As much as every barrel racer would like to believe that each exciting prospect in their barns will become a big-time winner, the reality is that few have what it takes to make an elite barrel horse. Selecting and training a potential winner is even harder in the futurity business, when horses need to be clocking at the top by an early age. Because of the set calendar for futurity horses, it’s important for professional futurity trainers to gauge ability in colts to best tailor their training program or decide to move on from the horse.
Kassie Mowry has been training futurity horses for more than two decades. Many horses from her program have also gone on to high-level success in the rodeo arena with Mowry as well as other riders. In addition to selecting pedigrees that fit her style, she’s developed a keen eye and feel for distinguishing talent.
“I’ve ridden and trained a lot of horses now, and we’ve figured out what suits me the best and those are what we seek out to train,” said Mowry, who works alongside her fiancé, Michael Boone. “There’s a lot I’ll have to train that are nice horses but I don’t think are the best suit for me, so I’ll either try to fake it or I’ll find someone who suits them better and let them go on so I’m not holding them back. But for me and for us, style wise, it’s very important and makes the process a lot easier for both horse and rider.”
When Mowry gets horses back from the colt starter in their 2-year-old year, begins riding them herself and moving into patterning and hauling throughout their 3-year-old year, she’s come to recognize a few key qualities that help her get an early idea of the winners, the good and the average.
Thinker vs. Panicker
A colt that will think through situations rather than react explosively is a key indicator to Mowry about how they might handle pressure early in their careers.
“There’s some that their initial reaction is to panic, and some will think their way through things and won’t just react,” Mowry said.
Mowry’s 2020 BFA SuperStakes champion and early 2021 futurity winner Sand In My Socks is a thinker with a sound mind—a major reason Mowry called upon the mare to run for $100,000 in her first competitive run of her life in the SuperStakes.
“She’s a thinker. She’s not a real reactive-type mare,” Mowry said. “She was a safe bet for the slot race.”
An early marker of natural talent for Mowry is a colt that responds to her aids with lightness, moves more or less the same each direction and feels balanced when traveling out straight and on a circle.
“I like a horse that wants to get broke. I don’t mean stop and spin and slide, but a horse that feels balanced is what broke means to me,” she said. “One that can easily and lightly, with light cues, pick its shoulders up, stay up, use its hind end and move its hind end, and moves lightly on their feet.”
“Sandi” was an easy, balanced mover as a young horse, which simplified Mowry’s job when she started patterning the mare.
“With colts, like people, they’re right- or left-handed, and you always have a side you’re working on, but she was always naturally pretty even,” Mowry said. “That goes a long way, because you can put them in different situations and get them out of trouble easier. Feeling balanced earlier are ones I have the most luck with.”
That being said, Mowry won’t count out a colt that displays potential yet shows some early coordination struggles. She instead helps them adapt. You’d never know now watching 2019 BFA World Futurity Champion and two-time RFD-TV’s The American qualifier Epic Guy fly through the pattern that he once didn’t feel like a barrel horse.
“He wasn’t the most natural horse at the beginning and struggled with some things, but he always tried and got a little better every ride, and that goes a long way with me—definitely makes for a nice horse that you can build on,” Mowry said after “King” won the Ardmore Barrel Futurity in 2019.
Mowry says horses that don’t feel or move as naturally need to have a willing attitude in order for her to move forward in training and see improvement.
“I’ve learned that those horses can still come around and be really great horses, it just requires a little more work at the beginning and a lot more consistency,” Mowry said. “As long as they’re willing about it, they take the training and they learn, and for the most part are moving forward through the process and not too many backwards days, they’ll catch on eventually. The light bulb will come on and they’ll stay hooked.”
Coupled with natural ability, a horse that accepts training eagerly can accomplish a lot in Mowry’s hands. Sandi was so willing and consistent on the barrels as a 3-year-old that Mowry never worried when her other colts outran Sandi in exhibitions.
“She was eager to learn and never said no. She’s willing to try whatever you want to try. That goes a long way for me in my program,” Mowry said. “She was one of the early ones to step up and pull off some good exhibition times. She wasn’t always the fastest—I had others that would outrun her—but she was there every time. She never messed up.”
Willingness is a quality that not even Mowry can train into a horse.
“I’ve had some really talented horses that weren’t willing, and that was hard,” she said. “It’s a fight, a struggle, and I don’t like that.”
This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue of Barrel Horse News.