Road Stories

Simply Cowboy

Matt Koch trains cow horses

A full day with horseman Matt Koch not only produces a three-part article series, but also offers a lesson in keeping things simple.

I saw a lot of horsemanship over the 14 hours I spent watching Matt Koch ride his horses at his training facility in Elizabeth, Colorado. And what could have been an overwhelming experience, trying to absorb all his training techniques, was the opposite. Matt keeps it simple. And he’s more than just a horse trainer; he’s sure enough cowboy.

Matt Koch trains cow horses in Colorado.
The varied landscape of Koch’s ranch gives him the opportunity to get his horses on different types of
ground and learn to navigate footing. Photo by Lizzie Iwersen

I did myself a favor before the trip to Koch Cowhorses by listening to “Cow Horse Full Contact,” a podcast hosted by Matt’s fellow cow horse compadres Chris Dawson and Russell Dilday. The episode featuring Matt gave me a good understanding about what I was going to get, spending the day with him.

I’d also become familiar with Matt after seeing him show in the National Reined Cow Horse Association. The Western Horseman headquarters is across the street from Will Rogers Memorial Center so I do a lot of work over there. (Yes, watching good horses and riders is part of the job when you are employed by Western Horseman.) Anyway, I have been able to watch Matt show a lot of horses. When you hear his name announced, you’ll notice people quiet their conversations or take a seat to watch. He’s one of “those guys.”

Always eager to learn from good horsemen, I was very excited for the opportunity to see firsthand what Matt was doing at home that made him so good in the show pen. When I was there, he was quick to explain how he does his best not to overcomplicate things. Matt essentially summarizes his training methods like this: “When I pull left, they go left. When I pull right, they go right. When I pull back, they stop, ” he says.

Koch rides each horse to their own level of talent. This blue roan 3-year-old happened to have a lot of it.
Photo by Lizzie Iwersen

And I’m here to tell you, that’s exactly how he rides his horses. Ok sure, there is a lot of timing and finesse in Matt’s horsemanship, but he never overcomplicated things for any of the horses he rode. And he rode a lot while we were there—23 to be exact.

Matt rode more horses in one day than most people even own. His always-positive attitude was reflected in his willing horses.
Matt Koch works cattle
Koch often uses his NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity horses to bring up cattle, believing strongly in the value of riding his horses outside of the arena. Photo by Lizzie Iwersen

Matt is also very, very handy with a rope: when he worked a cow that needed to be doctored (the tall Colorado grass was irritating a lot of the cattle’s eyes), he roped off whichever horse he was on. Bridle horse, 3-year-old futurity horse, 2-year old, it didn’t matter—there was no time to get on a “ranch” horse. It was really neat to watch how Matt always got accomplished whatever he set out to do on each horse.

Matt Koch trains cow horses
Turnback help isn’t always a horse and rider in Koch’s arena. The dogs on his place have a job, too. Photo by Lizzie Iwersen

Read more about Matt’s training philosophies in the three-part series “Going for Broke” in the October, November and December issues of Western Horseman.

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