Photo By Bridget Kirkwood

Learning Curve: Roberson’s Rules Pt. 2

Published first in QHN October 15, 2017

Game time

Photo By Bridget Kirkwood

If you missed part 1 you can click right here.

Roberson prefers for his customers learn to compete at weekend shows before going to limited-age events. When showing on the weekends, he also likes his beginners to show in classes that use re-run cows rather than fresh cattle.

“In a class like the $15,000 Amateur, generally the cows are not good and you can get bad habits from doing that, but if you listen to your trainer, you can learn a lot of lessons, too. You’ll learn how to get through problems and hard runs,” Roberson said. “When trainers want their customers to only cut fresh cows, I think it handicaps the customer in the long term, because they don’t learn how to get through adversity. The fresh cows make it almost too easy for them.”

In addition to learning what to do once they are in the show pen, amateurs must also learn how to dry work their horses immediately before they walk to the herd.

“I use the dry work as practice for what I want my horse to do while I’m showing,” Roberson said of the work that happens behind or directly in front of the judge’s stand before a run. “It’s a test run for how I want my horse to operate when he’s showing.”

To do that, Roberson visualizes an imaginary cow and tells his clients to do the same. He pretends the cow takes him from side to side, and then he breaks it down until he is working in the middle of the pen.

“It’s a refresher of everything my horse has been taught up to that point,” Roberson explained. “Go to the right, stop, draw back. As the [imaginary] cow turns, I’ll turn my horse the way that I’ve taught him to turn – with the cow. Then I’ll stop that cow again going the other way.”

“At the start, you’ll go a little farther across – about 20 strides – and then decrease the number of strides as you work the cow. You want the horse to understand that when you’re working a cow, he has to stop the cow. He has to break it down to the middle of the pen to where we’re just going one stride, because the middle of the pen is where we win money.”

As the imaginary cow is broken down, the turns a rider asks the horse to make change from 180 degrees to 45-degree turns.

“I teach my amateurs that we’re cutting in a ‘V.’ When you’re in the middle of the pen, if the horse is making a complete 180-degree turn, then eventually the horse will get behind the cow because the cow isn’t making 180-degree turns,” Roberson said. “When you’re going from side to side, it’s 180-degree turns. But when the cow is in the middle of the pen going left and right, then that horse needs to know to stay up facing the cow. If they get too flat, then you’ll either get back in the herd or you’ll have a miss. A miss can destroy your run because the judges will 1-point you to death.”

The dry work session should only take between 30 and 40 seconds, Roberson said.

“Doing it for any longer wastes time. If you do it for longer, then the judge will get bored and think, ‘Come on man, let’s show!’ You don’t want the judges to have a bad taste in their mouths before you’ve even got to the herd.”

Cutting is supposed to be fun. The more confidence a rider has, the more fun they will likely have. To help build that, Roberson wants his clients to be involved in their run as opposed to simply being a passenger.

“A lot of people are told to stay out of the horse’s way. That basically means that you hand it over to the horse rather than trying to help the horse. When a rider does that, it takes their confidence away, because they’ll always be second-guessing themselves and they’ll be riding for the turn instead of the stop,” Roberson said. “I want my amateurs to be thinking about mirroring the cow and getting the cow stopped.”

Robersons Rules Hauling solo

Throughout the hauling season, the texts or phone calls Roberson receives from his customers change. At the start of the year or if the horse has just left his barn, the texts are usually just a score and how much money was won. As time goes by, though, the messages start to include issues with horses.

“If you feel that something is not right with your horse, you need to talk to your trainer. You may be able to sort it out yourself by talking about it over the phone, or the horse may need to go back to the trainer for a tune up,” Roberson said. “If you can’t come home, generally we [professionals] can ask another trainer who is at the show to watch you work the horse and coach you through it. That’s the good part about our industry is that there’s always someone there who is willing to help.”

Repeatedly making the same mistake can lead to long-term problems with a horse. It also increases the time it takes for the trainer to correct those mistakes. Similarly, always asking the horse for big moves can cause him to get sore or execute those moves incorrectly.

“Your horse is like a truck – its parts can wear out. If you were driving your truck and mashing the brakes all the time, then your brakes would give out and you’d need to take it into the shop to get repaired,” Roberson said. “If you mash on your horse’s brakes all the time, your horse will get tired of stopping and will need to go back to the trainer to get tuned up or go to the vet because you’ve used it so much that he’ll have gotten sore.”

But saving the horse’s big stops for the show pen doesn’t mean you can’t stop during exercise or in the practice pen.

“You can still stop them hard, but you want them to do it because they want to. You do that by making them more supple. If they’re soft and supple, then they’re going to want to stop versus you making them stop hard,” Roberson said. “To make them supple, you’re going to have to be softer in the way that you work them. That means that you don’t go, run and stop, run and stop, which is what a lot of people like to do. When you’re just running and stopping, the horse doesn’t learn anything.”

Roberson noted trainers aren’t just for the horses; they are there to help riders, too – especially ones that are hauling down the road for a World title.

“Just like the horse needs to get corrected, you need to get correct, too,” Roberson added. “If you don’t have a trainer who is 100 percent on your team, then you’re not going to get better.”

Although Roberson sees the value in being able to send a video to a trainer and ask for input, he feels in-person training is far more beneficial.

“From a video, he can tell you what you need to do, but more than likely, especially for small things, you need someone watching you and telling you what to do while you’re doing it,” Roberson said. “When you’re an amateur, you have to spend time with your trainer to get better. It’s just like us trainers; we spend time with other trainers so we can get better, too.”