Jeremy Knoles has a system for evaluating a horse's mindset and restoring his confidence after a scary show-pen incident, such as a fall during reined cow horse fence work. * Photo by Kate Bradley Byars

How to Regain Confidence After a Fall with Jeremy Knoles

Jeremy Knoles is no stranger to the show pen. With nearly $140,000 in lifetime earnings, the North Platte, Neb., cow horse trainer has seen his share of arenas. No matter the preparation he puts into a horse, Knoles knows that no competition run goes perfectly. The worst-case scenario is when a horse experiences a confidence-shaking problem like falling when circling or on the fence. 

That is just what happened with Knoles’ National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Snaffle Bit Futurity hopeful Jerry Jonez at the Reno Snaffle Bit Futurity in September. When he got home to Nebraska, Knoles’ first objective was to test his horse’s confidence to see if the son of Travelin Jonez would continue to work a cow. 

“The first couple of pre-futurity events we go to is where we learn about our horse. We learn its strengths and weaknesses,” Knoles said. “If something goes bad, like when Jerry Jonez fell at Reno, then I want to go back and test it [at home]. When I go to a show with a young one, I know the horse pretty good; I know its strengths down the fence. I know that the horse can circle good, even if we fall in the arena. Now, I want to see how the horse will do when I get home.”

Give The Horse His Head

Instead of micromanaging the first run at home back on a cow, Knoles gives the horse its head more to see how it will take hold of the cow or if it backs off because it is now scared. 

“I don’t completely let go and expose the horse; I do take a few turns to air out a cow, then I put my hands down and kissed—which is how I cue a horse it is time to circle—then I see how the horse handles the cow,” he explained. “This horse did act like normal, so I knew it was going to be OK going forward.”

After an incident involving cattle, Knoles works cattle again to let the horse show him what its comfort level is going forward. If it is timid, he’ll back off and work on the basics. * Photo by Kate Bradley Byars

If the horse had backed off and shown Knoles it was timid with the cow after the confidence-shaking fall, he would instead work on basics and not force the horse to work the cow. 

It is how he trains a prospective cow horse on cattle from the get-go. 

“When I start a horse, I make several turns on the fence to air the cow out so that when I am starting to circle, it is easy,” said Knoles. “I don’t want a horse to have to hustle when it is learning to circle. I want to quit when it is easy and when the horse is winning. The point is to make the horse think the cow can’t beat them at all. That way, it creates confidence in them.”

Restoring Confidence

After a show-pen incident that isn’t positive, reassuring a horse that cattle are still beatable it priority one for the trainer. 

“If he was hesitant, I would follow the cow around until the horse knew it was ok to just be with the cow,” he explained. “I’ve had horses in the past that were scared of the cow. I just followed cattle a lot, in and out of the arena.           

“In the arena, you have to get there before the cow gets to the fence. Out in the pasture, I have plenty of time to get something done. I can track and track a cow until it airs out and I can get it done without putting a horse in a tough spot.”

While Knoles and Jerry Jonez didn’t make the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity finals, the horse out of the mare Miss N Suzana (by Miss N Cash) gave a solid effort that has Knoles, who owns the horse, excited about his future show career.