Competing at the World’s Most Prestigious Colt Starting Event

Well this year, [my] going back in, has not gone unnoticed. I am the old man in the group."
-Richard Winters.

It was still early on a bright Texas morning the first of March and Richard Winters has already been hard at work. He unhitched his horse trailer and took a break to sit down to talk with me about his upcoming bid for the Road to the Horse colt starting championship, his new book, what his successful career in Reined Cowhorses has taught him, and some new endeavors he’s tried on for size. This critically acclaimed horseman, author, clinician, TV personality, and competitor is an honest and humble representation of what all modern day cowboys and true horsemen should aspire to be.

Tell me about your history with Road to the Horse?

I was a competitor at Road to the Horse in 2009. This event is by invitation only. There’s trainers all over the world that would like to be invited so I was honored to be invited to compete against John Lyons and Tommy Garland in 2009 and I had the opportunity to win that event. Since that time, I’ve been associated with the event as their Horseman’s Host and Commentator. I was there on the floor clueing the audience in to the minute intricacies and sort of the subtle things that they might miss. I’ve been in the trenches. Perhaps I am well prepared to share those things with the audience so it’s been great these last few years to continue to be involved with Road to the Horse.

So you commentated from 2010-2015. What did you most enjoy about that experience?

I think the best thing about commentating is I have the best seat in the house. I am right there in the middle of it and the thing is, I have a job to do of explaining to the people what is going on so it forces me not to be lazy and to pay attention and so I learn more than anybody else there because I’m watching 3 or 4 great horseman do some phenomenal things with horses. It’s just a great opportunity for me to be right there and see some world class horsemanship, to absorb it - take it in and I’m probably using things today that I’ve seen some of those guys do over the last 4 or 5 years.

What is it like to prepare as a competitor for Road to the Horse?

Well this year, going back in, has not gone unnoticed. I am the old man in the group. [Richard chuckles] We think of colt starting as being a young man’s game. Clinton Anderson and Nick Dower are two young men who are very, very talented so I’m gonna have to work smarter rather than harder. I am trying to stay in shape a little bit. Anybody that’s over 50 years old knows it’s the law of diminishing returns that the older you get the harder you have to work to get the best results so I’m trying to make sure that I am in shape. My son is my own private super hero. He’s a rescue swimmer for the US Coast Guard. He said to me dad here’s the world’s greatest stretch – do this stretch twice a day and it’ll keep you limbered up so I’m trying to be prepared physically. I’ve been starting some colts these last few weeks just kinda trying to get my head back around the colt starting process as, in all reality don’t tell the other guys, I don’t really start that many colts anymore. I’ve started well over a 1,000 horses in my career but I work mostly with performance horses so it’s been good to go through that process this winter.

So you’ve somewhat answered this next question but is your preparation this year that much different than when you last competed and won it in 2009?

You know I think I come from a vantage point now of knowing the event as well as anybody because I’m there every year. I’m commentating on it and the event is evolving and getting tougher. As competitors know what the expectation is they are trying to raise their game, getting the horses prepared for obstacles, rail work and everything that has to happen. I’m probably going to try and get my head around that and prepare a little more this time because it’s just at a different level as every sport tends to be and should be. It’s getting better and more refined and the competition is stiffer and I think this year is going to be one of the toughest, across the board, competitions that have been. There’s always been great horseman there but with Clinton Anderson and Nick Dower it’s really, really good so I’m gonna get in there and just keep up.

It’s the day of. You’re at Road to the Horse on the floor. What’s it actually like being there?

You know I’ve heard it time and again that with all of the fanfare, all of the preliminary things that go on, all of the grand entries, the exhibitions, and any mini clinics that you do there by the time you step in for round #1 and your colt is in the round pen, you just can’t hardly wait to get in there and get to work because everything has been in preparation. Everything has been ancillary and extra curricular things. I [will] come to colt starting to the best of my ability and show the judges my style and technique. So really all three competitors will just be very anxious to turn the microphone off, buckle down, and get to work.

Now you’ve mentioned the other competitors. What are your thoughts on them as competitors and colleagues?

I know both these gentlemen. Clinton and Nick I would consider both of them friends of mine and I know them both to be very talented. Clinton won the event twice and lost once and he's coming back not to loose. He’s coming back to win. I know he is. He’s highly competitive and he is going to pull out every stop to showcase his horse and his horsemanship. Nick Dower might be new to a lot of Road to the Horse fans but not new to the western horse world. He’s a very talented reining cowhorse trainer. He won the Super Bowl of the Reined Cowhorse world here about 3 years ago and he has been to Road to the Horse the last couple of years just to soak it in and get a feel for how the event works so he doesn’t get blindsided when he actually shows up. He helped Jim Anderson as a pen wrangler last year. He’ll come loaded for bear. He’ll come ready to ride. He’s a very talented colt starter and performance horse trainer. This is going to be a stiff competition and these guys are not coming to ride for 2nd. They are coming to ride for 1st.

I heard you have a new book published by Western Horsemen debuting at Road to the Horse. What is it about?

