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About Face

Finding your horse’s true direction could be the total opposite of where you’re headed.

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Article and photos by Julie J. Bryant for The American Quarter Horse Journal

Walking through the barns at Kory Pounds Cutting Horses in Lipan, Texas, is a study in horse flesh. A lot of horse flesh. An affable and “sure enough” cowboy, Kory chuckles a bit about his full stalls, saying, “We’re always looking for ‘the one,’ right? And it takes a lot of horses to find ‘the one.’ ”

“The one” – an elusive target indeed.

No matter the discipline, and sometimes no matter the breeding, horses in training will send different messages about how they are handling that training and from whom they are receiving it. It takes a good horseman or -woman to admit it’s time for the candidate to move on to training with a different horseman or training for a new discipline entirely.

Kory has specialized in cutting horses for the majority of his training career, but it wasn’t always so. Having spent his teens riding bulls and working for rodeo contractors, Kory shed his rodeo spurs and fell in with the crew working for Buster Welch in the early ’80s. Under the oft-critical eye of the acclaimed Buster, Kory learned how to put a foundation on a horse that would serve the animal well regardless if it was headed to the Futurity or ended up being a trusted ranch horse. Kory also learned and grew to appreciate the fact that Buster always saw himself as a rancher and a horseman before he ever saw himself as a trainer.

“Buster always said, ‘It’s all feel,’ ” Kory shares. “He explained that you have to have a feel for the horse, feel for the cow and put it all together. You have to make a cow horse first, a cutting horse second and a show horse, third.”

What’s On Paper

Most people involved in performance disciplines in these times will agree that modern horses, meaning from the year 2000 and beyond, are bred and trained better than their earlier counterparts, subsequently causing a rise to tougher competition. That’s not all bad.

With an increase in better and more selective breeding, what remains after the so-called “cream of the crop” is skimmed off the top is still a large population of horses, if given a sound start, who are destined to be great in other disciplines. 

Kory says that while a horse’s pedigree will always give you a good idea of what the horse is capable of, the one inescapable truth is that the horse has no idea what lineage he boasts on his papers and can only live up to the expectations of its pedigree with good training and instinct.

“That horse right there has no idea he’s by a famous stallion and out of a famous mare,” Kory says, nodding toward a young red roan stallion being loped by his nephew Kutter. “You have to remember you’re dealing with a young mind and have in mind what you’re going to do with them and to them. 

“What I am looking for as a cutting horse trainer is a horse that tells me he really wants to cut. When you are getting started, sometimes it’s just knowing that the horse is willing to travel, stop, travel, wait, turn, let me have his nose and let me bend him.”

Kory notes that there are numerous examples of cutting-bred horses who have excelled at other events. Certain bloodlines having claimed a spot in alternative disciplines as being “go-to’s” as competitive horses with cow.

Examples from the 2018 AQHA World Championship Show can testify. Dual Badger Cat, a now 5-year-old son of Reys Dual Badger and grandson of High Brow Cat, took home the globe in the junior heeling with Metallicnighttrips, by Metallic Cat, coming in as the reserve. In the junior tie-down roping, Checkaboon, royally bred as a son of Im Countin Checks and out of a Peptoboonsmal daughter, grabbed the championship there, while cutting-breds got some play in the halter pen as another Metallic Cat son, Bowmans Metallic Cat, finished sixth in performance halter stallions, while also being shown in the finals of senior working cow horse and tie-down roping.

Tales of cross-discipline transitions occur industry wide: Racehorses becoming successful jumpers, rope horses becoming successful barrel racing mounts, and on and on. When it comes to the actual event, says Kory, it’s often the start the horse has in training that has a larger affect on the long-term outcome.

Gender, too, plays a role, says the horseman. Working with a filly can be a study in personality disorders at times, he says, while a gelding will often be complacent. Stallions, too, can be a handful.

