Cutting trainer Kory Pounds says dealing effectively with a ‘hot’ horse means working on its mind more than its body.
Riding a horse that’s always in a hurry or anxious can be a challenge. Cutting trainer Kory Pounds finds that managing that energy in a constructive way benefits both rider and horse. That means working primarily on the horse’s mind.
“If a horse is extraordinarily hot and tough, you’ll wear out his legs before you wear him down physically,” Pounds says. “If a horse is fresh mentally, you’re not really going to be able to teach him anything. In fact, you can cause a lot of damage because you can teach him to argue. I want to keep the horse thinking. So you have to go through a process of training and management.”
The trainer, who lives in Brock, Texas, and has earnings of more than $1.3 million, has had plenty of success riding horses with “excess” energy. Unlike laid-back horses that have to be continually pushed, hot horses—frequently mares, Pounds says—need to have their energy redirected. Because those hotter horses often display tremendous potential, Pounds has found that it’s worth spending extra time and
figuring out ways to work them without burning them out physically or mentally.
“They make really good show horses if you can get through the training process without wearing them out,” he says. “Sometimes it’s a struggle, no matter what discipline you’re in—roping horses, cutting horses, cow horses. But if you can manage those horses, that’s when you see horses that started showing at 3 and are still winning at 8 or 9 years old and beyond.
Pounds says he frequently deals with two types of horses that might be considered hot: those with a playful, energetic attitude, and those that are nervous and jumpy. Those two different horses require different approaches.
Instead of simply loping the playful horse around the arena to prepare it to work cattle, Pounds likes to keep the horse busy mentally.
“It’s like a kid who’s really energetic,” he says. “If you sit him down and tell him, ‘This is what you’re going to do,’ his mind is 10 miles away. But if you keep him busy and let him gradually wear down, he’ll learn and he’ll retain information. That’s a tough thing to do in a training operation, but sometimes you have to just go ride and not try to teach a horse anything. Keep him thinking, but don’t try to drill something into him.”
For example, Pounds keeps moving but changes up what he asks of that mentally fresh horse. He might ride outside of the arena to warm up, trying to keep the horse’s attention without being too demanding or aggravating the horse. His goal is to have the horse’s attention focused on cattle when he rides into the arena.
“If I just loped that horse around in the arena, after a few days he’d figure it out and be lazy loping [because it bores him], but when I cut a cow he’d be fresh,” he says. “So I’ll go outside and lope some big, slow circles. If I feel him wanting to get playful, I’ll bridle him up and maybe move him off my feet, or change leads and go the other direction. I’d try to keep his mind busy, but I want him to be listening to me. That way I’m getting him soft and broke, but keeping him relaxed.”
Riding a cutting horse, or any performance horse, outside of the arena also offers a second benefit.
“When I’m training a cow horse, I’m basically training him to do a job. There’s a fine line between training him to do a job and doing the job for him,” Pounds says. “So when I go out in the pasture and move him off my legs, that’s instilling a little discipline in him that’s not related to the cow.”
When he cuts a cow and allows the horse to do its job, he explains, the horse is able to focus on the cattle rather than the rider.
With a horse that tends to be nervous rather than playful, Pounds keeps training as low-key as possible. He warms up mainly at a trot before working
“I’ll just keep that horse in position [on the cow] until I feel him relax,” he says. “Once the horse gets the cow on his mind, then everything else is secondary to him. If the horse gets higher as the work goes on, there’s something wrong. Sometimes you might have to stop, cool him out, tie him to the fence for an hour and then ride him again.”
If a horse wants to go fast during warm-up, he asks it to slow down a gear.
“If he wants to run, you trot. If he wants to trot, you walk,” Pounds says.
“If you do that every day, consistently, you’re teaching the horse that you’re going through a process, but not by wearing him down. If he wants to be that hot, that’s fine. But that horse is going to have to figure out a way to use that energy to do his job, not to keep him from doing his job.”
The trainer also makes some allowances for hotter horses during the week.
“You have to tell yourself that when you get on that hot horse on Monday, he’s had the weekend off. He’s going to be fresh,” he says. “You’ve trained him to do a job, so let him do a job and then adjust along the way in your preparation. If you try to tell that horse how to do the job when he’s fresh and anxious, you’ll just create a lot of problems. So I’ll compromise on Monday and Tuesday, but by Friday I want that horse to be focused.”
With a nervous horse, Pounds also suggests riding several times a day for short periods of time. If that isn’t an option, he says, sometimes just taking a short break and tying the horse to the fence can help it relax.
Turnout also helps considerably, Pounds adds, allowing the horse to work off excess energy in its own way, and relax away from the pressures of training.
This article was originally published in the September 2015 issue of Western Horseman.