Article and photos by Danika Kent.
“I’ve never been a flash-in-the-pan futurity horse kind of guy. If they’re begging to go, they’ll go, but if not, we’ll give them the time they need to become long-term rodeo horses.”
Such is the substance of the take-it-easy approach Ryan Lovendahl has applied to scores of barrel horses, many of whom have gone on to successful careers with other jockeys and effectually speak for themselves via their success in the aged-event arena to the rodeo ranks. Four of those horses, in particular, found futurity fortune before climbing to the pinnacle of our sport, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo—the stallion, Blazin Jetolena, ridden by Melanie Southard, and his protégé, Sheza Blazin Move, ridden by Christy Loflin, as well as MP Meter My Hay and MP A Man With Roses, both piloted by Sherry Cervi.
“In barrel racing, they don’t have to be a futurity horse until they’re 4 or 5. Cutting horses and reining horses go to their biggest event as 3-year-olds, at the start of our year. They have to put a lot of pressure on those horses as 2-year-olds. I’ve never felt like barrel racers have to do that as much as trainers in other events, especially for me. I like to keep my futurity horses as 5-year-olds,” said Lovendahl, who trained reining horses with Noel Skinner before he converted his own college calf roping horse to the barrel pattern.
Lovendahl will be the first to concede that his timeline is a bit different from most futurity trainers. While he grants that some owners cannot afford to hold a horse that extra year and certain bloodlines mature earlier than others, he believes in most cases, the extra time makes a measurable difference in a horse’s capacity to stay sound of mind and body.
“I have a little brown mare that is 6, and she is hot. We’ve kept her slow, kept her right and didn’t enter her until the fall of her 5-year-old year,” Lovendahl said. “If you’d have run that horse as a 4-year-old, she’d be somebody’s broodmare; you’d have blown her right through the roof. But right now she’s winning a buckle series and has been in the 1D seven runs in a row. It looks like she’s going to have a great career. With some confidence, she’ll do pretty well.”
With consideration for each individual’s physical and mental level of maturity, Lovendahl starts his colts as early as they will allow.
“We usually get on our horses anywhere from January to April of their 2-year-old year, depending on their physical abilities,” Lovendahl said. “You do not want to be riding anything that has open knee joints or joints that aren’t fully developed. If the horse isn’t 100 percent matured and grown, he’s going to have growing pains. Blazin Jetolena went to the futurities as a 4-year-old, but I think stallions are a lot stronger at a younger age due to the testosterone.”
Even in the earliest stages of a horse’s training, Lovendahl’s efforts are concentric to the end result, and where the clock is not concerned, slower is faster.
“When I start my colts, I go slow. My philosophy is to teach them one small thing each day, not going forward until each maneuver is perfected and the horse is doing it mostly on his own,” Lovendahl said. “I show him what I want; he does the work on his own. A horse that is working on his own is going to be a much more consistent horse, and down the road, better able to handle different ground and the different situations he is going to encounter in competition.”