Bill Smith poses with Smart and Shiney. • Photo courtesy of Lyle Lovett.

Breeding & Beyond: Defining A Horseman

In the early stages of my “all things horse” life, it wasn’t just horses that enamored me … it was riding them. I rode everything I could, any chance I could. Thanks to 4-H and my natural desire to completely submerge myself in my passion, I learned about basic care out of necessity. Still, it was only with the end goal of riding. 

Working for Carol Rose, I quickly realized the horse-centric lifestyle I craved was possible without becoming a trainer. While I was surrounded by some of the greatest people in the industry, including many of my horse training heroes, I became eager to understand what made a good horseman.

Being a horseman or horsewoman and having great horsemanship is everywhere — from the breeding barn to the paddocks to the practice pen to the show arena. 

In my mind, the ultimate goal is to be a horseman. One person who probably taught me the most is far from the world of showing horses. The first time he came to the ranch, he was just “some guy” Carol knew and asked to stop by while he was in the area.

He was there to help the boys in the round pen with some of the 2-year-olds. Because I wasn’t a working trainer there, I figured it didn’t concern me much. 

I was still interested in seeing what they did with the first colt, as I knew he was a stinker and I’d seen some of the daily struggles with him. I climbed the stairs to watch from the side of the round pen, just because I thought it would be entertaining to watch. 

That was the beginning of my education. “That guy” just so happened to be Bill “Cody” Smith. Bill couldn’t come every year they started the colts at Rose Ranch, but I don’t remember very many when he didn’t come. Carol always joked that Bill was half horse, and Bill would snip back that it depended on which half. Looking back now, I can’t help but agree. 

I learned a lot from Bill, and I consider him one of the most superior horsemen of our time. He’s pretty ornery, but if you are lucky, he will share the good stuff with you. I suggest you read the Margot Kahn book “Horses That Buck” to get the full impact of his accomplishments in our Western world. In short, he is a multiple saddle bronc World champion who has more feel and more horsemanship to him than most anyone I have met. 

Today, I’m fortunate to call him and his wife, Carole, friends. 

In the old days, I was Bill’s airport driver. I looked forward to picking him up and bringing him to the ranch to help the guys, and I hated taking him back when he was done.

In between, I learned all about respecting the horse. The horses’ different personalities were navigated with the simplest thought — make the wrong way hard and the right way easy. He also explains it in such a way that a person who just saw a horse for the first time yesterday would understand. 

From how they are halter broke to how they are saddled, Bill employs the plainest process for doing things. Trust me, when you have more than 300 horses a year to do this with, it doesn’t take long to learn why that’s important. 

While Bill often pretends he couldn’t care less about the titles we go after in our horse show world, he has quite a résumé himself. He’s helped start a few futurity finalists and even a futurity champion or two. I never knew I’d learn so much from a rodeo legend, but he’s my definition of a horseman. Just don’t call him when the Dallas Cowboys are playing; he’s busy coaching from his chair! 

This Breeding and Beyond column was published in the February 1 issue of Quarter Horse News. To purchase this issue, click here.