When Brendon Clark began training cow horses after retiring from bull riding, his goal was to compete alongside the trainers he admired. At the recent Paso Robles Spring Classic, he and CR Hes A Tuff one did that and a lot more.
Clark, an Australian native who now lives in Hollister, California, swept the Open, Intermediate Open and Limited Open with CR Hes A Tuff One. The 2018 bay stallion banked $40,000 in prize money for owner Jill MacLachlan Olerich, who owns exactly one cow horse — CR Hes A Tuff One.
It was the breakthrough moment for the horse, who is a full brother to 2021 National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Champion Zak 34. But, it also was a big win for Clark, who began training cow horses after a successful career on the elite Professional Bull Riders (PBR) tour.
“When I started the cow horse, the only thing I knew is that I loved it and I love the feeling it gave me – it was challenging,” recalled Clark. “And the feeling of going down the fence, the adrenaline rush and things like that — that was what really drew me to it in the first place.”
The purse Clark won with CR Hes A Tuff One at the Paso Robles Spring Classic was the biggest prize money of his career, pushing his EquiStat record to more than $104,000. It also was a validation of his feelings about the stallion, who he said always had the talent to be a great horse but until the Spring Classic saw good runs derailed by small bobbles.
There were no missteps in Paso: Clark and CR Hes A Tuff One marked a 218.5 in the herd work, 223 in the rein work and a big 225 in the cow work for a winning composite of 666.5.
“He’s kind of the first great one I’ve ever had,” Clark said. “And, he always tries hard and I knew it was gonna come eventually. I just had to put it together.”
Bull Riding to Horse Training
Clark earned his first check in reined cow horse competition in the EquiStat database back in 2015, when he rode Showmethe Cat to the Reserve Championship in the Limited Open and Level 1 Limited Open at the National Stock Horse Association (NSHA) Futurity.
He continued to find success with Showmethe Cat, riding the son of Cat T Masterson to the Level 1 Limited Open Championship and Limited Open Co-Reserve Championship at the NRCHA Western Derby (then called the NRCHA Derby). He later rode Metal Cat (by Metallic Cat) to Limited Open wins at the NRCHA Western Derby, NRCHA Stallion Stakes and in the derby class at the NSHA Futurity.
Clark said his success was helped by several trainers who assisted him over the years, including cutting horse trainer, fellow Australian and friend Hayden Upton. Phillip Ralls and Bob Avila are also among the many professionals Clark credited with assisting him after he started training.
He also attempted to emulate the way professionals such as Corey Cushing and Todd Bergen operated their organizations. And, he worked hard.
“It was much like bull riding really,” he said. “I mean, you just got to keep keep your head down and just keep working at it and it’ll come.”
Since 2005, Clark has been based out of Hollister, California, a city about 90 miles south of San Francisco. It’s only a few hours from the Paso Robles Spring Classic show grounds in the city of Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County, which made for a shorter haul than usual.
That was by design from the show organizers, who launched the show last year to bring a major reined cow horse derby back to California. The state had been without a top-tier cow horse aged event since 2020 when the NRCHA Western Derby, which had been held in Paso Robles, was moved to Scottsdale, Arizona due to COVID-19-related restrictions.
It was later announced the NRCHA Western Derby, a show Clark is pointing CR Hes A Tuff One at, would stay at the Scottsdale venue through at least next year as part of a multi-year agreement.
Successes like the recent win in Paso Robles with CR Hes A Tuff One wouldn’t have been possible without the backing of the owners in his barn, Clark said.
Many of the owners have been with him a long time, he said.
“They’ve always been very supportive and very willing to let us go and show and get better,” he said.
Her One Horse: CR Hes A Tuff One
CR Hes A Tuff One is the first – and so far the only – reined cow horse owned by MacLachlan Olerich, of Camano Island, Washington. The godmother of Clark’s girlfriend and assistant trainer, Lizzy Horve, MacLachlan Olerich had long been a fan of the sport and of the Clark barn, attending events to cheer on the barn.
When she was ready to buy a horse, MacLachlan Olerich said her strategy was to go all in on one horse.
“I just wanted the one really, really good horse and to just enjoy his journey,” she explained.
The Center Ranch-bred CR Hes A Tuff One proved to be that horse, and MacLachlan Olerich bought him for $80,000 at Clark’s suggestion as a 2-year-old at the 2020 Western Bloodstock National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity Sales. The son of EquiStat Elite $7 Million Sire Woody Be Tuff was out of Cat Digs Lucinda, a black mare by High Brow Cat who now has a produce record of more than $417,000.
MacLachlan Olerich, who grew up riding horses and has competed in team penning, said she has enjoyed watching CR Hes A Tuff One mature physically and mentally as he’s progressed through his training.
“He’s got a very, very kind want-to-learn kind of mind, and he’s got a lot of grit. He’ll get down in the trenches and just work as hard as Brendon asks him to,” she said. “And, when I watched the two of them, I just love the rapport that Brendon has with this horse.”