[As seen in the March 2022 issue of The Team Roping Journal]

It’s no secret that roping futurities are exploding in entries and purses. But lengthy earlier than Trevor Brazile introduced his rodeo cowboy fame to the tiny struggle-bus area of interest of rope horse coaching, the futurity highlight was on a hand from California.

Hailing from simply north of Salinas, 35-year-old Andy Holcomb has been quietly placing three to 5 younger horses into futurity quick rounds at each ends. Three years in the past, Holcomb received the ARHFA World Championship in Open Heading and $20,000 aboard an attention-grabbing, gray 6-year-old named Blue Berry Please (plus claimed fourth on a 5-year-old stallion named Trap This Cat for an additional $10,000). “Blue Berry” was a horse the proprietor had despatched him to promote.

That was typical. For a long time, rope horse trainers have needed to function half horse-trader, half colt-starter and half jackpot horse fixer-upper, whereas spending years making their very own horses to promote. Now there’s a brand new technique to fill their pockets.

At the October 2021 ARHFA World Championship in Fort Worth, Holcomb’s horses racked up $36,000. He positioned on three head horses and two heel horses, plus, he introduced the one horse—Walkin The Dog—that made the finals at each ends. Last August on the Royal Crown Futurity in Rock Springs, Wyoming, he cashed paychecks price $35,048 when he received the Open heading on Walkin The Dog, positioned on each ends aboard SJR Diamond Go Time, and positioned within the heeling aboard Fine Vintage Cash. He earned cash on those self same horses and extra ultimately June’s ARHFA RedBud Spectacular in Oklahoma, after cleansing up on the ARHFA’s 2021 Arizona Sun Circuit Futurity to the tune of $22,336.

Listen: Understanding the Royal Crown on “The Score”

With a background in working cow horses and a present Global 7.5/8.5 handicap, Holcomb may select any variety of aggressive objectives, however he’s centered on one: to earn $1 million at roping futurities.

Not combating pace

Growing up, Holcomb ranch-roped, however by no means backed a horse right into a field. He’d watched his longtime buddy Justin Wright present reined cow horses, and was only a child when his dad and mom employed Les Oswald to offer him classes.

“I’d go stay with Les during every summer break and Christmas break and any other time I could,” recalled Holcomb, who finally went to work full time for Oswald. “I got where I could catch and turn him steers, and it was all about scoring well and giving smooth handles. A lot of repetitions is what helped me. I was not having to fight speed in the beginning.”

Oswald, who campaigns successful snaffle-bit and reined cow horses, in addition to premium head and heel horses, mentioned his whole program is about catching each single steer.

“A horse cannot be trained when you’re missing,” mentioned Oswald, based mostly in Oakdale. “You have to catch. If you run 10, you’d better catch 10. I had a rule back then, and still do today: If you miss three in a row, you will put it on in the chute until I get off that horse.”

Oswald’s program relies on utilizing your horse—rating effectively, rope sharp and deal with the cow so your heeler can rope as quick as doable. That’s what he preaches to his son, Layton, and to his assist, and it’s what helped make Holcomb one of many winningest futurity horsemen on the market.

Watch: 2021 ARHFA Futurity Open Heeling Short Round Final

Holcomb ropes so sharp, actually, it’s a marvel he by no means caught the rodeo bug. After all, he heeled a couple of down for Luke Brown to separate $25,976 on the Capitalist a couple of years in the past. Further again than that, he break up $26,000 within the #15 on the Finale in Las Vegas turning steers for Craig Branham. But his mentor had somewhat affect there, too.

“I watched Les barely miss the NFR in the mid-1990s,” Holcomb mentioned. “He came home with a broke-down truck, crippled horse, bald tires on his trailer and no money in his bank account. That didn’t sound good to me.”

Not to say Holcomb hasn’t positioned in a spherical at Salinas and made the California Circuit Finals Rodeo.

