Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness

Do you have this key trait while preparing your futurity horses? A reining and a reined cow horse professional share their wisdom.

Moonshineandtwoadvil and Shawn Hays

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By Julie J. Bryant 

Little compares to the thrill of having a futurity horse – getting to see your young star step into the spotlight and show his stuff against the best of his class. 

No matter which futurity you’re competing in, though – from the National Reining Horse Association, National Reined Cow Horse Association or National Cutting Horse Association futurities – to your local event’s futurity, the one thing that you will need is the mental toughness to show. 

It takes a lot of time, effort and resources to get a futurity horse ready to show, but the mental aspect is all on you. Two professionals that have it figured out are multiple NRHA Futurity champion Jason Vanlandingham and reined cow horse and cutting horse trainer Clay Volmer, who is an AQHA world champion and the 2018 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity intermediate open champion.

Both professionals acknowledge that the success of the horse is almost totally dependent on the ability of its rider, whether that is the trainer, non-pro or amateur. So, some self-examination and taking a mental inventory of where you are as a rider is key in the diagnostic quiver of tools.

“Some people will get frustrated with a horse, so they speed up and start working harder and harder,” says Jason. “The horse gets confused and things just get more frustrating. So, you’ve got to slow things down and try to make sure the horse fully understands what you’re trying to do. Back things off so the horse will understand and talk yourself through it a bit.” 

Today’s technology makes it even easier to self-assess. Cell phone video from a home workout or even from a competition is an immediate source of assessment, and professional video can often give the rider an even clearer picture of where they are as a rider.

“I try to think my way through and not just throw my hands up if things aren’t going right,” says Clay. “I’ll use video to see if I am balanced and teaching my horses the very best that I can. I can evaluate how I am working that cow, am I a little long on the cow or short? We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I am very critical of myself. I have taught myself to be very aware of making sure I am teaching that horse properly.”

Jason says that taking the truth from other professionals, people you can respect, is also important.

“Jordan Larson sat me down a few years ago and he told me flat out that he could take my horse and beat me,” he said. “He told me, ‘You’ve got a confidence issue and you’re not showing off what you’re capable of showing off.’ You get worried about your horses being perfect all the time but what you need to think about is what is going to show in that show pen. I don’t have to be perfect; it has to show better. That was a huge turning point for me.”

Jason, a former youth minister, also says much of his preparation begins with prayer, from the time he buys the horse as a yearling or a futurity prospect.

“The whole plan is God’s first in everything we do,” he said. “God first, family second and everything else falls into place after that. There is a lot of prayer that goes into it and we will ask God to block it if it’s not what we should do or open doors if it is what we should do.”

Added to that, says Clay, is really the thrill of the chase.

“Here is the honest deal,” he says. “We all have horse trainers and owners, and we have horses we like and horses that look good. But when it comes to that final night and you’re under the lights, there will be a horse that just has that extra something. That’s what keeps us striving to do our best. I love it.”