Trainers’ Corner: Dustin Gonnet

August 14th, 2023 by Karen Quigao

Trainer Dustin Gonnet made cutting history this past weekend at the Black Elk Cutting Classic in Ponoka, Alberta when he surpassed the two-million-dollar mark in earnings, the first Canadian-based trainer to do so!

While he said the milestone was “exciting and awesome,” it was work as usual this week for the talented hand. “I don’t take it for granted, but things don’t change much, the horses don’t train themselves and I still have to go train them and do my job,” he said.

$2-Million Trainer Dustin Gonnet Gonnet was raised on a ranch in Saskatchewan and as a young man, he thought he would cowboy for the rest of his life. Fate intervened and at the age of 18, Gonnet attended a Doug

Reinhardt clinic which sent him down a new path.

“During the course of the clinic we got to visiting and he was wanting someone to start colts. I thought it was a good idea because I wanted to get out of the winter in Saskatchewan.” Arriving at Reinhardt’s later that fall Gonnet said, “I just kind of fell into cutting horses from there.”

“Doug is the one who obviously got me started in the cutting and taught me how to work a cow in the cutting pen. I had worked thousands and thousands of cattle just cowboying, but as far as how to get a horse to work a cow properly I learned that from Doug,” Gonnet said.

After two and a half years with Reinhardt, Gonnet, and his wife, Marla, went out on their own.

Becoming a two-million-dollar rider doesn’t come without a lot of miles in the saddle and some amazing horseman to guide you along the way a lifelong student, Gonnet watches

everyone and spends hours having insightful conversations with trainers like Winston, Paul and Gerry Hansma, Lloyd Cox and John Mitchell, who have all had a hand in helping him.

When Gonnet was just 14, he was fortunate to spend seven weeks with renowned horseman Brian Neubert and his family, learning how to start colts. He recounted how Neubert influenced him and laid the foundation for where he is today.

“That man and the whole Neubert family set me up to be where I am now. Neubert influenced me more than anyone on the horsemanship side of it. He was the one who taught me how to ask as much as I have to out of one without wreaking one. He taught me way more than he realizes in the horsemanship deal,” he said.

According to Gonnet, Bill Riddle said it best: “A horse trainer knows how to do something, but a horseman knows why you do it.” That, is what Neubert taught him, he said.

“Eric Bradley was another person that in the beginning taught me a pile, both about the mechanics of cutting and a little more about a different method. At that time, Eric had just come back from Winston and Paul Hansma’s, so it was a little bit different than what I had seen before. Eric is very methodical about what he does and very precise,” said Gonnet.

Gonnet also spent a lot of time with Scott Amos. “I would go spend two or three weeks at a time with him whenever I could, or go spend a week or two before a show down there and I learned a pile from him,” he said.

Working horses regularly three to four times a week with his good friend Kelly Cornforth, Gonnet said, “over the last 10 to 15 years I have learned and re-learned a lot of things I knew

twenty some years ago about horsemanship, Kelly has probably taught me the most. The amount of time I have spent with him and the things he has helped me with is invaluable. I have never gone and worked horses with him and not learned something.”

While his methods may have developed over the years, Gonnet said his training philosophy hasn’t changed much. “I try everyday to be a really good horseman, but because of the cutting and how competitive it is, we do have to ask a lot of these horses.”

“A friend of mine told me years ago, being a true horseman is knowing how hard you have to push a horse and knowing when to stop. I don’t ever want a horse to not want to go to work.

There might be periods in their training where they are having difficulties figuring out what I am after, but I do want to get everything out one everyday, without the horse being upset about it when I am done. If I every have to apologize to the horse for being bad, then I haven’t done my


Gonnet is also quick to acknowledge that this milestone comes with the help of his family,  “Marla and Destry – I couldn’t do it without them. Marla does everything in the background and keeps the operation running and has taken our business to another level.”

An early partnership with Ron and Jeanette Patton offered the Gonnet family the opportunity to build their business and become successful.

“I would like to thank our amazing customers and their horses, the friends who have supported us, all of the trainers who have helped turn back, and settle herds in both Canada and the US, the show producers and our sponsors. I know it is a team effort and couldn’t do it without all of them.”

Austin Shephard on Bits and Bridles

August 14th, 2023 by Karen Quigao

Looking through the bridle rack at any trainer’s barn can be both exciting and daunting: so many bits, so many different reasons to use each one. We asked 9.8-million-dollar rider, Austin Shepard to share his insight on the bits he uses and why.

