Trainer, farrier turns out steer wrestling horses
Soft spoken and modest, Gabe Taylor of Valentine, NE, has the experience and patience to teach a willing kid – or better yet – an athletic young horse all about “the big man’s event,” also known as steer wrestling.
An accomplished farrier, busy horse trainer and successful rodeo cowboy, Taylor does well at all three tasks by building upon a strong foundation of integrity and natural ability.
Taylor most recently has stayed particularly busy shoeing and trimming horses, giving him the ability to be more choosy about the horses he trains and performs on. “I used to ride a lot of outside colts before the shoeing picked up,” he reports. “At that time I was also doing a lot of day work to make ends meet, so riding colts fit well … but now my main deal is shoeing and training bulldogging horses,” he reported, adding that riding colts isn’t the best thing to be doing in Valentine in February. The young man was grateful for the chance to train under a “journeyman” farrier, learning some corrective techniques and working on a variety of horses. He now travels 90-100 miles to trim and shoe.
Taylor said that he has never bought a trained bulldogging horse except maybe in high school. “The thing with bulldogging is … we get all the rejects,” laughed Taylor. “Horses that don’t work for a barrel racer or that won’t stop for a team roper – those are the horses we end up with. Nobody starts a good prospect as a bulldogging horse.” But while others may have trouble, Taylor makes the ‘rejects’ as well as his own home-raised colts work. He enjoys starting his own colts and has taken a liking to progeny out of the Fulton Quarter Horse’s stallion CS Flashlight, a gray horse with speed and cow in his bloodlines. “He isn’t old enough to have a lot of his sons or daughters competing yet but what I’ve seen, I really like; they have been easy to start and they are looking for a job.” Additionally, Taylor has enjoyed raising and training colts out of Wynn and Jill Hipke’s (his in-law’s) stud, who goes back to two beloved cowhorses – Poco Bueno and Driftwood.
Taylor said his dad, Don, is willing to start some of his horses in the box by roping on them. “You can’t expect a three- or four-year-old to back in the box right off, but if they can rope a little bit they will get fairly comfortable in the box. When you’re bulldogging on them you’re asking them for everything so it rarely works to start them out that way.”
Taylor said that “chargy” horses that the team ropers can’t keep behind the cattle can end up being good bulldogging prospects. “You ask those horses to run by a few times, and if they like it, they’ll generally make bulldogging horses. I’ve been able to sell them to several levels of competitors, from high school to professionals,” he said. He sold a horse last fall to NFR competitor and California cowboy Ethan Thouvenell who was number one in the world at the time, but sadly the horse endured an injury and had to be put down just three weeks later.
Taylor said he likes to work on about two or three horses at a time but sometimes has as many has five under his watch. “I like to practice three or four days per week at home when I can, but when the weather is bad and the ground is frozen, I go to Fulton’s and use their indoor arena and then I usually only make it about twice a week,” he said.
According to Taylor, a soft bit usually works best for a bulldogging horse. “You’re not really using the bit except to guide them left or right,” he said. He likes the horse to “stand up” in his hand or put pressure on the reins as opposed to a team roper who wants the horse to back off. “I use a real short shank – broken bit or a snaffle,” he said if there is a problem with the horse not working it is often the ‘operator’ instead of the bit.
Scoring – the horse being willing to wait for the rider’s cue instead of running out of the box at will – is extremely important for bulldoggers. “Those ropers can miss the barrier a little (leave the box a little late) but bulldoggers have to be so sharp on their scoring. Missing the barrier in bulldogging is way different than in team roping – those ropers can often throw a longer lope and still be in the same neighborhood as the really tough competitors but it doesn’t matter what you do as a steer wrestler, scoring is just absolutely crucial. I want my horse stood up in the bit and when I drop my hand he’d better be leaving,” he said.
Taylor usually uses a felt or cotton pad and then a wool or foam pad on top, plus a bulldogging saddle, when training. “The biggest thing is making sure the saddle is on right, they will get to ducking if that saddle doesn’t fit right,” he said. “Make sure the saddle pads are ahead of your fenders – it can pinch a bulldogging horse if the pads are too far back – I try to make it easy because there are so many things that can go wrong, that I want to control those things that I can.”
“Hay and some three-way grain,” is what Taylor feeds his performance horses. “When they get to working hard, I feed Woody’s summer heat, hay and formula seven-o-seven a – vitamin supplement,” said Taylor.
Taylor said he will pattern the horse for six or seven steers and then often jump off after that if he thinks the horse is ready. “I crawl off them pretty early compared to some trainers,” he admitted. “It depends on how they feel. The biggest thing is having a hazer who’s paying attention. I like it when they keep the steer straight down the middle.” He said that the hazer should keep running and ‘race’ the bulldogging horse to the end, to encourage it to keep running as the bulldogger gets off. “If they come across you, your feet land to the right of you and that makes it hard to bulldog.”
He is slow to admit it but Taylor said his wife is one of his favorite hazers. “That kind of thing usually ends in divorce,” he laughed.
Taylor said haze horses are usually “cheap” but he will peddle one that way if it is really good. “People don’t realize how important a good one is,” he said, adding that the paint haze horse that NFR competitor Lee Graves of Alberta, Canada, uses was started by himself and Lynn Churchill. “It was neat to see that horse at the finals,” said Taylor.
It seems appropriate that Taylor would ‘tailor’ his training regimen to fit the horse. “I start with a set routine but it really depends on the horse … you’ve kinda got to read them. You get some of them that are freaks that will really run and are not very good in the box … and some that are good in the box but can’t run, so with those you have to take totally different approach,” he said. “Speed is important but a bulldogging horse has to do three things well – he has to score, has to run and has to give you a good go (a good pattern) every time. If you’ve only got two of those things you aren’t doing any good. If they score and run but chop your feet off you aren’t going to win anything, you’ve got to have them all … and it’s kind hard to have all three in one horse,” he admitted.
His ideal horse would have to be “Jesse,” a superstar bulldogging horse owned by Lee Graves but ridden by professional steer wrestlers across the country.
“I actually got to ride Jesse years ago when Harrison Halligan (from Nebraska) owned him,” said Taylor. “That was cool but he wasn’t nearly as broke then.”
Taylor said he “hates sitting around at rodeos” so he’s able to make some cash by shoeing and trimming while others are just waiting around for the next go. Plus the physically demanding task keeps him in shape for the next steer wrestling run. “I don’t have an ACL in my right leg, I blew it out years go, but I kept shoeing and the tests have all showed negative for any kind of problem. I guess the shoeing has just kept me in shape and helped me heal,” Taylor said.
Daughter Gracie, 8, and sons Thane, 6, and Keene, 1, keep Taylor and his wife Renee (Hipke), a practicing chiropractor in Valentine, busy. He mostly enters rodeos that are close to home because he “hates being away” from his wife and kids. He can be reached at 308-430-5393 but this writer will admit he isn’t an easy man to reach!
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As a routine management matter, the Teddy Roosevelt National Park plans to remove a few horses from its herd.