If you think training cutting horses should mainly be done in an arena, think again.
Story by Susan Morrison
Photography by Christine Hamilton
Driving out to Millsap, Texas, to meet with cutting horse trainer Wayne Robinson, I knew to expect something a little different. Wayne has a reputation for putting a great foundation on 2-year-olds (including 2011 National Cutting Horse Association Futurity open champion Oh Miss Caroline), but also has made the NCHA Futurity open finals several times and won the limited open division in 2013.
The topic I originally had in mind was do’s and don’ts of starting a horse on cattle. It evolved into something much more, yet something extremely simple.
Wayne didn’t want to talk about such a black and white subject. He was more philosophical, yet his training program is solid as a rock. He attributes his success to making sure his horses see much more than the barn and the arena, and the limited sights between the two. Outside, they learn lessons that will last a lifetime.
One reason he rides 2-year-olds outside is to teach them the basic maneuvers they eventually will need to work cattle without the hindrance of heavy sand that is typical in cutting arenas.
“You can’t get him moving his feet in real deep sand,” he says, likening it to learning to dance with concrete boots on. “When I’m teaching him how to move I do it on firm ground.”
In Wayne’s world, a tank dam becomes a place to encourage a young horse to do a rollback on its hindquarters. A tree becomes an object to circle. A wooden bridge helps him teach a youngster to pick up and place its feet. His 2-year-olds learn confidence before they have to take on the serious job of working cattle. He wants them to be in what he calls “a learning frame of mind.”
“I use whatever I can find to teach that horse something. There are a bunch of obstacles out there; you do not need to be in an arena,” he says. “Go out and about. Make it enjoyable and interesting for him.”
Once a colt learns the basics, it’s ready to start on cattle and can progress quickly because it can make the connection between the cow’s movements and the rider’s requests. The likelihood of the colt getting rattled or scared lessens every day.
“I was taught they learn what they live, and they live what they learn. So each day I want to leave him in the best possible place mentally as I can,” he says. “And each day it’ll get better.
“It’s pretty simple, what I do, but it’s not easy.”
Read more about Wayne Robinson’s training philosophy for young horses in “Making the Connection” in the June 2016 issue of Western Horseman.
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