Great Horsemen

Tom Neel

Story and photography by Ross Hecox

Competitors in the 2015 World’s Greatest Horseman discuss the challenges of training horses, from making it their livelihood to taking the right approach with their equine partners. The event, hosted by the National Reined Cow Horse Association, takes place February 17–21 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Tom Neel

“I just always wanted to be a cowboy,” says Tom Neel of Millsap, Texas. “But there are so many things that go into being a horse trainer that I didn’t expect. There’s the business side of it, and lots of trials and tribulations. I’m blessed now to have several good horses, but there was a time when I didn’t.
“I’m 60 now. I’ve come to realize that success only comes with getting help from other people, and I’ve got friends who are happy to help. It’s rewarding when you win an event, and you remember to be thankful for the people who helped out.”

Jake Gorrell

“My dad always preached, ‘Don’t be a horse trainer,’ ” says Hanford, California, trainer Jake Gorrell. “I went to college, graduated, had a good job. I just was missing something.”
Jake gave up that job and began training horses full time. He has since earned nearly $1 million in cow horse competition.

Russell Dilday

“Emotions are the hardest part of the business,” says Wynnewood, Oklahoma, trainer Russell Dilday, who claimed the World’s Greatest Horseman title three times on Topsails Rien Maker. “Frustration, anger and nervousness are the three biggest enemies. Frustration is the worst of all. People get frustrated and go to being rough on their horse instead of realizing they just haven’t taught that horse. You just got to stop and figure out why that horse doesn’t know what you’re asking. If it’s just plumb not working, you’re gonna have to rewrite your book or something. You can’t just go to beating him up saying, ‘Stupid horse. Figure out what I want.’ Who’s the dummy?”

Casey Deary

“I don’t want my horse to do something because I’m making him do it,” says Weatherford, Texas, trainer Casey Deary, who is competing in the World’s Greatest for the first time. “I want him to do it because he wants to. So I always want the maneuver [I’m training] to be the reward. My program isn’t, ‘Can you physically force that horse to do his job?’ It’s, ‘Can you get out of his way enough to let him do it the way he feels most comfortable?’ ”

Boyd Rice

Boyd Rice scratched out a living as a trainer for years in the Texas Panhandle. Along with starting colts and training cutting horses, he also shod horses and worked as a cowboy to make ends meet.
“After awhile you kinda wonder, ‘Am I ever going to train one to win?’ ” he says.
About 20 years later, things began to click. Boyd won the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity in 2007, has claimed many prestigious cutting events, and won the World’s Greatest Horseman last year on Oh Cay N Short, his Snaffle Bit Futurity champion. He is riding the gelding again this year in the World’s Greatest.

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