Austin-ShephardShepard begins with the basics when making your choice. “The bridle bit you use really translates what you are trying to do to teach the horse, whether it is in the early stages in a hackamore or side-pull to a bigger show bridle. It can help the horse mature or go back and go over some things they learned earlier,” he said.

Preferring to ride them only in a snaffle in their two-year-old year, Shepard is still prepared to step back into a hackamore as training progresses, if he finds a horse is a bit worried about the snaffle.

Shepard will begin to introduce a correction or something with leverage early in their three-year-old year.

“I like to put on a small short shank correction, with a leather curb and maybe something with a martingale as close as I can get it to a snaffle, but with more stop,” said Shepard.

However he does caution that, “It takes a while for them to really get use to the correction bit, they do not automatically pack it like they do a snaffle.”

When deciding to use a leather or chain curb strap, Shepard said the leather is a lot easier on them. “They definitely need something soft and loose, the tighter it is the more leverage it has. You don’t want to go from a regular snaffle into a dog chain and curb,” he explained.

As a horse becomes a three-year-old, Shepard might move into a correction with a longer shank adding a bit more leverage. Although he like to keep a horse in a correction for a while, he likes to show a horse in a solid elephant bit.

“Some horses I might keep in a correction or something like a Buster Welsh bit that swivels but it depends on the horse. If a horse gets a bit stiff in a straight bridle, I might go back to something that has a solid mouthpiece that has a swivel shanks on the side and still get a little left and right, but the mouthpiece simulates a show bridle,” he said.

Although the solid show bits can have an intimidating look to them, Shepard shed light on the biggest misconception about them.

“Putting a bigger bridle on a horse, people put it on with the attitude they are going to get a horse to back off of it, more than they are going to put them into the bridle. A lot of people go to a bigger bridle to get into a horse for something. You can also scare a horse in a twisted wire, it is all about how you use it,” said Shepard.

“By putting a bigger bridle on a horse, it allows me to have softer hands, to where I am not getting in the horse’s way when they are working a cow. I can stop a horse real quick if I use my hands and my feet right,” he explained.

Figuring out which bridle a horse feels comfortable in can be difficult but it is paramount when cutting cows.

“Once you put your hand down the bridle is really immaterial, you need to be able to go cut your cows in it. If a horse handles well and is comfortable in it, they respect it but are not afraid of it.”

Shepard tends to favor bits with a bit of weight to them but does not like the bars to be too thick and heavy.

“The thinner the bar,  the sharper they are, but a lot of the feel comes from the angle on the mouthpiece.” When looking at the mouthpiece he explained, “The 90-degree angle can be sharp and quicker. It’s right there on their tongue and is quicker than a mouthpiece that is rounded.”

Brain chains and tie-downs: what are they and when to use them?

A brain chain is a tie down that has a poll strap and is designed to help teach a horse to keep its head down. Shepard said,

“A brain chain is good for a horse that kind of wants to argue with you and wants to get their head up and doesn’t want to get broke in the face. It allows you to work a horse with your hands lower and not have to do near as much to make them come back to you when you are working a cow. Like anything, it can get over used.”

“I have noticed that the horses that you work in a tie-down too much, kind of get their feet out in front of their face, they rely on bracing against the tie-down and it doesn’t let them draw their front feet under them like they have to to turn around,” he explained.

“I don’t want one too loose, I don’t want their head to go above the saddle horn.”

The key, Shepard said, is to be consistent with the bit or tack you choose.

“Whatever you use on the horse, be it a bigger bridle, a smaller bridle, tie-down, brain chain, martingale or whatever, you have to use it enough so it makes sense to the horse.” Shepard said.

“You don’t want to confuse them. It has to be something you can use to work a horse on a cow and the horse doesn’t argue with you and the horse does what you want them to do without thinking about you.”

Once he finds the show bridle that his horse is comfortable in and works well with, Shepard will work them in that show bridle for a day or two before he leaves home to get them mentally prepared.

“I believe when you put a show bridle on at home they know the difference, they get more serious. I like to put a show bridle on a horse and then lope them some more before you go show them because when you put it on them, it is just part of game time thing to them.”

“I have seen some horses where you put that show bridle on them and they perk up so they need to go warm back up a bit with it on. I don’t like to just stick it on and walk to the herd,” Shepard said.