“I almost use the circuit rodeos as a training tool for myself,” he mentioned. “The futurities are getting more and more competitive just roping-wise. Headers have to ride wider and be more aggressive, and they’re heeling them faster and cleaner. I think of rodeoing as a tool to keep me sharper in that sense.”

Reined cow horse methods assist Holcomb begin prospects like Monty and Chris Avery’s Fine Vintage Cash, a 5-year-old mare that earned $33,000 at each ends final yr.
Images courtesy Best Ever pads with Cactus ropes, by Shelby Caitlin Photography

Confidence and consistency

Holcomb’s enterprise in Aromas, California, typically slows all the way down to about 5 horses within the lifeless of winter. But due to the Royal Crown’s first-ever February futurity in Arizona this yr, he nonetheless had 20 on his roster in January, together with 3-year-olds getting ready for subsequent yr. He has nice assist in his spouse, Fallon Avery, and some different part-timers and native youngsters who come to rope.

Holcomb likes colts with “good structure, explosive feet and presence,” he informed his sponsor, Best Ever Pads, for a latest weblog publish. That presence helps a younger horse get seen by judges even away from the run. And if his horses are noticeably assured, it’s doubtless because of his early strategies. Holcomb does a ton of lead-steering on inexperienced colts.

Watch: Colt-Starting Playlist

“When I’m tracking lead steers, I like to go a little faster,” he mentioned. “Tracking faster cattle teaches horses to be okay with speed before you add the box into the equation. My horses still get slow work, but I want them comfortable going fast.”

It’s a technique to take away the strain of the field however add the unpredictability of cattle. It’s one thing that at all times labored for Oswald, who says he discovered it roping jerseys within the pasture with Monty Joe Petska again within the day.

“When horses learn to handle speed before they ever come out of a box, everything goes so much smoother,” Holcomb mentioned. “I’ve been bucked off a lot; most of the time because speed scares a horse.”

One factor totally different about Holcomb’s program—in comparison with, say, Brazile’s—is that Holcomb does fence work on his inexperienced colts, too. He’ll take cows down the fence and switch them again and circle them in the course of the pen such as you see at large NRCHA reveals. He likes the way in which it teaches them to alter pace, cease and switch round whereas following a cow.

“A horse can run fast but still read the steer and listen to me at the same time,” he defined. “I don’t want a horse to completely look at the steer and not pay attention to me, or vice versa.”

A greater horse

By the time Holcomb’s colts enter a field, they’re fully ready as a result of he’s executed a lot on lead steers with a breakaway rope. He can work on their transfer, their face and all of the motions of a run. At dwelling, Holcomb’s bins are arrange so he can transfer them again some 25 ft. The distinctive design permits him to walk-start a colt, or start strolling and proceed strolling as he nods for the steer.

“It gives a horse plenty of space so it’s not just, ‘take one step and go,’” he mentioned. “A horse can take five or six steps before the gate opens and then cruise to the cow.”

Holcomb’s horses are locked and loaded when he arrives at a present however, from his perspective, the important thing to getting so many into quick rounds is minimizing errors.

“Sometimes a leg will still bring a head horse back to the finals, but you can’t have a barrier, and you can’t be late and bounce one off the back end, either,” he mentioned. “It always helps to enter the horses that are most consistent. My program isn’t limited to only horses I’m training, though they’re my priority. I show for other people, too.”

Watch: What Makes a Good Prospect

The benefit of exhibiting his personal colts means he is aware of them higher. Knows the place he can depend on them and the place to assist them. Like most rope horse trainers, what he loves about futurities is that they’re not simply timed—the horses are judged.

“Headers aren’t exposing a horse by reaching or ducking, and heelers aren’t pulling back and getting them shaking their head,” he mentioned. “It’s a competitive way to make a better horse, these futurities.”

Truly, there aren’t many 6-year-olds higher than Dreams To Watch, aka “Wyatt,” the beautiful darkish buckskin Holcomb confirmed final fall into the highest 10 at Fort Worth, then bought to NFR common champion header Cody Snow.

The highlight simply retains getting brighter. 

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