Total Earnings: $4,468,839
After a childhood spent in the saddle showing in western pleasure, English and cutting, John Mitchell decided early on that dropping the reins was the sport for him.
Originally from Australia, Mitchell began riding horses for Winderadeen, a large quarter horse breeder in New South Wales.
Afterwards, Mitchell went to work for well known trainer Graham Amos to learn how to train cutting horses. Along the way, many others have had a hand in helping develop him into the trainer he is today.
Mitchell came to the States for the first time at 14 years old and celebrated his 15th birthday there.
“I came back and forth for years. I came with a youth team, non-pro team and I’d come back and forth to watch the Futurity for several years…I got more comfortable here and [after] seeing what was here, the goal was to try to come over,” he said.
And he did, training for Slate River Ranch in Virginia and then Weatherford, TX in 1997. He has been training for Glade Knight for 23 years and counting.
What is your training philosophy?
Mitchell reflects on what Graham Amos taught him and how training concepts are related to life experiences.
“If you don’t treat the horse like family, he’ll never be what he could be. And if you go and show a horse on the weekend, you apologize to them on Monday because you had to ride harder than you should have so you need to apologize. That’s probably been the thing that made me have horses get better and better through their career instead of getting burnt out. It’s knowing to go back and apologize for basically lying to them…Treat them like family and always apologize to them after you show them.” Like a mental break for the horse? “You go back and support them. And show them what you’ve taught them in a way that it’s not scary, it’s not too hard. Because what brings out brilliance in a horse is a little bit of difficulty. When you show, you put them in a difficult situation and it brings out brilliance because there’s a slight fear factor. But [the horse] rises to that occasion. If you’ve done the job and the horse is confident, [the horse] will get through that. It cannot maintain that day in and day out, without going back to basics and showing the horse what you’ve taught it and how it got to be able to cope with that.”
What is the most important quality you must have in a horse?
“To truly have a cow horse. To add to that, a horse that’s got instinctive cow sense, like a sheep dog, it’s got to have the natural sense to want to work that animal. On top of that, it [comes down to] training and trust…”
How have you changed your training style over the years?
“ …I know now in the last 3 or 4 years I can communicate with a horse with so much less fuss… You keep learning but truthfully it’s trying to learn how to do it properly. You learn along the way and it’s always different stuff. Trying to do what you’ve learnt properly. Without so much background noise.”
Do you have preferences when it comes to picking cattle?
“[In cutting], you can bank on an element of luck…But it’s how a cow reacts to the horse settling the cattle. It’s not what a cow looks like standing over there on the edge of the arena chewing its cud with no pressure. So it comes down to what that cow is going to do when you put pressure on it with the horse.
“Because pressure is going to happen to that animal as you cut it away from the other cattle it’s going to feel pressure. If you’re watching, they will tell you whether they accept that well or they don’t. That’s a fine line.
“To win, you have to cut a cow that is going to let you cut it, but it’s going to have the fear of what you just did to it to challenge you enough to get back to the others for you to win… Those cows will tell you what they are going to do if you watch their reaction to the horse settling the cows… They show you all their personalities during the settling.”
How would you define feel?
“Feel is your ability to judge how pushy that horse is being, to how much pressure you’ve put on that horse to go catch a cow or move away. Feel is one of those things you have to establish as you learn and have that knowledge and experience to do what it takes and not do more. That takes a lot of concentration and a lot of time…
“When a fast good cow starts to work a horse, the feel that gets created between those two animals is amazing, when a horse is cowy. You’ve got to stay balanced, in that feel to stay between that horse and cow so you can manipulate what’s going to happen next…You have to stay between those two magnets, between the cow and the horse, to keep the horse correct, communicate with the horse and actually be supportive and help the horse. That’s a very fine line…
“You’ve got an animal working another animal you need to be able to be in the mix and feel if that horse needs to move away from the cow or stay right there or he needs to take one more step or he needs to hurry up or slow down…That’s what it takes to be good at this.”
In regards to young trainers?
“…Sheer try, sheer effort, it’s amazing what it wins. The youthful mind is not educated enough to be scared of what really could go wrong so that effort is amazing during those years. You’re not scared of failing, you’re totally the underdog…You just push yourself so hard.
“And being a guy from another country, [that] thought everything’s better in America, everything’s bigger you show up and you have no idea, truthfully, if you can succeed so your effort is off the chart. There’s not a chart that could capture it, your effort and your try. You will win and do great if you truly just keep trying and trying hard. You’ve done that and you’ve paved a little bit of a way, you’ve squeezed through the gaps, you think you can compete and you’re doing pretty good, might be able to make it in this and then it even gets tougher. Because you start to learn what can go wrong. Now it’s more confusing and more difficult to stay on track…
“Now you’ve got people around you that accept you and you have more information coming in than you can process. There’s an area and a window of time in your career that it just becomes nearly impossible to do as good as you were doing when you didn’t know half as much back then. And then if you fight through that, you keep going, and you come out the other side of that.”