THE RACE:

Horse & Rider - - Conformation Clinic -

Any­time Tuf Cooper en­ters the Wran­gler Na­tional Fi­nals Rodeo lead­ing the world stand­ings, it’s hard to bet against him. He came into the Fi­nals as the front-run­ner when he won his first ti­tle in 2011 and 2014, when he won world ti­tles. (In 2012, he had to over­come Cody Ohl’s lead in dra­matic fash­ion.)

This year, Cooper didn’t sky­rocket to his $30,000 lead un­til win­ning the $50,000 top prize at the Days of ’47 Cow­boy Games and Rodeo in Salt Lake City. De­spite that, he’s come up big at rodeos large and small all year. He knows what it takes to win in Ve­gas, so he’s got to be the fa­vorite.

What’s unique to this race, how­ever, is the amount of gold buck­les that will be chas­ing him. Caleb Smidt is nip­ping at his heels in the No. 2 spot. Shane Hanchey isn’t far be­hind, reign­ing World Cham­pion Tyson Dur­fey is in the top five and Trevor Brazile is just out­side of it. In sum, there are eight tie-down gold buck­les rep­re­sented by five rop­ers all in the top 10 of the world stand­ings. This race could eas­ily prove to be a dog­fight from Round 1 un­til the last calf.

Cooper’s strat­egy will be in­ter­est­ing to ob­serve. Be­cause he’s the fron­trun­ner in the all-around race, how much will that play into his tie-down game plan? Will he be con­ser­va­tive? Will he go for the day money and let the av­er­age fall where it will? Ei­ther way, he can beat the field, so look for him back on the top of the podium when the dust set­tles.

If there’s one slam-dunk world ti­tle pre­dic­tion, it’s Tiany Schus­ter win­ning her first gold buckle at her first Wran­gler Na­tional Fi­nals Rodeo. She shat­tered the reg­u­larsea­son earn­ings record and at press time had an $80,000 lead on the field.

The big­gest win came in the form of a $111,750 pay­day at the Cal­gary Stam­pede aboard her sor­rel geld­ing, Show Mance. Mostly, though, Schus­ter is con­sis­tent, plac­ing and get­ting checks ev­ery­where she en­ters. If she can do that at the NFR, she’ll be in the hunt for that big av­er­age check at the end of the week, which would only fur­ther se­cure the stran­gle­hold she’s got on the top spot.

Stevi Hill­man, who is sec­ond to Schus­ter, Am­ber­leigh Moore, Kassie Mowry and Nel­lie Miller have the best shot at un­seat­ing the run­away leader. But real­is­ti­cally, Schus­ter just has too good of horses and too much of a lead to give any­one else a re­al­is­tic chance this year.

In ad­di­tion to Show Mance, Schus­ter hauls a horse called JSYK Im Fa­mous (the JSYK stands for Just So You Know). And just so you know, Schus­ter should be the next bar­rel rac­ing world cham­pion.

Through­out this train­ing, it’s es­sen­tial that the stop­ping is al­ways your idea, not his. Also, the more you ask him to re­treat from the ob­sta­cle, the more it seems you don’t re­ally want him to go right up to it, and the more you do that, the more cu­ri­ous your horse be­comes. This works to your ad­van­tage!

Each time you ask him for­ward, try to let him come a lit­tle closer to the ob­sta­cle, while al­ways stop­ping him be­fore he stops on his own. Once he’s fairly close, if he tries to smell and in­ves­ti­gate the log, let him. Horses some­times need to per­form their own lit­tle safety check on an ob­ject be­fore they’re com­fort­able with it.

If you con­tinue pa­tiently with ap­proach- and-re­treat, even­tu­ally your horse will go over the log. At first, he may fum­ble over it or jump it in a hurry. That’s nor­mal and should be ex­pected. With prac­tice, he’ll re­lax and fig­ure out how to place his feet and ne­go­ti­ate the ob­sta­cle neatly. Don’t try to mi­cro­man­age his feet at this point.

When he’s step­ping care­fully, en­cour­age him to stop and rest when he’s half­way over the log. Let him know that go­ing over re­ally is just no big deal.

mount up and ride him over the log. You’ll use the same strat­egy in the sad­dle that you used on the ground—that is, mak­ing it your horse’s idea to step over the ob­sta­cle.

Ap­proach the log at a walk. If he now walks right over will­ingly, let him. But if you sense that he might stop, go ahead and whoa be­fore he does so, and im­me­di­ately back him away from the log. Then ride him for­ward again, try­ing to get a bit closer this time but again stop­ping be­fore he stops on his own. Back away once more.

Con­tinue ap­proach­ing and re­treat­ing in this man­ner. As you do so, don’t even think about get­ting your horse to step over the log. In­stead, con­cen­trate on get­ting him to back straight away without get­ting heavy on the bit. Work on keep­ing him light and re­spon­sive.

Soon, your horse will be less con­cerned about avoid­ing the ob­sta­cle and more in­volved with tun­ing in to you.

Even­tu­ally, you’ll sense that your horse is ready to step over the log of his own ac­cord. Let him, en­cour­ag­ing him to take his time. If he wants to stop half­way over it, that’s fine. Rub on him and let him rest.

Once he’s all the way over, bend him around in a few cir­cles to en­sure he stays soft and is pay­ing at­ten­tion to you. Of­ten, when horses first ne­go­ti­ate an ob­sta­cle, they want to get across and away from it as fast as pos­si­ble. Bend­ing in cir­cles teaches your horse to stay soft and re­spect your cues in­stead.

After the bend­ing, take him over the ob­sta­cle again, from the op­po­site di­rec­tion, and con­tinue go­ing back and forth un­til he’s com­pletely blasé about it. 

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