Reined cow horse trainer Clayton Edsall rides his show horses outside the arena to help them understand the reason behind the maneuvers.

There’s something to be said about quitting early when your horse is good. The horse quickly learns that if it does as it’s told, the reward is to be put up and relax with some food and water. But the problem with always doing that, says reined cow horse trainer Clayton Edsall, is that the horse may never fully grasp the purpose of his training.

“In the arena, I don’t think a horse understands the idea behind reining, cutting or fence work; the reason for it,” says the Oakdale, California, horseman. “I’m big into trying to get a horse to understand why.”

To do this, Edsall rides his horses on the several thousand acres behind his training facility. Additionally, he puts sliders on his horses once they turn 2 years old, and explains why in the video below. He says his property is filled with orchards and trails, which makes it ideal for loping circles and other skills that prepare his horses for working cattle. But he adds that it’s not all about perfecting skills.

“Riding outside helps with maneuvers, but mostly it helps a horse mentally,” he says. “There’s something about riding a horse all day and their body becomes relaxed. They’re in a different frame of mind. They’re not trying to speed through everything and get back to the barn and be done. Yes, it takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it for sure.

“When we train for the cutting or the fence work, we forget it originated for a reason. The hardest thing is to get these horses to understand what their job is.”

Edsall, who grew up ranching with his family in Montana, has worked with horsemen such as Joe Wolter, Brian Neubert, Tink Elordi, Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance. He earned the coveted National Reined Cow Horse Association World’s Greatest Horseman title in 2016 on Skeets Oak Peppy (Skeets Peppy x Oak Ill Be x Ill Be Smart).

“One of the most boring things you can do is sort heavies out of a rodear,” he says. “You sit there all day and part cattle. But that’s really where all the reined cow horse training stemmed from. I think working only in an arena is too limited—you work cattle for three or four minutes and then we put them away. Unless they go to work, I don’ think they understand that it’s their job to hold the cow from the herd, it’s not just their job for only a few minutes. It can be an all-day job.”

He says working his show horses outside makes them appreciate the days they work in an arena.

“We’ve had horses in the past that were a little tough to ride in the arena, and working outside changes their whole outlook on life,” he says. “They will stand tied to a trailer for several hours or tied to a corral while you ship cattle. The fancy show horse will start pawing, but pretty soon they’re agreeable to riding in the arena.”

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