Clay Volmer, from Wasta, S.D. finds home horseback, in Texas
March 29, 2017
In the past decade, Clay Volmer has staked his claim in the performance horse territory of Texas, but if you ask him what his hometown is, his response is still Wasta, South Dakota. Clay and his wife Carrie recently purchased a home and training facility in the Brock, Texas, area, allowing Clay the continuing opportunity to train and show both reined cow horses and cutting horses professionally. Carrie has a career in financial planning with a company in Fort Worth and she shows as a nonprofessional.
Throughout the past year, Clay has added several titles from various associations including National Reined Cow Horse Association Limited Open Champion at the 2016 Snaffle Bit Futurity, American Quarter Horse Assocation 2016 Zoetis Black Hills Ranching Heritage Champion, and most recently, National Cutting Horse Association 2017 Ike Derby Classic Limited Open Champion. He finds a personal challenge in pursuing success across multiple performance horse disciplines, and said the skills from each discipline often complement the others.
Clay and Carrie–a Nebraska native–attended National American University in Rapid City, South Dakota together, then both moved south at different times, never making the move back north. Clay said there's just too much winter in South Dakota.
"We can work horses year-round down here as far as weather goes. It might snow for a day or two, but there's not going to be three feet of snow on the ground," he said. "The client base is so immense. When we first moved down here, there were more AQHA horses in Parker County than any other area of the world, and there may still be. There are a lot of horse owners here."
“We can work horses year-round down here as far as weather goes. It might snow for a day or two, but there’s not going to be three feet of snow on the ground. The client base is so immense. When we first moved down here, there were more AQHA horses in Parker County than any other area of the world, and there may still be. There are a lot of horse owners here.” Clay Volmer, horse trainer
Carrie moved to College Station, Texas, in August of 2007 to attend Texas A&M University to acquire a master's degree in business. She and Clay married in December of 2008. She got her first job in financial planning in Fort Worth.
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"The Fort Worth area is just so special for people with our background; this is a city that really values the cowboy culture and the western lifestyle. You can walk into the nicest steakhouse in the city in your boots and cowboy hat, and everyone accepts it as normal. We really love this area for that reason," she said.
Dipping a toe in NRCHA events is a new area for the Volmers. At first, Carrie had her doubts.
"Even though I had ridden cow horses as an intern during college and really liked the sport, I wasn't sure if the show schedules would work out between the NRCHA and the NCHA. Like most things that are worth doing, it's a challenge," she said. "It takes serious planning to schedule ahead for the shows. We both have digital calendars on our cell phones that we live by, and I record every show that Clay is going to over the next couple months in addition to my own work schedule. In 2016, Clay was on the road about four months out of the year, but with the 2017 NRCHA Snaffle Bit coming to Fort Worth, that will help significantly. My office is only about five minutes from the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, so this year I will have my own horse to show at the Snaffle Bit Futurity, in addition to competing at the NCHA Futurity a month later. I'm really excited for this year."
According to Clay, competing in different associations helps to diversify his business. "We have some cutting clients that are great clients. I've worked nine years now for some of these clients, and they're super excited about good horses. They don't care if it's a good cutting horse or a good cow horse. Sometimes I suggest a horse might be a better cow horse than cutter, and they tell me to just do what I need to do. I'm really lucky that way."
Clay didn't grow up with 14-hand performance horses with petite fancy heads and snappy moves, but rather large, rugged, rangy, ranch geldings. But those horsemanship skills learned in the breaks of the Cheyenne River translated to the former. His favorite bloodlines of late are those of the ever-popular High Brow Cat.
"The horse I won the futurity on last year was a grandson of High Brow Cat, by the stallion Bet Hesa Cat. It's a really comfortable bloodline for me. They just fit me and also fit a lot of other people. They're very trainable and it's really hard to find qualities you don't like. They pretty much support themselves," Clay said, "I also like CD Lights; he's produced a lot of reined cow horses, and I've also ridden several Dual Reys I love. Two of my best prospects right now are by WR This Cat's Smart and by Metallic Cat."
Training multiple horses for two disciplines is always a challenge, but Clay handles it, often waking up at three in the morning to ride horses before the blistering Texas heat sets in, riding the horses that need to be worked on cows first, to avoid overheating cows as well.
"Someone asked me the other day, 'Why would you sentence yourself to training two different futurity horses for two different events?' I tell them that's my favorite – those three-year-olds and the training of them," he said. "We first show them as three-year-olds and early four-year-olds, then move to aged event horses, fours, fives and sixes. It's fun to watch someone else ride something you've trained. I'm very much an artist about it and I like to see a horse develop: develop its strengths, forget its weaknesses. Sometimes I can help a horse strengthen its weaknesses."
In addition to Carrie's show horses and brood mares, 30 client horses are spread throughout the barns at the Volmers' private horse training facility. Clay wants to keep selectively growing his program with the right clients, but "quality over quantity" is his mantra.
"On an average horse you can do above-average things if you just ride them enough. Hesa Royalena, the horse I won the futurity on last year – I decided he was physically talented but he was behind in some areas, so I rode him three or four times a day. He just needed more time to develop, like some athletes do," he said.
Clay rides all his two- and three-year-olds six days a week, including frequently hauling them to weekend shows and major aged events to school them.
Life as a reined cow horse- and cutting horse-trainer can come with a full schedule. Last fall, Clay spent a week at Cotton Stakes in Monroe, Louisiana, then headed west for three weeks in Reno, Nevada, for the Snaffle Bit Futurity, stopping at home for only a few days between the events.
"I took my NCHA Futurity cutting horses with me to Reno and they stayed out at Reno the whole time. I was at a cow horse show working the cutters. Other trainers were puzzled, but it was actually great for the cutters to get hauled right before their own big futurity event," Clay said.
Clay and Carrie's next step is to start their own breeding program with the opportunity to develop and use their own favorite cutting horse and reined cow horse bloodlines.
"We'll start with one of our own, a show mare that we won $75,000 on. She's bred now to have her first foal. She's really special, and she won a lot of money before Carrie and I even knew how to really show. She's a very good mare; we didn't know how good she was at the time. It's real funny, honestly, how you start understanding over time what makes a great horse in the show pen," Clay said. He plans to continue growing his business by focusing on cutters and cow horses, with an emphasis on honesty and loyalty with his clients.
Growing up in South Dakota and Nebraska, Carrie said they never imagined they would have their own training operation in Texas but are both enjoying the challenge of their respective careers. Carrie decided long ago that she would be actively showing horses in the future and being able to compete at her level and have a full-time career takes effort and passion.
"Sometimes I feel pulled in two directions, but I always say that I won't give up my hobby of showing horses for my career, and I won't give up my career of financial planning for my hobby. Most of the time, I just feel incredibly blessed to be enjoying these two things that I'm passionate about – I really do love the challenge. Clay mentions that he feels more like a horseman when pursuing two equine training disciplines."
"What it breaks down to is this," Clay said. "I enjoy showing horses that enjoy their sport. By competing in two disciplines, one that may not be good enough to be in straight-up cutting might be a fantastic cow horse. It's great how I can change it back and forth now to fit the horse."
Clay can be contacted at http://www.volmercuttinghorses.com.