I buy and train young horses, and I ride good horses for guys like Trevor Brazile to keep them working when he’s on the road. Sometimes, I’ll get people like Paula Gaughan who will call me and tell me they have a horse that didn’t make it in the cutting pen, and ask if I can train him as a calf horse. And that’s plenty. I don’t really ride outside horses. From start to finish, from the time I get a broke horse to the time Trevor Brazile could haul a horse to the NFR, I feel it’s two years. In six months or a year, I’ll start hauling them where there’s a little less pressure. Then I try to haul them for a year and get them under lights, around thousands of people hanging over the rails, and someplace where you have to park out past the carnival and walk on pavement past all that.
1. I was known for training calf horses, but I’ve been training a little more of the team roping horses lately. If I buy something, I try to get young horses that are strong, look good and all that kind of stuff, but above all I want them broke. They need to give their heads, give their ribs and move off your feet—that makes my life a lot easier. I don’t care if they’ve never had a rope swung off them. Whether it’s cutting, reining, working cow horse, ranch horse competitions, whatever it is, if they’re broke in some sort of way, I can take those and train them to rope: from swinging a rope to hauling them to the ropings.
2. When they’re already broke, it saves you two years of ground work and showing them how to move the different parts of their body. The horses are more mature when they start getting 5- to 6-years-old. The more age and the more they’ve been used, the easier it is to show them what I want them to do. For instance, when I pick up on an inside rein, they know where they’re head goes. When I move my foot back, they know where to go. I look for those traits before I buy them and once I’m sure those commands are already in place, I incorporate them with my rope. Once I can swing a rope on them, I can maneuver them with my hands and feet because they already know those commands.
3. I try to pattern a horse by repetition. No matter if a steer is fast or slow or whatever, I ask that horse to get to a certain spot and stay there. To keep them doing that, every time I’m tracking a steer, I do it with purpose. It doesn’t matter what speed I’m going, I don’t track a steer just to lope my horse. When I pick up my rope and go somewhere—either at a walk, trot, lope or run—my horse needs to go to that spot, rate and gather his stride up. Timing, or rating, is shortening up the stride and running the same speed as the calf or steer your chasing.
4. When I’m training them, I do all three events: heading, heeling, and calf roping. Horses aren’t stupid animals and they know the difference. I’ll rope calves on a head horse to help them accelerate faster and get on their hind-end faster. I’ll head on a calf horse to keep them from ducking and to teach them when I throw my rope they shouldn’t think about stopping, they keep moving forward. When I’m heeling, I can slow everything down, get their ribs bent and work on control—shortening up their stride.
5. We have tried, as horse trainers, to make unwilling horses do something—and we can make them do it. I’ve found that making a horse do something never pays off. If you can ever have the patience and time to actually teach a horse something. Instead of making a horse do something, we have to show them what it is we want them to do. Scoring a horse, for instance: I need to show them to stand in the corner until I drop my hand. I develop a pattern, versus making them work. A horse that is unwilling that you make work, will always betray you. But a horse that is willing—but impatient or fidgety or whatever—that you can teach will become a much more solid performer.