The bottom line is, the horse tells you what it likes verses you telling the horse what he should like.

Member Spotlight: Doug Sapergia – Calgary, AB, Canada

August 14th, 2023 by Karen Quigao

Photo by Krystina Kowalik

Raised on a cattle ranch in Saskatchewan, Canada, Doug Sapergia has always been surrounded by horses and cattle and after 47 years in the farrier business, has many friends and customers in the cutting industry.

Living south of Calgary, Alberta, in the heart of horse country, and showing reined cow horses for a number of years, Sapergia decided he wanted to try his hand at cutting.

“I have always wanted to cut but never really had the opportunity until the last few years. I ride with Doug Reinhardt and Brad Pedersen, but have so much help from all of the different trainers in Alberta, I just can’t thank them enough.”

“We are very fortunate to have a group of trainers that will always stop and give you advice and help you out,” Sapergia said.

“My biggest struggle is staying balanced on a cow and work to correct that in lessons and on the flag,” said Sapergia.

What does he love the most about CHTO?

“I love CHTO because the videos are all relevant and they have a wide variety of topics to watch. I really like to watch the overhead views, where you can see how the cattle roll and can really see the position of the horse.”


The Long Lasting Impressions of Buster Welch

April 14th, 2023 by Karen Quigao

Buster Welch was not the only talented cutting horse trainer in his day but his knack for young horses was what set him apart.

“It’s like cooking a dish. It’s never one thing that makes it better. It’s about 50 things at the right time. What Buster had more than anything, he had feel. He had so much feel and so much cow,” trainer and friend, Kory Pounds said.

Kory and Buster ready to head out on the ranch.

“When he was working a horse he wasn’t thinking he was going to present it to a judge… He thought everything he did with a cow and a horse was just [ranch work], that’s how his idea of the round pen came about… It was whatever the cow did, the horse did. That was his thought process,” said Pounds.

Pounds was working for a rodeo outfit when a friend mentioned he knew  of a cutting horse trainer that needed some help. That trainer was Welch who hired Pounds to help him work cutting horses in the morning and ranch in the evenings. Read the rest of this entry »

Member Spotlight – Hilaria Gutierrez – Dragoon, AZ

April 14th, 2023 by Karen Quigao

Hilaria Gutierrez and her husband run a ranch of about 300 head of cattle in Arizona. They had a mare that was extremely good at sorting cattle so Gutierrez wanted to take her to a ranch cutting in 2021. She had never done any kind of cutting. Gutierrez didn’t know the rules but she said the horse tried hard for her.

In the cowboy world, once you’re in your spot herding cattle that’s your spot. Gutierrez didn’t realize she could ride in front of the turnback help because that’s a big no when ranching. She lost a cow, but found a new passion. She decided to pursue cutting and a friend recommended a trainer to her. Read the rest of this entry »

Member Spotlight – Bobby Kearney – Statesville, NC

September 12th, 2022 by Simone Cobb

You can’t beat that first buckle feeling. Bobby pictured at Right

Bobby Kearney grew up in Nevada and was influenced by his grandfather who would tell him how special a cutting horse was. He would get to ride occasionally as a boy, but after he finished medical school the first thing he did was buy a horse.

He attended the PCCHA cutting shows in Reno and would watch and talk with people. They moved to North Carolina and he put horses to the side after experiencing difficulties finding a trainer. Eventually an employee invited him to come riding and much to his excitement she rode cutting horses!

Kearney said 2021 was his Rookie year and he was able to show a few times. He has met some of his goals already including winning his first buckle and making sure there was a seven in front of his score. Keep on reading!

Trainer’s Corner – Hayden Upton

September 12th, 2022 by Simone Cobb

Total Earnings: $452,273

An apprenticeship to an equine chiropractor brought Hayden Upton to the United States from Australia 22 years ago. He grew up around horses but it was through working on cutting horses that drew him into the sport as a trainer. Upton had worked for Gerald O’Brien in Australia where he learnt how to break horses of all disciplines from thoroughbreds to kid’s ponies but he never worked for a cutting horse trainer. Keep On Reading!

Buster Welch – How his Legacy Lives On

September 12th, 2022 by Simone Cobb

Wes (19) with Buster in the chuck wagon tent while they were branding cows at Buster’s ranch 20 years ago.

