Built under pressure: Miles Baker uses ranching tools to train confident arena horses
“You have to love the process of training horses, not just the end goal,” says horse trainer Miles Baker.
Miles made a name for himself being an expert on the process of training good horses. His disciplined, ranching-centered approach to training horses caught the eye of 26-time champion Trevor Brazille, and the pair has since partnered to train the next generation of great horses.
Even though Miles grew up riding horses and rodeoed in college, the idea of being a full-time horse trainer did not become prevalent for him until the end of college when he was around other full-time trainers.
Miles grew up on a dual cow/calf and feedyard operation in Oklahoma.
“I basically grew up horseback. We always used our horses on the ranch,” he explains. “My dad always rode young horses, and as we went through junior high and high school, we were usually on young horses in some shape or form.”
After college, Miles moved back home and began training horses for the public, with a strong emphasis on using horses to do ranch work.
“Using horses for ranch work can either be a release or a test of pressure, depending on the situation or task,” he explains. “And both of these things can happen in the same day. Exposing them to pressure is the best way to teach them how to handle pressure later on down the road.”
Miles notes he will often have his wife ride the best futurity prospects in his string at brandings to get them doing something else.
“Riding them outside teaches them how to handle pressure, and they can get experience in these higher-stress situations before they go to the roping pen,” he says. “With the rise of futurities, we are riding a lot of young horses. I like to use those younger horses outside because I can apply pressure in different ways, but they can also experience a release of pressure from being outside of the arena. It is beneficial for them in a lot of different ways.”
“Anyway you look at it, we want our horses to be able to face their fears with confidence, whether it be dragging calves or roping in the pasture to the first trip away from home, the end goal is to always have a horse which can confidently face their fears. The situations may be different at the ranch and in the pen, but those experiences are always relevant,” he says.
Miles explains many ropers in the past did not see a horse as being solid until they were 10 or 11, but horses who see and experience things outside of the arena can be solid for competition at five or six.
“The biggest thing is when we apply pressure at an earlier age, we need to do it in a way to build confidence as opposed to breaking confidence down,” he says. “When we use them and are conscious about riding them at an earlier age, they can be really solid at a young age. The last two years, I have pro-rodeoed on four- and five-year-olds, but I started building their confidence and setting them up for success at a young age.”
“A $150,000 horse doesn’t know he is worth more than a $5,000 horse, and you have to treat them all the same,” he says. “My process really doesn’t change much for any of them, even the high dollar futurity horses aren’t getting the silver spoon treatment.”
“Too many trainers are looking for the next great horse instead of just focusing on making horses great,” he says. “I was recently on an average colt. He has very little natural talent but I know if I do my job, I can make the horse great. Too many people want to put horses in a box right away and do not take the time to make them as good as they can be.”
“You have to love the process and not just the end goal. It’s always nice to ride a great one, but you have to love and be invested in the process,” Miles adds.
While Miles no longer trains for the public, he says a major issue trainers face are the expectations their clients have for their horses in a relatively short time frame when they are with a trainer.
“Not every horse learns at the same pace, and I think a lot of horses don’t get the chance to be great because people have applied a certain time frame to their training, which doesn’t always work,” he says.
Details and discipline
Miles is a big believer in the small details of training horses. He notes many people have the talent to make it at a high level, but take short cuts or don’t conduct themselves well as a trainer.
“There are a million ways to take shortcuts, do not take a single one,” he stresses. “It may not pay off right away, but in the grand scheme of things, it pays off in the end. I rode horses for nothing in the beginning and charged enough to breakeven.”
“I rode junk until I could make a horse into something people were proud of. It is a long process, but trainers have to have the discipline to see it through,” Miles continues.
“There is very seldom a gray area between right and wrong,” he says. “Trainers need to treat every horse they take in like they are the next big thing. It’s okay to push them and give them a job, but treat them all the same.”
“I can tell pretty quickly how comfortable a horse is under saddle and whether or not they have been run into the ground,” he explains. “Take the time and focus on the details because they pay off in the end.”
“There were times I questioned my career, but at the end of the day, I am proud of the hours I have put in to making good horses,” Miles says.
Callie Hanson is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.