Total Earnings: $8,720,908
Austin Shepard grew up around cutting horses and learned the tricks of the trade from his late father, trainer Sam Shepard. He knew very early that cutting was what he wanted to pursue. His parents split up when Shepard was young so he and his mother moved into the city. He was very involved in sports and in the summer he would go ride horses with his dad. He wasn’t around the horses all the time so, he said, that only increased his interest in riding.
The only job he ever had in cutting was with his dad but he grew up around Bill Riddle, Ronnie Rice, Jody Galyean, Buster Welch, Pat Earnheart and many more. He said there was always a long list of trainers he could watch and learn from. He has been training for the public for 26 years now.
What is your training philosophy?
“It’s very cow related. I’m not very good at mechanical training, it’s just not the way I was taught. My dad came from Buster Welch’s school of thought and it was very cow related. I would say just teaching a horse not only how to do it but why they’re doing it. I think the cow does that for me.”
What’s been your most memorable moment in the sport?
“Winning the Futurities and the Open World Championship.”
Shepard won the 2007 Futurity aboard High Brow CD and he won the 2017 Futurity on Dual Reyish. He was also the 2017 Open World Champion with Deluxe Checks. Austin rode Thomas E Hughes (2009), Bet Hesa Cat (2011), and Bamacat (2015) to claim the title of World Champion Stallions.
What is your preference when picking cattle?
“I prefer a charolais cow as opposed to any other. They tend to have a little more move, a little more feel. I am open to any cow that feels good. A cow that has color, charolais or red, to me they might try you a little bit harder.”
What inspires you?
“I love training a good horse and I love the relationship between a cow and a horse. It’s what drives me…I usually get them towards the end of their two-year-old year. You work those two year olds, early three year olds and you feel some good stuff but you don’t feel an interaction between the horse and the cow and then one day, it might just be two to three turns on their own that are just right. It’s them understanding why they’ve been taught to stop, back up and turn around. I love that relationship between a cow and a horse. It’s unlike any other equine athlete. It’s totally on the horse’s thought process. When they take over, it’s a great feeling.”
What are your goals now?
“I just want to keep training good horses for good people. I enjoy the friendships I get from customers. Most of my customers have been with me for a long time, they’re also friends not just our customers. I love working good horses…I love bringing horses along and seasoning them and I don’t know that I’ll ever get tired of it…short term I’d like to make the Futurity finals this year and see my customers and son Cade do good.”
How do you let the cow teach the horse?
“These horses these days are so well bred for this. It’s in their blood, no different than it is in a thoroughbred’s blood to run. To me, that two year-old year, we go through the basics so you can handle them and ride them…As you go they get more responsibility. The really good horses want to do it so bad you almost have to keep them from doing too much. Allowing that cow to help you train that horse, I learned a lot of that from my dad, it’s a lot of give and take. Maybe putting up with some mistakes just so they see that it’s ok to take over and work the cow. Then you go back and work on the basics with them. If they can stop, back up, and turn around in time with that cow and read it, then you have a cow horse. Some guys are able to take a lot of that [cow] out and still be competitive… I’ve always enjoyed that relationship between a cow and a horse. And that’s the fun in my job. When that horse realizes it needs to keep the cow out of the herd and they take all of your training, and relate it to the cow, that’s when I feel like I have a real trained cow horse.”
How do you define feel?
“Feel is being able to correct a horse and not get in their way. Buster Welch said for a horse to really understand what you’re trying to teach them on a cow you have to do it in a way that the horse feels like the cow did it to them. I think that’s also an explanation for your last question. Feel is knowing when a horse needs correction and when they don’t and being able to do it in time with the cow where you don’t take the attention off of the cow and put it on yourself.”
How broke do you like your horses?
“I want a horse that’s very broke…The old school of cow horse training was if you got them too broke, you took the cow out of them. Back in those days the horses were a little different and that may have been the way things were. But I always say I want a horse broke enough that I can correct them on a cow and I don’t take the attention off of a cow. I want to have them broke enough that I can stop them and back them as quick as I want to and their head isn’t upside down. If I can correct a horse quickly and give it back to them, that’s as broke as I want them.”
Do you have any interests outside of cutting?
“I really enjoy thoroughbred racing… When I was 11 or 12 we went two years in a row to the Belmont Stakes and did an exhibition with the cutting horses. We got to ride on the track in the post parade before the races started. I really fell in love with it then. I’m a huge college football fan. I follow pro football and basketball as well.”
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