Most interesting and rewarding journeys are never taken in a straight line. That’s certainly been the case for $8.5 million dollar earner Matt Gaines who took a few side paths on his way to becoming one of the greatest trainers in the sport of cutting.
Despite his father Dick being a successful cutting horse trainer, Gaines decided to go to college and earn an agriculture business degree. He then went on to work for tack manufacturer Dennis Moreland. But eventually, Gaines realized none of those routes were for him so he moved to Mississippi and started training horses.
Gaines never worked for any trainers other than his dad, but he has trained alongside greats like Winston and Paul Hansma and many others over the years.
The longer he has been training horses, Gaines (who has won almost every major NCHA title), said the more he focuses on his position and timing on a cow.
“If you always try to stay in position [we all vary with our positioning] but I stay even with a cow’s head or just past where I can try to stop that cow and control it without being over committed or too far past the cow or too far inside the cow where I can’t stop it.”
“I like to have my horses disciplined enough, so when…you do get a cow stopped, [the horse will] wait and let that cow pull them through the turn. That’s the timing part of it. If I stress timing and position when training and working a horse, today the horses are cowy and smart and athletic, that cow is going to hold everything together and that horse is going to be confident in where I am asking him to go.”
“I really try to keep it as simple as I can in doing that. I feel that if I am consistent with my positioning and timing on the cow, the cow’s going to hold my horse in position, therefore my horse is going to gain more confidence. I think a confident horse is a smart horse. So it all ties together.”
In the future, Gaines sees himself spending more time teaching, which is something he’s always enjoyed.
“There are several people I have tried to help just like [other trainers] helped me… To me [helping others] is just part of cutting…It’s part of being in the cutting family. We all realize how much work this is and it’s not rocket science, but it’s hard. Some horses are difficult so it’s good to be able to have people you can talk to that have been through it.”
Gaines said that the one thing you can’t train into a horse is heart. That is the most important quality he wants to feel in a horse.
“You can help them be smarter, you can make it easier for them sometimes. You can’t make them more athletic…they either have heart or they don’t…all the special horses have a lot of heart”
Do you have any preferences when it comes to picking cows?
“It depends on what the goal of each run is. And what horse you’re showing. When I watch cows, my eye doesn’t immediately go to black cattle. I noticed the colored cattle first…I feel like over the years [of experience] the [colored] cattle tend to have more feel than the black cows. That being said, I won the Futurity cutting 3 black cows on purpose…”
How do you define feel?
“When someone has feel for a horse, they know what’s going to happen before it happens because of what they feel under that horse. [If I am on a horse] I can tell you, before we ever get stopped, if that horse is going to be able to turn around properly or not.”