We’re really excited about our collaboration with Western Horsemen. It’s almost a little bit surreal. I was this little 12 year old kid when I first got a subscription to Western Horsemen and never missed a month in the last 40 years and to now think that they are publishing a book with that same little kid is an honor. This book is going to be different than what other horsemen have done in the past. It’s called From Rider to Horseman and it’s laid out in chapters where each one is a stand alone chapter. Say that you’re interested in side passing. You can go right to that chapter, read the chapter, see the beautiful photographs on side passing, and then go out to work with your horse. It’s not necessary to have to read 200 pages to grasp the whole concept before you want to do something so whether it’s ground work or picking up the correct lead or whatever it might be. There’s almost 40 topics in there and perhaps in our society where everybody kinda wants something quick, they can now read a chapter in 20 minutes then go out and get to work with their horse. And yes, it will be debuting at Road to the Horse. I haven’t even seen the final copy yet. I’m anxious to get one in my hands. I’ll be there signing books and hoping people will come by and pick one up.

We’ve talked all about Road to the Horse mostly but you’ve been extremely successful in Reined Cowhorses. Could you tell me a bit about that experience? 

The horses that we train and show ourselves we're involved with the National Reining Cowhorse Association. Ever since I was a little kid I admired the west coast cowhorses that honored the vaquero tradition of the bridle horses and the hackamore horses. Here in the last 15 years or so I’ve been able to focus more on that. Really when I go out and show horses, it’s my professional development and educational. When I go and do a clinic, I’m the winner every weekend. People are patting me on the back, telling me what a great horseman I am and you can get to believing that if you’re not careful. When I go and show horses, that’s really the case of what I’m getting done with my horses. You go out there and perform and you step up to the plate or you don’t. So it’s a reality check. I have to eat a lot of humble pie to keep playing that game but we have enjoyed some modest success. It helps me continue to bump up my game and it’s a good personal barometer to know how my horsemanship is coming along and the reined cowhorses… I just have such admiration for those equine athletes. They are really the tri-athletes of the western performance world. They have to do the reining. They have to do the cutting. They have to go down the fence and if you have a horse that can handle that much speed, that much intensity, and stay mentally focused, well then you’ve got a great horse.

So the competitions have just made you better or to want to be better every time?

That’s right. You gotta ride with people that are better than you. If I’m the best guy in the arena at any particular time, there’s no challenge there so I try to surround myself with riders that are more talented and are better that I can learn from and especially the reined cowhorse world. Those great trainers and riders are my heroes. They are so gracious in sharing their knowledge. I think back when we were little kids, back in the 70s, it was one big secret, nobody would share any ideas but not anymore. There’s a free-flow of information. If you’re hungry for information, it is there.

Recently you’ve also had some cross discipline experiences with Cowboy Mounted Shooting and Cowboy Dressage. What prompted those opportunities?

We were involved in the Cowboy Dressage World Finals. They have an event called the Top Hand competition. I don’t have too many weekends free anymore but I saw that I was free that weekend and thought let’s just go do it. A lot of our clients have been talking about Cowboy Dressage. It sounded fun and I was excited people were finding one more thing they could do with their horses to help refine their horsemanship. So to participate in events and I think I’m a good horseman but that’s a particular game and there are particular rules so there was a big learning curve to stay on the course and get out there and figure out how to do it. It was a lot of fun and I’m really happy to see the success of Cowboy Dressage and how it’s taken off. Then Cowboy Mounted Shooting is another thing that people can do with their horses. A few years ago nobody had even heard of it and I was just asked the other day to participate in a celebrity Cowboy Mounted Shooting… I mentioned humble pie earlier. I ate a little bit that night because I don’t think I did that good but it’s a thrill and a rush to go out there and try to shoot those balloons. I borrowed the horse and borrowed the guns and just did went out there and did it. You just gotta put yourself out there sometimes and try something new. There’s nothing the matter with that.

Finally, you’re a Fly Predator fan and use Bye Bye Odor also, no? 

Yes. Absolutely. For the last several years we’ve been using the Fly Predators and the Bye Bye Odor and those products work well on our ranch.

What is your favorite use for Bye Bye Odor? 

My wife and I like it the best in our living quarters horse trailer. When we’re out on the road for months at a time, I’ll use it back in the stall area. You know horses are in there for hours at a time and I try to keep it cleaned out but it still has a smell to it so I’ll spray down the back of the trailer to get rid of it. Then my wife really likes to use it in the living quarters. It’s 2 people living in this little tight area, cooking and taking showers and everything else so just to have that there to knock down those odors. Those are our main applications and our little dog - although he is great – he darn never makes a mistake but when he does well out comes the Bye Bye Odor and we’ll clean up his mess using some of that.

I want to wish you a lot of success at Road to the Horse and thank you for taking the time to talk to me. We’ll be rooting for you! 

You can learn more about Richard Winters in the Light Hands Horsemanship Community on Spalding Labs as well as on his website Winter's Ranch.