I first started riding when I was 3 and 4 years old. By 5-6-7 years old, I could ride a horse really good. I was well into my teens, could rope really good and was winning a lot before I realized that even though I could ride and rope good, I wasn’t a very good horseman. The way I rode and controlled my horse was pretty primitive, and needed a lot of refinement.
When I was first starting out in my career, some of the first guys I watched when it came to horsemanship were the Camarillos and Denny Watkins. Then Monty Joe Petska, Mike Beers and J.D. Yates came along, and I could tell they rode better horses and that their horses worked all the time. The way they used their left hands, left feet and feet in general were some of the things I started paying attention to, because those were the guys to beat.
When I started to try to get some flex and feel in the bridle, I started paying attention to what kind of bit to use. I started using some chains, broken mouthpieces and loose-sided bits, to where I could get the left corner of the horse’s mouth in control and get a little bit of flex with a horse carrying his head to the left. I started paying attention to the pressure I used, and the consistency of that pressure with my left hand.
I started trying to eliminate big moves with my left hand, and trying to control my horse with small moves so it wasn’t so herky-jerky all the time and I could maintain smoother, more consistent control.
A horse has to be able to trust your hand and that you aren’t going to punish him or do anything with your left hand that hurts his mouth or makes him want to protect himself. Jerking your horse with the bridle is something I started eliminating from the whole process. With the chains and the broken mouthpieces, I was able to ride my horses with more contact on the bridle.
My horses started trusting me better, so they could concentrate on the steer. Their training and instincts help get you where you need to be, so you don’t want to interfere with those things.
The top end of today’s horse industry are the reiners, working cow horses and cutters. The refinement of that training is such a fine-tuned relationship between the horse and the rider. For the most part, those disciplines are done under a very controlled pattern. Roping horses are different, because you’re doing things at top speed. We ride our horses with more contact and more constant pressure with the bridle and how you’re handling them in the run. But it’s a process that has to be developed between the roper and the horse, to where the communication is consistent. I’ve always enjoyed maximizing my relationship with my horses, so it’s a union that’s successful.