get to a little bit higher stages of I’ll start asking them to get a little higher I’ll change my boundaries.

Uh, one thing that really doesn’t change is the pocket through the corner that a horse has to respect the pocket through the corner. You can, you can ride them a little higher. You can set things up a little bit faster, but you cannot have a horse bulldozing through the corner, not respecting the cow. Uh, It, you just can’t make a living heeling on a horse that has no respect for the boundaries that are set on a cow or doesn’t watch a cow.

So, anyway, like I said, we’re headed to the BFI. I’m heading on a five-year old, we call firecracker that, uh, Trevor’s wife raised. Um, he’s actually out of a mare, the Very first horse to deal Trevor and I ever did. When I was in college, it’s been probably seven, eight years ago. Uh, this, uh, horse I’m heading on is out of the mare that he got from me and Shada, raised him to run barrels on which she did some.

And we’ve come to, he’s a head horse now and Trevor showed him at the, futurity last year as a four-year-old. And he’d done really well. We just got back from Arizona. The horse done good at the futurity out there again. Um, today will be, as or tomorrow will be his first real big trip to town. We’ll see it takes it.

Trevor’s healing on a Dual Rey heel horse that come from my dad. Uh, my dad bought the horse from Austin Johnson several years back and I started him roping. He’s super broke. Um, just taking sure enough, a good horse. We took him to the futurity in Arizona. He done good in the heeling. This will definitely be his first big venue to go to.

So we’re, uh, excited to take some young horses to a big roping, just to see how they do. It’s great for me. Uh, I didn’t know Trevor all of his career, but when I started going down there, every horse was between the ages of probably seven or eight, and 15, and they were finished. Finished been hauled all over the world.

And now, uh, if you walk through the barns at my house, there’s 15–20 horses there. And I think the oldest horses I have in my house that are rope horses, I think are probably five-year-olds now. I think he got one six year old and same way with Trevor. I, I don’t think we have a single rope horse That’s over the age of six.

So, we’re going about it a little different than he sure would have done when he was making living roping, but it’s fun. We’re enjoying making good horses and, uh, anyway for any of it, uh, Chelsea with The Team Roping Journal has my contact and I don’t know a lot, but if anyone ever has any questions or wants to come and hang out and rope, or give me a call and talk about horses, I know not saying, I don’t know, but I know much, but I can throw some ideas at you.

Anyway, we enjoy it. Hopefully that helped you out a little bit on the heel horses. I, I really enjoy riding them. You want to get into a little more detail, just give me a call and we’ll talk about it and throw ideas at each other. So anyway, I appreciate it. Hope y’all have a good day.

Chelsea Shaffer: Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode of the score, we’ll be back with a regularly scheduled interview in two weeks.

Thank you again for listening today. Our episode was brought to you by Manna Pro. Check them out at or on Facebook at Manna Pro Horse. 

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