Rodeo and Horsemanship With Richard Winters Horsemanship
Photos courtesy of Tammy Sronce
Every December the worlds best rodeo cowboys and cowgirls, along with tens of thousands of fans, converge in Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo. This is truly the Super Bowl of Rodeo. The top fifteen contestants in each event come to compete in ten rounds to see who will be crowned the World Champion in their particular event. The coliseum sells out every night with over 17,000 spectators and every sports bar and casino in town have big-screen TVs playing the event live. For those that can’t make it to Las Vegas, the rodeo is played for ten consecutive nights on television. Needless to say, it’s a big deal.
My wife Cheryl and I were in Las Vegas during this time conducting Horsemanship Demonstrations at one of the huge Cowboy Christmas trade show venues in town. I’ve made some observations about the cowboys and cowgirls who competed in the timed events. The timed events include calf roping, team roping, bulldogging and barrel racing. Every one of the contestants knows the technical aspects of their event: How to handle a rope, the condition of the cattle and techniques for getting around a barrel. Each of the riders has the skill set and talent to be crowned the world champion. Each one of them is looking for a subtle edge and an advantage. I believe that edge is “Horsemanship”.
Beyond how a contestant handles a rope or manages the cattle, how they ride their horses and the manner in which they communicate with their equine partner can make the difference in tenths of a second. At this level, those fractions of a second are the delineating factor between winning and losing.
In the roping and bulldogging events, how a horse stands in the box before the steer or calf is released is crucial. Is the cowboy able to keep the horse’s head straight and pointed forward? Is he able to move the horse’s hindquarters placing him squarely in the corner of the box? Because the events are so fast and demanding, as well as intense, it is easy for horses to become very anxious and worried in the box. It takes good horsemanship to keep a horse honest and correct in the midst of all this pressure.
When I was younger and a novice roper, I had some understanding of the psychology of horsemanship. While practicing roping at the college level we all looked for opportunities to “score” cattle while standing in the roping box. This simply meant placing your horse in the corner of the box like you’re going to rope and then calling for the steer but not releasing your horse. This simple drill would help keep a horse more honest and waiting for the rider’s signal.
At the end of the roping session I always liked to back my horse into the box, dismount and loosen my cinch and take off my horse’s protective boots. This simple practice helped my horse understand that the box could be a place of rest rather than always being a place of high intensity and stress. These are just two of the many horsemanship concepts that good contestants will practice to give themselves the horsemanship edge.
Every barrel racer can benefit from establishing greater body control in their horse through leg cues. When rounding a barrel, being able to move a horse’s shoulder or rib cage over could make the difference between a barrel standing up and being knocked down. You can have the fastest horse at the rodeo, but without body control, through good horsemanship, it will not give you the competitive edge.
At this world-class level of rodeo competition, riders are asking a tremendous amount of their horses. Sometimes horses will work in spite of us. Some contestants pay a tremendous amount of money to buy, lease or rent world-class horses who have been developed and trained by great horsemen. Yet more and more competitors are investing in their own horsemanship skills so that they can be strong positive leaders for their equine athletes.
In two separate interviews during the NFR, I heard a barrel racer and bulldogger talk about making adjustments in preparing their horse for that evening’s run. They recognized that the attitude of their horse, along with the conditions of the arena, dictated a different horsemanship approach. They adjusted their preparation and warm up exercises, using good horsemanship techniques in a way that would better prepare their horses for the next round. They knew that it was not enough to just have a fast horse or know how to throw a steer. Good horsemanship would give them the edge they were looking for.
In every rodeo timed event you have a partner and that partner is your horse. Those willing to be a student of the horse and horsemanship can develop a skill set that can enable them to rise to the top of their competitive discipline. At this level, it’s the little things that make a big difference. “Horsemanship” is the difference.
For over 30 years Richard has dedicated himself to honing his horsemanship skills and to passing this knowledge on to others. His vast experience includes starting literally hundreds of horses that have gone on to almost every equine discipline imaginable. Richard’s credentials extend from the rodeo arena and high desert ranches of the west to being a highly sought after trainer, horsemanship clinician and expo presenter.
Richard Winters’ horsemanship journey has earned him Colt Starting and Horse Showing Championship titles. Obtaining his goal of a World Championship in the National Reined Cow Horse Association became a reality. He is an AA rated judge. Another of Richard’s horsemanship goals was realized with his Road to the Horse Colt Starting Championship win! There is no question to Winters’ qualifications as Horseman’s Host, returning to Road to the Horse as a commentator, for the 5th consecutive year,
International travels include Canada, Australia, Mexico, Sweden and Poland where he earned the European International Colt Starting Championship Title. Richard is a “Masterful Communicator” with horses and humans alike!
Richard Winters Horsemanship television show can be seen every Tuesday at 4:00 P.M. (PST) and 7:00 P.M. (EST) on Dish Networks HRTV- Channel 398.
Richard and his wife Cheryl reside in Reno, Nevada.
This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 1
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