Joe Wolter Interview

Joe’s career started when he finished high school, he worked on several ranches before arriving at the Soldier Meadows Ranch where the cow boss was a man named Ray Hunt.

After working for Ray for a number of years, Joe then took a job on a ranch in Salinas, California. There he became friends with Bill Dorrance. Together they conducted roping clinics together.

Joe then moved to Texas the home of his wife and in 2002 he won the inaugural AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse competition at the Fort Worth Stock Show and continued to compete for several years.

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Today Joe’s schedule is predominantly holding clinics, which is where we had the opportunity to chat with Joe during one of his two 2017 UK clinics. The first clinic held in Kent was focused on horsemanship and the second held in Lincolnshire was a cow working clinic.

WHUK: For people who aren’t likely to work with cows regularly, what do they learn from a cow working clinic?

Joe: If their horse is insecure; it can help them find new ways to handle this. Cow work encourages you and your horse to problem solve. Working a cow takes precision and timing; it will show how responsive your horse is to you.

The horses can go from being quite insecure in the beginning to then wanting to follow the cow. The riders also started out nervous on the first day, but by the end of the second day they were having fun with their horses doing something completely new. It’s great that people are drawn to trying something new.

WHUK: What one thing would you like people to take away from this clinic?

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Joe: What stood out for me is how quickly a horse will change if the rider changes, it proves how much the horse is trying to get along. I would like people to be open to change as quickly, in particular releasing the horse rather than hanging on, which is a natural human instinct that takes a little time to overcome.

Rider’s need to be connected to the horses feet, from the riders hands to the horses feet and then you will have his mind. It’s ok to let horses move, if he’s moving then you can direct the motion.

People tend to confine the horse instead of giving him the freedom to work out a problem and make a decision. If you try to keep a horse from moving, he will want to move. If it’s his decision, he will desire to stand still.

Conversation with a horse is being aware and letting the horse figure stuff out. Setting hands, so the horse is pulling not the rider.

WHUK: During the clinic you referred to the ‘cow turn’, how is this different to a spin?

JOE: A spin is a forward motion, so the font leg crosses over the front. For a cow turn you want the outside leg to cross behind and draw the horse back. If you imagine a line in front of the horse, the horse would not step over it.

In today's clinic I had participants turning away from the cow, over time and with more practice they would develop to turn towards the cow.

WHUK: How has your horsemanship journey evolved?

Joe: When I saw a guy ride in this way, a way that the horses looked happy at any speed, I was young and I wanted to know how that worked and so the journey began. When did I get there? I am still working on it but getting there.

Through clinics, hopefully it won’t take others so long, although people learn at different speeds. The people that do make the change, it will be because they worked for it and they are also the people that are able to let things happen rather than make them happen.

Horses will fill in for a rider, the right horse will do it despite the rider but I have learnt the most from the horses that don’t fill in for me.

WHUK: Who was the guy you saw riding that inspired you?

Joe: Ray Hunt

WHUK: Does competition help people learn or restrict learning?

Joe: Competition can be good, it’s tough though, when it’s your living. It can be difficult to keep learning and to stay open – if successful why change especially if it may risk your livelihood?

I don’t compete now but I did for 10 years. I enjoyed the learning portion but not the stress, as it was part of my living at that time. I like setting goals and seeing if I can match them. Competing and having goals did make me a better rider.

Setting goals will help any rider and they don’t need to be competitive goals.

Interview first published in the print issue of Western Horse UK June 2017.

Theresa McCaffrey