On a farm on California’s central coast, a 3-year-old boy sits in the corner of an arena playing in the sand while his father works a horse on the other end. The scene was a familiar one for the Ralls family, as Phillip grew up watching his dad, Ron, train reined cow horses and compete in National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) events.
Flash forward 30 years, and Phillip has joined his father on Equi-Stat’s Lifetime Reined Cow Horse Statistics riders chart. And they’re not just on the same list, they’re back-to-back – Ron is listed at No. 16 ($969,168) and Phillip is No. 17 ($856,359).
“It’s pretty cool,” Phillip said about sharing a top 20 listing with his father.
The draw of the challenge
Being raised as the son of a top trainer, some might think there’s pressure for any trainer’s kid to continue the sport, but Phillip said it wasn’t like that with his family.
“Growing up in the industry, it was almost inevitable that I’d show reined cow horse,” he said.
But Ron didn’t want to pressure Phillip one way or another.
“Definitely, I wanted him to do the reined cow horse,” Ron said. “He’d always been around it, and I had some good horses for him to show, but I didn’t make him ride if he didn’t want to. He’d go through phases where he’d ride a lot and then when he didn’t want to ride at all when he was little.”
Phillip also experimented outside the reined cow horse arena, competing at high school rodeo events in roping, steer wrestling, cutting and even a short stint in saddle bronc riding. While still in high school, he also apprenticed with an equine chiropractor.
“My family was definitely for me trying different events and venues,” Phillip recalled. “I think it just makes you more well-rounded. For me, the difficult level of reined cow horse was what drew me in. It’s one of the hardest events to train for, and I like the challenge of it.”
The same can be said for his father. Ron was enthralled by the discipline because the horse and rider have to do a little bit of everything – cutting, reining and working a cow on the rail. Like his son, Ron appreciated the challenge. But, as many fathers would probably say, it didn’t matter what event Phillip chose, Ron just liked watching his son perform and excel.
“I just wanted him to be happy doing whatever he wanted to do,” Ron said. “I was just happy seeing him on horseback. I’m very happy he’s doing reined cow horse because he grew up around it.”
After completing his apprenticeship, Phillip had a decision to make. Should he pursue being an equine chiropractor full time or become a trainer? While Phillip had an inkling as to what he wanted to do, he discussed his options with his father.
“He is a very good chiropractor. I remember telling him that maybe it’d be smarter financially to do a little more chiropractic work and be able to afford some really nice prospects to train and ride for himself,” Ron said. “I gave him that option, but obviously he didn’t do that.”
“Financially, you’re probably going to be happier making more money as a chiropractor, but ultimately, you have to do what makes you happy, so I don’t think it was a question for me,” Phillip explained. “I wasn’t going to be happy not riding. It’s nice having that option, but I’m happy doing what I love.”
After Ron moved to Gainesville, Texas, Phillip stayed in California and started working with Monty Roberts, breaking horses and developing his own program. He did spend one year working with his dad in Texas, but California kept calling him back, so he’s since planted roots in Paso Robles on his 60-acre ranch with his wife, Teresa.
Lessons passed on
Phillip has always looked up to his dad, and while he’s been building his own business and career, the cornerstone has been a lesson his father taught him from the beginning.
“He’s always worked hard,” Phillip said. “He’d tell me that nothing in life is going to come to you with any consistency without hard work. You need to run a good, honest business, because at the end of the day, you don’t have anything to worry about if you’re being honest with people about everything and you’ve put the time and dedication into your business.”
The elder horseman also passed on his strong belief in taking your time when working with horses.
“I tried to instill in him to take it one day at a time and train your horses with a lot of horsemanship,” Ron said. “I just think it’s one piece of paper a day, and you build that stack of paper one at a time. You need to put a big foundation on your horse. That’s one thing I try to do, and he does exactly that.”
“He taught me that not every horse is going to be a champion, and that’s OK,” Phillip added. “You want to send [your client] an improved horse, no matter what his talent level is or what his situation might be.”
Meanwhile, Ron looks up to his son for his smoothness in the saddle. “He’s just a natural,” Ron said, sounding every bit like the proud father he is.
Ron recalled the first reined cow horse he put Phillip on – Jo Anne Carollo’s Docs Lucky Lynx. Ron spent two days helping the two get acquainted, and said they went on to win their first five shows together in 1993.
“He’s just really, really smooth,” Ron said as he described his son’s riding style. “When it comes to showing a horse in a pressure situation, he’s got ice water in his veins. He can get the job done no matter the conditions most of the time, and just be smooth. I try to watch him and do it myself, but he’s just smoother than I am. He’s better than I am, and I’m very happy about that. I’ve always said he was better than I am.”
Yet there has never been, and still isn’t, any competitive streak between the two trainers. Phillip admitted that both are just focused on their jobs, riding their horses to their best abilities. Each just hopes to collect a check at the end of the day.
“We all want to do well,” he said. “There’s not too much animosity in the reined cow horse industry. You just want to do well, get a check and move on to the next show.”
The third generation
Phillip might be asking his dad for more advice in the next chapter of his life, only this time it won’t be about horses. Phillip and Teresa are expecting a baby at the end of October. And while Ron doesn’t feel he’s old enough to be a grandfather just yet, both of the Ralls men are looking forward to watching the third generation in the arena.
“Growing up with my dad was special. Not many people get to spend as much time with their family growing up, and I think being able to grow up watching my dad be so involved in his business and his horses helped me,” Phillip said. “We had a tight-knit, family-run business growing up. I think learning good family values and a strong work ethic from my parents has helped me in whatever business I was going to do. It gave me an awesome foundation. My wife and I are about to have our first baby girl, and I’m just hoping that we can do for her what my parents did for me.”