Getting Your Horse Broke

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My definition of a broke horse is a horse that knows all of your cues or signals; that does his job with confidence; a horse that isn't afraid, has a good mind and is willing to go do whatever it takes to get the job done. When people think about a broke horse, some people think of one that can really stop and turn around and do all kinds of fancy maneuvers. That's all good, but if they do those things out of fear, and they don't operate out of a willingness and an understanding, well, those are two different kinds of horses. There's the horse that works out of fear vs. a horse that works out of a good understanding of the things you're trying to get him to do. A horse that works based on fear may be broke in some opinions, but may not be a good team roping horse. Jake (Barnes) has said for years that he counts the horse as a huge part of what we do. I do, too. The horse is 90 percent of what we're trying to do, if you ask me. That's why the people who are roping on the great horses are elevated to great ropers. The great ropers of all time tend to have a signature horse. That's not a coincidence.

A great horse wants to work and has a mental toughness and confidence. A lot of things go into the makeup of the horse, such as athletic ability, speed and conformation. There are a lot of factors involved. But it's all the factors put together, the mental capabilities of a horse and how he goes about doing his job that are the key elements that make a great horse. And a great horse can take a really good roper and elevate him to greatness.

There are gifted, talented ropers who get elevated to career greatness because of those special horses. Leo (Camarillo) and Stick, (Denny) Mo Watkins and Banner, Jake and Bullwinkle and Barney, Charles (Pogue) and Scooter are just a few of those combinations that come to mind. You can go on and on and on, if you think about it. The great ropers down through the years have had that signature, great horse they could just keep winning on over and over again. The horse becomes an extension of what you do.

To me, the ultimate broke horse is the horse you don't even think about. I can remember going to the biggest ropings and rodeos-the BFI, NFR, George Strait, Houston-being in the zone that day, and winning. Thinking back, how did all that take place? What did that horse do to allow me to do it? The best thing I can describe is that I never even felt the horse. It was like I wanted to go and be at a certain place throughout the run, and that's where I was. That horse had me right in the perfect spot, and at the end of the run I never even had to think about moving that horse or doing anything horse-related. We were working together so well as one unit that he was right with me all the way.

I can remember commenting to my partner when we discussed a day and a run or a win, and I remember saying I never even felt my horse. He was so perfect that I never even felt he was there. All I had to do was think about roping my steer. To me, a horse that's so in tune to what you're doing is right in step with you. You've done it so many times just right that he just voluntarily is with you. You don't have to make him do anything.

That kind of teamwork with your horse takes time. Dee Pickett had a book he let me read one time. It was really interesting. It was about centuries and centuries of the art of breaking a horse. It went way back to horses that were used in war, and talked about the techniques these old masters have been handing down for centuries. So much of what today's trainers use comes from those old times and techniques. The methods of breaking a horse is knowledge that's been handed down for centuries. It was amazing to me how much time those people back in ancient times took to break a horse and get him to collect. It was all about bringing a horse over time into a collected state. When you give him a command, he moves fluently with what you're looking for. It took a lot of time, four or five years, to get a horse to a certain place in that progress. People were so diligent to put that foundation on a horse back then. That's what makes good horses. Time.

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Nowadays, our society is in such a hurry. People want to make a horse in six months. It can't be done. Making a good horse and putting a consistent pattern on him takes time. You need to slowly mold a horse into the patterns of his job. Once he learns it, and if he has a willingness to do it, you have a broke horse. He's willing to do what you want him to do, and he's not working out of fear. Our game is too competitive to have a horse work out of fear. This sport is so competitive. If you don't win, they send you home. A broke horse is a key element. Because it's so competitive, sometimes it's hard to make yourself let that horse make mistakes, and to take the time to let him learn through those mistakes to get those areas solid. That's the challenge of being a horseman-to know how to take a horse from Point A to Point B, and have the kind of horse that you want at the end. That's going to be a horse you can win on time and time again.