One of the most exiting aspects of the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo is that for the price of a general admission ticket, you can have access to some of the best clinicians in the country. The clinics are given by established experts in their chosen discipline. At the 2013 edition of the Horse Expo, 35 clinicians had multi-day presentations ranging from horse massage to riding to vaulting and much more.
Expo patrons, whose passion is the ranch horse, versatility or working ranch cow horse, were justifiably excited to hear that Bill Scebbi, Executive Director of the Horse Expo, had brought in Mike Major as a clinician. When it comes to training and working with cow horses, clinicians do not come with much better credentials than Mike Major of Fowler, Colo.
Mike Major has won just about every premier award there is when it comes to ranch horses. Major can best be described by saying that he is a horseman and a cowboy, and darn good at it. He proved that by winning the inaugural Project Cowboy, which was jointly sponsored by AQHA and Western Horseman.
One hundred and sixty five contestants from different riding disciplines, displayed their training ability with their own horse and with unknown horses while competing for a $10,000 cash prize. After three grueling days, Mike Major, riding without a bridle for much of the competition, and Black Hope Stik, a mare out of his breeding program, were the best of the best.
Black Hope Stik, which Mike tends to call ‘the black mare,’ is by Smart Whisky Doc and out of Hope Stik. Major also rode Black Hope Stik to a win in the Ranch Remuda Finals of the inaugural AQHA Battle in the Saddle. After the win Major said, “We’re proud of this mare. Her mother goes back to one of the first horses I started raising when I got into the horse business. Her daddy is Smart Whiskey Doc and so we’re really proud to have something that has been in our program all the way through, especially by our stud horse that’s done us so much good.”
Smart Whiskey Doc is a 1999 Bay stallion whose sire is Paddys Irish Whiskey and Smart Little Carol is his dam. When Mike Major talks about Smart Whiskey Doc doing his program “so much good,” he is referring to the fact that Smart Whiskey Doc is a three-time AQHA World Champion Versatility Ranch Horse, he was also named the World’s Greatest Versatility Ranch Horse by the National Versatility Ranch Association (NVRHA),and is a World Champion Bayer Select Working Cow Horse, and the 2006 and 2007 High Point Horse for Versatility Ranch Horse.
To the question of how he would describe his philosophy of teaching and what he hopes to accomplish in his clinics, Major replied, “My philosophy is collection and softness in the horses, because, with the clinics I’ve done and the people that I’ve helped ride, most people have trouble getting their horses collected and keeping their horse soft. When they go to getting speed the horses have a tendency to really get flat and get unresponsive in the bridle. So most of my clinics are on control of the horse’s body and really trying to keep that horse soft and to teach that horse to stay collected — also how to collect himself and be collected — it’s not so much me teaching the horse how to do it as showing them how we want it done.”
Major continued, “It’s kind of like a dance, if you take someone and you want to tango with them, and they have never done the tango before, there’s no way in the world they are going to be able to do it. But if you’ll teach people the dance steps, and it’s the same with the horse — teach them the maneuvers, teach them how you want them to move their feet and move their body to be soft and then you can go ahead and start trying to do your performance and the different maneuvers. That way the horse has the some insight as to what you’re trying to get done.”
Major explained that Collection, as it is applied to ranch horses was pretty much the same as when the term is applied to jumpers. It is a coiling of the spring so that power is available and ready when needed. “To collect, a horse has to have his back feet up underneath him, and it’s just like guarding a basketball player, you are either standing there flat-footed or you are on your toes ready to move. Collection in a horse is virtually the same. Only they’ve got four feet on the ground and we’ve got only two, but you’ve got a horse that their back feet and their front feet are closer together. The power is in the back end, so that way they’ve got their back end up underneath them so they can jump and move that front end to the right or left,” said Major.
There is no question that Mike Major is an outstanding rider, competitor and horse trainer. Being all those things does not necessarily make you a good clinician. In other words, can you take all those things that you and your horses “are,” and convert them into thoughts, words and concepts that a human can understand — in short, are you a teacher?
In Mike Major’s case the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Not only does he have a DVD series that covers Body Control of the horse, Collection and Softness, and Transitions, but he has written “Ranch Horse Versatility” for the very popular Western Horseman book series. The subtitle of the book is “A Winner’s Guide to Successful Rides” and anyone that is fortunate enough to get training by Mike Major, whether in person at a clinic or through his books and DVD’s will be well down the road to becoming a more successful rider.
If the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo is fortunate enough to have Mike Major as a clinician in 2014, be sure to attend his clinic. In the meantime, you can contact the Major Cattle Company at (719) 543-7527 for more information. ❖