It’s the time of year when we are breeding our mares in hopes of raising the next futurity champion. Finally, I can now say I have experienced it from start to finish!
It has been a lifelong dream of mine to win the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity Open, but winning it was a long road for me. I guess I am a little different than most who have won it before me. I was not able financially to buy a horse in its 3-year-old year that was proving to be “futurity champion material” or have a client buy it for me. The cost of one like that is exorbitant, and I was never lucky enough to have an owner send me one as an already trained 3-year-old capable of winning the futurity.
One thing I did know for sure was that I was capable of training one. Early on in my career, before I won my first million as a trainer, I knew I had to rely on myself. I was not raised in a family that was able to afford nice horses, and I did not have the means or clients then to hand me horses. Most of what I got were washed out reiners and young stock to start. I am not sharing this with you to sound like I felt sorry for myself but in all honesty, there were plenty of days when I did – especially when I was not sure if I could afford to eat that week.
Having to ride a lot of horses that were not the best taught me about what I did and did not like in them. Some were great-minded but lacked talent and others were super talented but not good-minded. I learned that many horses that were not good-minded most normally became that way because of their training. Of course, there are always exceptions; some are born that way, but very few.
I had to learn how to communicate with those horses and earn their trust. I had no choice; sending them home was not an option I could not afford to back then. It was a necessity for me to learn how to get along and train those horses. That is when I learned I had to train each horse as an individual. Not all horses can conform to one program; as a matter of fact, very few can.
With this experience I was exposed to many different bloodlines. I learned over time which horses were more forgiving and which were not. I learned about softness, movement, feel and, most importantly, mind.
When I was fortunate enough to own a few mares of my own, I started playing around with the breeding. I knew my only chance of getting the higher-caliber horses was to raise and own them myself. I had a few clients then, but it was not unusual for me to train one up and then have it sold out from under me or have a higher profile trainer ask my customer for it.
I will never forget those times and have never ever asked a client to send me a horse from another trainer. I remember how awful that was for me. Unfortunately, it is part of the business and I understood that the client was doing what they felt was best for their investment.
All of these experiences led me to believe I needed to stay true to myself and count on myself. My wife was my biggest cheerleader. She believed in me, and we invested in our program. We have bred many mares and raised many foals that I went on to show. We partnered many of those horses with good customers over the years because we simply could not afford to do it ourselves. Adding up the ones we raised and trained, we are well over the million dollar mark as breeders, but because of our many partnerships it does not reflect that way in statistics.
I get questions daily on how I choose my stallions to breed to my mares. First and foremost, I look for horses that have great minds. There are many stallions out there, so choose one that is a good-minded horse. Walk into his stall. If he acts aggressive, then move on. I know that sounds harsh, but that is how I feel. I don’t want to breed that attitude into my training horses.
Of course, I have found the bloodlines that work for me over the years and I tend to lean toward them, as they are tried and true.
Obviously Pale Face Dunnit (Colonels Smoking Gun [Gunner] x Lean Dun It x Hollywood Dun It) has been an amazing sire, and I have been breeding most of my mares to him. He has definitely out-produced himself, and I believe that comes from his good mind and talent. I am now experimenting with his daughters and breeding to several of my other favorite stallions.
People often ask me, “Will you ride anything besides ‘Pale Face’ foals?” and my answer is, “I do not care what they are; I want to ride good horses.” Nothing has changed now that I won the NRHA Futurity, except that I want to do it again!