Under the feather-light touch and deft control of the rider’s left hand, the palomino quarter horse slides to a stop out of a controlled gallop, producing a cloud of pale yellow dust that dissipates at a lazy pace. After a pause, the horse spins easily through a series of tight revolutions, stops again, shifts into reverse, and backs up in a perfectly straight line.
Astride the palomino, Ron Pearson remains expressionless and doesn’t appear to move a finger. The communication between horse and rider is imperceptible, like a two-man team of riverboat card sharks, only this duo is practicing the western riding discipline of reining.
Suddenly, the two are moving forward again, loping around the arena in a perfect circle. When he’s satisfied with the progress of Fat Cat, an award-winning 8-year-old, Ron and the animal exit the ring.
“Pretty neat, eh?” asks Ron, a 64-year-old member of Lincoln Farmer Cooperative, with a grin. “I can do this all day long.”
And for the past 10 years, that’s exactly what he’s done. In 2000, the amiable cowboy confounded his friends and co-workers at Tullahoma’s Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) by taking an early retirement from his job as a wind tunnel machinist to train quarter horses and coach riders full time on the 100-year-old, 80-acre family farm near Fayetteville he shares with his wife, Jeanne. He has since added dozens of ribbons and buckles to an already impressive trophy room, mostly as a trainer and coach in the reining class.
“Although I enjoyed my time at AEDC, this is what I always dreamed of doing,” says Ron, who also works as a part-time farrier. “I’ve loved every minute of the past 10 years.”
Ron says his affection for all things equine wasn’t passed down from family but from a local blacksmith, Clarence Dunn, who died in the 1960s.
“He lived right here on Prospect Road, and I used to go out there and hang around his barn when I was real little,” recalls Ron, who shoes around 10 horses per week as a side business. “For some reason, he took a liking to me and even cut me a gate [in his fence] where I could ride my horse through to his property. Mr. Dunn got me interested in shoeing and would let me drive in a nail or something occasionally.”
At 21, Ron began competing in rodeos, mainly in calf-roping events. Later, he moved into team-roping and cattle-working, which he pursued before “discovering” reining at a 1997 seminar.
“When he came back, that’s all he could talk about,” says Jeanne, also an accomplished Western rider. “I’ve never seen him so excited about anything.”
“It’s true,” Ron agrees. “I guess it was just all those maneuvers: sliding stops, flying lead changes, spins, and the others. I was so impressed that it kind of hooked me, and I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got to try this.’”
Reining, Ron says, is often described as a Western form of dressage where the rider takes the horse through a series of precise movements. Self-described as “99 percent a roper” before, Ron admits that he was in unfamiliar territory as a novice trainer in reining.
“Well, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he laughs. “Reining is, in my view, much more complicated than roping, as far as training is concerned, and I had to learn to be more patient. If you ride a talented horse five days a week, you might get ready for the show pen in 18 months. It’s no walk in the park.”
Even with 30 years of experience under his belt in rodeo and farrier work prior to his retirement from AEDC, Ron says he has learned much over the past 10 years about horses and riding, not the least of which is related to equine nutrition. He says the education really began around five years ago when he met Tennessee Farmers Cooperative equine specialist Kim Smith at an American Ranch Horse Association (ARHA) event. After visiting the Pearsons’ operation, Kim recommended they try Co-op Winner’s Cup Advantage 1400 (#321).
“At that time, I was feeding a large scoop of a Co-op 10-percent sweet feed,” recalls Ron, who usually has between 20 and 30 personal and customer horses on his property. “Kim explained that I could feed cheaper, get just as much benefit and probably more, and maybe even make the horses look better using Advantage. Darned if she wasn’t right!”
Ron says he was initially impressed by the feed’s palatability, and even some of his “finicky” eaters quickly became fans of Advantage’s pelleted formulation.
“We had one mare named ‘Fancy’ that would always just pick at her feed,” he says. “After a few days of feeding Advantage, she would hear me coming on my four-wheeler and just start whinnying. She couldn’t wait for me to dump it in her bucket. She really bloomed out.”
Within weeks of making the menu change, Ron realized that he needed to feed less per animal.
“They were all getting fat!” he says. “I then understood what Kim was saying: ‘You only need half as much.’ I finally took a hacksaw and cut my feed scoop in half so whoever was feeding could only get so much. It worked like a charm, and we come out better financially at the end of the year, too.”
TFC feed and animal health specialist John Houston says the concentrated and consistent nutrition offered in the pellet lowers the actual volume of feed required by the horse.
“You’re getting the same nutrition into that animal with every bite,” says John. “The digestibility is also much better than with a coarse feed.”
Ron says he’s also noticed that his horses became less hyperactive after he began feeding Advantage, an important consideration for animals competing in precision sports like reining.
“I’ve had feeds that would hype them up like a kid eating chocolate,” he says. “You need to keep a show animal on an even keel.”
The difference, John explains, is the starch content of the feed.
“That’s what will make a horse hyper,” he says. “Advantage has a lower starch content that helps manage spikes in blood glucose levels and keeps the animal nice and calm.”
Armed with a more effective and affordable feeding program, Ron has been involved in a “slew” of show victories over the past few years, both as a trainer and rider. At the 2010 ARHA World Championship Show in Murfreesboro in June, eight horses Ron has trained — all fed Co-op Advantage — won five world championships and garnered 23 top-10 placings. Over the past few years, his students, Korie Rushing and Abby Tucker, have won ARHA world championships in reining and trail horse competition, respectively.
“I’ve had plenty of my own successes, too, but Jeanne and I really just enjoy the process of showing,” he says. “We both like the competition — Jeanne shows in ranch-riding and I do reining and cattle-working.”
Ron stresses that although his current schedule of shoeing and training is “no fairy-tale world,” he wouldn’t change a thing.
“This is what I always wanted to do, and I’ve been blessed to be able to do it for nearly 10 years now,” he grins. “I’m sure some people around here think I’m crazy, out there riding all day in 10-degree weather with coveralls on or in the heat of the summer, but I really love it. I can’t wait to get started every morning!”
To learn more about Co-op Winner’s Cup feeds, visit with the professionals at your local Co-op or at the online Co-op Round Pen.