This Month’s Expert Jake Gorrell
Jake Gorrell was raised in Idaho and grew up training horses, working on ranches and competing in high school rodeos. Although he got a non-horseback job after graduating college, it didn’t take long for him to return to training cow horses.
He is a regular finalist at major National Reined Cow Horse Association aged events, and this year won the National Stock Horse Association Derby on Playin It Smooth. He has earned more than $940,000 in reined cow horse competition.
His wife, Sonia, trains barrel horses. They live in Hanford, California, with their son, Chet.
Q: My 6-year-old Quarter Horse gelding stops very inconsistently. When I say “whoa,” he stops immediately, but sometimes his stops are very “scotchy” and he doesn’t stick in the ground in the rear. How can I fix that? Right now, I haul to a trainer a couple of times a month for lessons.
Paul, New Mexico
A: A horse that is stopping too quickly or “scotchy” is usually anticipating the stop. Basically, he is reacting too quickly to your cue or is reacting to that place in the arena where you always stop him. So, you need to get him to start running more true to the end of the arena.
First, you need to make sure that he is running straight and soft, and accelerating all the way to the fence. We do this by “fencing” them a lot—running toward the fence and using it to encourage the horse to stop. We normally fence horses way more than we stop them [anywhere else in the arena]. The rundown is more important than the actual stop.
Start at the end of the arena, either from a lead departure or from your circle, and work on getting your horse to run straight, true and soft, and then accelerate smoothly and slowly all the way to the fence. Don’t stop him until he is running true. You may have to do this several times until he quits scotching or anticipating.
Most of the time, we will run a horse right up into the fence and let the wall stop him. For the first time or two, don’t send him into the fence real hard or fast, and let him find it and stop on his own. The stop may be sticky and bumpy, but that’s okay for the first couple of times. Then start increasing the intensity of the rundown. Do this until he is running true and straight, and quits anticipating the stop. Also, instead of running him straight into the fence, you can sometimes circle around, or make a U-turn and head back to the other end. Make the track look like a long cigar, off the rail.
The other factor you may need to address is the way he is reacting to your cue. Many people will run down real still or quiet with their body and as soon as the rider makes the slightest move, such as leaning forward or adjusting leg position, the horse reacts. To get a horse to be less reactive, I will run down the arena and move around a lot. I may swing my legs forward and backward, stand up, sit down, move my shoulders, talk out loud, or anything to desensitize them. I try to get him to be less reactive to movement or my voice.
Once the horse is running straight, smooth and soft, and accelerating into the end of the arena, I will then try a stop. But, until he is running correctly, there is no need to stop. It will only teach him bad habits.
Q: When I compete in working cow horse, is it best to walk or jog after the reined work to receive my cow? I feel like if I walk, then I lose my horse’s interest. What do you think judges would like to see?
A: There are a few of factors to think about when you approach the cow as it enters the arena after the reined work.
1.) Arena position. Take into account where you are in the arena when you finish the pattern. Some patterns end right at the gate where the cattle are, and others place you farther away. I always try not to bore the judges. They are sitting there all day for hours and have watched lots of good and boring runs, so try not to take any more time than you need to accept the cow.
I like to have enough room between my horse and the gate that I can be in motion when the cow enters the arena. I want my horse to be the first thing that the cow notices. He needs to know that I’m there and that I control the situation. I don’t want the cow to be startled. I want it to see me and stay relaxed if possible. This helps keep the cow moving more smoothly through the run. If you scare a cow, it will be a little more jerky, or quick to react throughout the run. But, if I have a cow that wants to be braver, or wants to take control or charge at me, I will definitely be more forceful and assertive on how I handle it. If a cow comes though the gate and is running at my horse, I will run directly at its eye at the same intensity or more than the cow is running to me. You have to get respect from the cow, if possible.
2.) Horse behavior and attitude. If a horse is one that looks around and doesn’t pay attention, I like to keep him in motion and get the cow in the arena as soon as possible. Don’t let him stop and look around. Keep his mind occupied. I try to time it so that when the cow steps through the gate I am at a distance where I have control of it. Now you have to take into consideration the kind of cattle you are working. Watch the cow before you. If it seems to be wild and fast, stay farther away and slowly creep up to the cow as you box. If it is slow and soft, be closer when it comes through the gate.
3.) Impressing the judges. The judges are there to find the best horse entered in the class. So, come in with confidence, but be presentable. You want to look responsible. Don’t overdo it. Russell Dilday has won more fence work than any on Slider [Topsails Rien Maker], and he darn sure makes it exciting. But he has the horsepower to do it. If you come loping into the pen overconfident and you can’t handle it, it looks worse.
So for me, if I finish the reined work in the middle of the arena, I would hesitate for a second like the pattern says to show you have completed your run, pull your hat down, ask for your cow, and start walking toward the gate as they are bringing it in. If it is a big arena and you are farther away from the gate, then trot for a short distance. Time it so you can have a connection with the cow when it enters the arena and go to work.
There’s one more important thing I’d like to mention. Be respectful of the judge’s time, and when you finish, aim the cow toward the out-gate when the run is complete. It is disrespectful to leave the cow headed to or standing at the other end of the arena.
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