From bits and saddles, to working a cutting horse in a round pen, to helping start the NCHA and hosting the first futurity, Buster Welch made cutting what it is today.

“Anybody that has [ridden] a cutting horse has been influenced by him whether they know it or not,” $9.1 million earner Austin Shepard said of his good friend Welch, who passed away June 12th, 2022 at his Abilene home at 94 years old.

Keep On Reading!

Member Spotlight – Dave Afseth – Calgary, AB, Canada

August 9th, 2022 by Simone Cobb

Dave and The Heart of Mic

Growing up, Dave Afseth said he rode a horse more than he rode a bicycle. They didn’t have fancy horses, he said. “If it had hair and four legs and it could gather the cows…”, then it was good enough for him.

He moved on from horses for a few years and raised a family. Then life in the saddle lured him back. He found himself at a cutting horse competition and was hooked just watching it. He ended up buying a horse and boarding it at a cutting horse facility. Keep On Reading!

Trainer’s Corner – Michael Cooper – Weatherford, TX

August 9th, 2022 by Simone Cobb

Total Earnings: $4,187,197

Michael Cooper never worked for a cutting horse trainer and literally came from nothing. He is from Missouri originally and learned about cutting when he traveled to Arkansas to visit relatives who happened to work for a cutting horse trainer. They offered to let Cooper work a cutting horse and he couldn’t believe what he was feeling. He learned by watching everything he could about cutting and even wore out training dvds. Keep On Reading!

Honoring a Legacy: NCHA Australia Celebrates 50 Years

August 9th, 2022 by Simone Cobb

The talented group of Legends that have left their mark on the sport.

Milestones are meant to be celebrated! NCHA Australia recently celebrated 50 years of cutting at the 2022 NCHA 4Cyte Futurity! On June 10th the Association held a fantastic evening showcasing memorabilia, launching a book called A Good Hand by Gail Ritchie and 11 of Australia’s cutting legends walked to the herd in an event that was more packed than the Futurity finals. Keep On Reading!

Cutting De Brazil!

July 7th, 2022 by Simone Cobb

Luis Fernando Taboga rode JSA Comanche Way to a 75 claiming the Open Futurity last month in Brazil. Photo by: Adilson Silva

The Amazon rainforest, stunning beaches and colorful festivals come to mind at the mention of Brazil. But Brazil also has a rich ranching history and a growing cutting horse industry.

After working for Beau Galyean for two short years, Brazilian trainer Rodrigo Taboga has amassed close to a million dollars in winnings and numerous championships under his belt.

He got his start in Sao Paulo, riding cutters on his father’s ranch and competing in the Associação Nacional do Cavalo de Apartação, the Brazilian affiliate of the NCHA, which was founded in 1989.
Keep On Reading!

Trainer’s Corner – Monty Buntin – Lincoln, CA

July 7th, 2022 by Simone Cobb

Total Earnings: $2,133,396

Monty Buntin grew up on a small ranch in Arizona and was always into horses. A neighbor three miles away had a ranch and Buntin soaked up as much barn time there as he could. Buntin was introduced to Yancy James and Lance Harrel, Leon Harrel’s son. They introduced him to cutting.

He spent some time with Salvador Cabral and at 18 he went on to work for Tim Smith. Buntin later got a job working for Smith’s clients in Lockeford, CA.

Keep On Reading!

Member Spotlight – Gary Kuoppala – Mountain Iron, MN

July 7th, 2022 by Simone Cobb

Gary and Wildest Dreamz

Gary Kuoppala grew up on a dairy farm so he had plenty of experience working with cows. He went to farrier school and ended up becoming a horse trainer. He was later introduced to cutting and wanted to give it a try.

He typically starts colts in his program but he purchased a filly with the intention of training her into a cutting horse. He spent a little time with a local trainer but he rides by himself and does all of his own training.
Keep On Reading!

Member Spotlight – Brad Jordan – Warm Springs, GA

June 8th, 2022 by Simone Cobb

Brad and Macie
Photo by: Seth Petit

Brad Jordan was introduced to cutting through his daughter’s barrel racing coach and family. He and his daughter followed them into the sport. He has really enjoyed cutting and has been working at his skills for two years.

“I’m more about building a connection with the horse. I love the sport and I want to win and be competitive but for me it builds a bond with the horse that I probably wouldn’t have built otherwise. That is important to me.”

Keep On Reading!

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