Taking into consideration the pedigree, age, sex and size of the horse are huge factors in determining if the horse you have in training is going to make it in the targeted discipline, and sometimes the talent doesn’t begin to manifest itself until what is considered the “aged” years, 5 years old or older. Clearly, too, is the amount of training the horse has received and at what phase that training occurs in its life.

“These horses are a lot like college kids,” Kory explains. “It takes an investment to put them into college, a lot of counseling in some cases to help them decide on their career choice and then, only after they graduate and have been in the work force a while, are you going to see a return on an investment that is likely $100,000 or more.”

A good horse stands out from the crowd, though, no matter the discipline.

“You need to be somewhat of a horseman to know what you’re looking at,” Kory says. “We’re really lucky to have some great team ropers living or who spend a lot of time in this area, like Trevor Brazile, Clay Tryan and Chad Masters.

“Those guys could look at a parade of horses and probably choose the same three or four that fit what they want to do with a horse. So you have to be able to not only look at the pedigree, but look at the horse’s conformation and know what that horse can physically do.”

A Real Head-Scratcher

The timing of such a decision – when to move on to a new discipline – is never set in stone.

“I have about 10 3-year-olds in training to go to the (National Cutting Horse Association) Futurity,” says Kory. “A few of those will end up going to smaller futurities. But I’ve got one the I already know will probably end up in the roping pen.”

First, though, Kory wants to cut on him.

“The horse is already solid on a cow, has a natural stop and is really good-minded, but he stands 15 hands tall and for a 3-year-old, that’s something. Because I own him, I can take my time with him and if he tells me the cutting pen is where he’ll work and we win on him, then that’s what we’ll do. But, if there is ever a time when I feel like he’s physically challenged, maybe because of his size or there might be another issue, he’ll end up with a roping outfit because that will be what’s best for him.”

Kory points out there is a plethora of options for horses who are bred to work cattle and in his situation, as a cutting horse trainer, their start is often a good one, because they get an opportunity to work cattle at a young age and demonstrate their interest.

“Some horses, for example, are just too cowy to be moved into roping because they have a tendency to overwork the cattle, yet they are not cowy enough just for cutting,” Kory notes.

He’s found reined cow horse is the right fit for these equine athletes.

“The way the sports have grown over the years has allowed the horse more options. In reined cow horse, you also have boxing. Then there are all the different events in Versatility Ranch Horse. Really, the sky’s the limit if you have a good foundation on these horses.”

Leaning On the Purse Strings

Owners need to be a part of the process, Kory says.

“When I have a horse in training with one of my roper friends, I really love watching them work with that horse,” he says. “You don’t have to be at every training session, but you can visit once a month to see the real progress or ask the trainer to send you some video from his or her phone.”
Kory gets philosophical when it comes to a horse finding its path in life.

“You have to trust the process,” he advises, both as an owner and as a trainer, noting that it may take a horse well outside of its limited-age event years to reach physical or mental maturity.

“Again, that horse has no clue who it’s by or out of, that its mama or daddy might be famous and that it has to live up to that reputation. No clue. But we do and sometimes we let that dictate what we think that horse should be able to do,” Kory says. “Remember, horses don’t understand time.”
Truly, finding a place for the horse to excel is a combination of many factors.

Not every horse bred to be a cutting horse is a contender to win the coveted NCHA Open Futurity. That’s why it’s imperative to match young horses with owners whose aspirations and expectations fit the horse’s ability level – perhaps success can be seen at local or regional limited aged events or in one of the many levels offered at the NCHA Futurity.

“Again, it’s like the college student,” Kory says. “A lot of times what that student ends up studying may not be what he ends up doing, but the important thing is that he or she has shown they can do something, finish it and they have a structured plan of attack on how to learn.

“When you go back to the horse that was bred to be a cutting horse who turned out to be a great rope horse, that was because as a cutting horse in training, you put a good handle on her and people can see she’s athletic, smart and willing,” Kory says.

“You don’t try to make the horse in a day. You have a process and that process continues throughout the horse’s showing career.”

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