Road Stories

The Mind of a Trainer

The Mind of a Trainer

by Christine Hamilton

Jay Holmes talks about his most essential piece of equipment.

The Mind of a TrainerJay Holmes trains horses for reined cow horse and many other events. Photo by Primo Morales.

by Christine Hamilton

I caught up with trainer Jay Holmes of Sarasota, Florida, at the 2014 AQHA World Championship Show to put together a story for an upcoming issue. We met at his stalls back in Barn 8. It was surprisingly warm in the barns compared to the ice and snow blowing around Oklahoma City outside.

My goal was to capture something for our regular Ride West item, “Essential Gear.” In it, we ask horsemen to talk about an item they use in their daily work or training that they couldn’t be without. I had given Holmes a couple of months’ heads-up to be thinking about it.

But the first thing Holmes said to me was, “I don’t really have one.” I was not expecting that.

“There’s no one thing,” he said, and started listing off all the kinds of bits and equipment he might use any given day. Because each and every horse is an individual, he doesn’t have just one thing he uses all the time, and that’s not a good idea anyway.

Then he smiled and added, “Well, maybe my head.”

I started thinking fast. I couldn’t take a picture of Holmes’ head for this.

“My main thing is I’ve got to be thinking about what I’ve got to do, about where every horse is at,” he continued. “I need to remember where that 2-year-old is at, if he needs help with a left turn or a right turn, or stopping. I need to not ride my 3-year-old like I’m riding my 8-year-old.”

With as many events as Holmes does, from roping to cow horse, that’s a significant task. Still thinking of a photograph, I asked him if he kept some kind of notebook?

“Nope. That’s why I say my head, my mind.” He rested his hand on a stall door.

And at that point, I quit thinking about my story and got curious as to how on earth a horseman like Holmes did that. Keep a mental catalog of feel and age and personality and long-term use on every horse poking its head out of a stall in the barns under the Spanish moss-draped trees back home at the Triple J Ranch.

“You just start the day remembering where you are at,” he answered. “I do think it helps if you’re not jumping around. In my day, [I was taught] to start with all the young horses first and go toward the finished horses.

“I think it would be hard to remember, if you flip from a 2 to one of your finished horses. We go from the greenest to the most trained, every day.

“So when I get out there, it’s the same routine for me, too. It’s starting out two-handed. With the babies it’s real slow-handed and it’s making sure everything is slow and correct. And then things speed up as the day goes on.”

He added that some trainers go from a favorite to a least favorite horse, “so you’re not mad at your favorite when you get off your least favorite,” but that doesn’t work in his barn.

“Remembering where you are at in your mind is as much about having a good attitude going out there as anything else,” he said. “You can’t go out there mad at the horses and get anything accomplished. If you go out there aggravated, you’re going to be fast with your hands and not get anything done.

“You’ve got to go out there slow, with a good attitude, and positive that you’re going to get something done that day.”

We talked some more and did settle on a slip shank snaffle that he’s especially fond of in a variety of mouthpieces, and it will show up in the February issue.

But it was great to hear this little piece of essential advice good whether you’ve got one or 20 in your barn.


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