Five Flat with Turtle Powell: Keeping Your Good Horse Good

World champion Turtle Powell talks about how to keep your good head horse flat and firing.
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World champion Turtle Powell talks about how to keep your good head horse flat and firing.

We know our good horses can run, so there’s no reason to go three-quarters of the way down the arena chasing the steer. I want them to score better, be more relaxed in the box and know that I’m not going to make him really hump it to get down the arena. I do want him to hustle to get to a spot and then everything slows down. Once we’re there, he can almost take a breath and feel relaxed in that spot where I deliver and handle them out. Jake Barnes, Matt Tyler, Charles Pogue and Kevin Stewart—the guys who I learned from—were great about that. They got to the spot and then everything slows down. I tried to pattern myself after them. When you find a horse that can run, then you have to develop control.

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What I try to do is be consistent and go through a lot of repetition with my good horses when I’m practicing. A lot of guys like to slow way down. I try not to run too many on them, and I don’t let the steers out there very far. You can see in this picture about how far out I let those steers. On my good horses, I know they can run, so I don’t need to work on that. I want them to back in the box and stand, but I still want them to be able to get to that steer fast and have confidence that he can catch him right there. I don’t want to run him halfway down the arena.

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The next thing, I want to hustle my horse to a spot. I don’t want to come out right on top of the steer, I want my horse to run for two or three strides so he can catch up. I’m not as wide as most guys. I want my horses to know they’re after the steer like a greyhound is after the rabbit. Instead of just sending the horse wide and running him down the arena, my horse knows we’re after the steer and I have a spot I want him to get to. I want him to run as hard as he can to that spot, and then slow down.

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This is pretty good positioning—this is where I like to throw from. I like to be somewhere around three feet from the steer. My horse’s chest is at the steer’s hip. I want my horse to hustle to the spot every time. Then, when we go to the rodeos, he knows, when he’s running, he’s got a goal. He doesn’t get confused. I try to stay consistent wherever I go—and I know sometimes at rodeos things change—but to me, this is ideal position. If your horse is always going to the same spot, I think you can be just as fast as a guy who’s reaching and washing the steer out. I’m just setting it up to be fast and snappy from that spot.

I want to keep my horse pretty framed up and make sure my rope is tight going out in front before I let my horse start to move out. It’s important, because the horse is starting to collect. That allows me to get ahold of the steer and I can control the speed at that point. If the steer acts like he’s going to be wild, I can slow him down, if he acts like he’s going to play with me, I can let my horse be fluid leaving out of there. For fresher-handling steers, like at the BFI, I’d want to stay in there and slow the handle down a little bit. In the practice pen, I like to keep it slow and let my horse relax and get more collected.

When I slow down, I want control. The steer hasn’t shaped all the way up yet and I’m just starting to get out in front. I don’t try to do too much different in the practice pen at this step than I would at the rodeo. The more you practice the same thing at home, the better it becomes at the rodeo or jackpot or whatever. Of course, you’re not going to be as conservative at the rodeo as you are in the practice pen. At home, you need to make sure all the steps are right so when you get there they carry over.