Horse trainer Fred Hunter answers your reader-submitted questions in this newly added column. In the first installment, BHN caught up with Fred to learn about afew common problems he sees and the qualities he looks for in a champion. Send your questions to [email protected] cowboypublishing.com for the chance to have your question answered by Fred.
Barrel Horse News: What are some of the most common problems you see with horses and riders?
Fred Hunter: I think you lose more horses in the barrel horse world by poor training than you’ll ever lose by death or injury. It’s a matter of not getting them trained correctly. I’m an advocate for riding a horse and getting the feel. I want a horse to do the things I want to do with him. If I need to lift the shoulder, I need to lift the shoulder. If I need to move two inches, then I need to move him two inches in a moment’s notice. You cannot do any of that stuff without first perfecting your dry work and your prep work. I never train a horse to a barrel—I always train a horse first and then I go to the barrel, because I don’t want him to be confused with what I’m asking him to do when I’m working a barrel. If you get on a barrel and train your horse to the barrel, when you do have issues you have nothing to go back to, so your base line is not there. You need to have a base line on every horse.
Another thing I see a lot is not buying the correct horse to begin with. An easy way to describe this is, say a National Finals Rodeo horse represents the number 40 and you have four blocks that represent qualities of a horse and you have to fill out all four blocks with a No. 10 in order to add it all together to equal a No. 40 quality horse. There’s no possible way to get to 40 if you don’t start the very first block with a 10. Each block represents a quality: conformation, trainability, etc., and if he can’t physically do what you want him to do, you can’t do get to the optimal No. 40. If emotionally he can’t do what you want him to do, he can’t do it. He has to be a 10 in every category to begin with, and I think that’s where a lot of people get in trouble—they don’t start with the right horse.
I think getting the horse broke and buying the correct horse to begin with are two main components for success.
BHN: What makes that ideal number horse special to you?
Hunter: If you don’t start with a 10, you won’t end up with a top-tier rodeo horse. Physically and emotionally, it can’t happen with your horse if you don’t start with the right qualities. For me, it’s size or conformation, trainabilty, reach and speed, and stop.
I’ve trained other disciplines—I’ve ridden cutters a bunch, I’ve ridden a lot of rope horses, I’ve ridden pleasure hors- es, I’ve ridden reiners, but the most dif- ficult horse to train is the barrel horse, because you add speed to that horse. When you add speed to any discipline, it becomes very difficult for the horse. If you opened your horse up going across the pen on a cow, and say “I’m going to kick him to the wall as hard as he can go and run him over there,” about the third time you do that, he’s never going to stop with the cow again. He won’t do it, because you put the speed to him. That’s why the barrel horse is so unique in what he can do.
You have to go through so many of them to find those special horses. When you get to that ultimate 40 horse, he becomes a very unique horse. He is a horse that’s hard to find, but that’s why the rodeo horse is so expensive. That goes back to the same fact about getting the right horse from the beginning.
BHN: When you talk about starting with the right kind of horse, what does that mean for you?
Hunter: For me, I start with a horse that can stop, because I think it’s all about stopping—it’s an oxymoron, because it’s not a true stop. A cutting horse is going to stop and come back through himself, but the shoulders are doing it. A reining horse is going to move forward in the stop, but he’s going to go too far forward and he’s never going to be bent—he is straight. The reason they can stop and slide like they do is because their bodies are straight. A barrel horse can’t be straight. He needs to be bent. To make that turn he has to bend and follow his nose, but he has to get on his hocks and stop like a cutter. That’s my theory. I feel like barrel horses have to first come to you with a natural way of stopping.
That’s why Dash Ta Fame offspring are such good barrel horses. It’s not the speed Dash Ta Fame puts in his horses, it’s the stop Dash Ta Fame puts on his horses. When I say Dash Ta Fame offspring, I mean own sons and daughters—they come with a natural ability to stop. If you ever look at a profile picture of Dash Ta Fame, he looks like a big cutter. His back is short, his hip is big and everything about him has the same look as a cutter. When
I look at a horse, I want to see those qualities combined with a horse that
can run—size, reach, stretch, trainability and stop.
The thing I lean toward and the thing I want to do is stay in that stop period. The other side of the cutter is trainability. The racehorse was not bred for trainability. They are bred to run, and those owners and trainers don’t
care if they are trainable, they just want to know how fast they can run. They can get through the gate with marginal training, they can do their gallops with marginal training, but barrel racing
is not marginal training. It is very extensive and it’s daily. You are tweaking and working with a barrel horse every day, but if they don’t have trainability, you’re not going to be able to do anything with them.
That goes back to the No. 10 block to make up a 40 horse that I talked about. That’s one thing cutters have done—they have bred trainability into their horses.
Nancy and I have had horses that definitely weren’t the fastest horses entered, and a lot of times they weren’t even the best horses entered, but they were trained and they were really trainable. So, with those few things all you had to do was put somebody on their back who could ride them. The horse becomes very successful because of those ingredients that are put into it.
Meet the Expert
Fred Hunter, husband to late National Finals Rodeo qualifier Nancy Hunter, has dedicated his life to developing elite equine athletes, from cutting horses to barrel horses. The Utah resident worked alongside Nancy for many years during her professional rodeo career to create champions such as the great Flit N Fizz, among many others.