Globetrotting Horse Trainer Andy Adams
● By Melissa Mendonca
A Cut Above the RestDecember 2014
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos: Michelle Hickok
Horse trainers, like anyone else in business, have a few essentials of the trade: a well-worn saddle, a set of reins that feel right in the hands, perhaps a lucky cowboy hat or pair of boots. For Gerber's Andy Adams, a passport gets as much use as anything.
Adams, 51, is internationally renowned in the world of cutting horse competitions. He rattles off a list of titles: horse trainer, clinician, National Cutting Horse Association Judge, National Reined Cow Horse Association Judge and fence builder with a knack for gates.
“Between the judging and the clinics,” he says, “it takes a lot of my time.” Which is to say, he hasn't built much fence recently.
And how could he, with a schedule that has him in Sweden for weeks at a time three or four times a year, or off to places like Brazil, Poland, Australia, Canada, Italy and Germany? There are also domestic events, such as the prestigious National Cutting Horse Association Futurity in Fort Worth, Texas, where he serves as an elite judge and top prize is $250,000.
“It’s a very refined equine sport,” Adams says of cutting. “It’s the only equine sport of any equine sport where you have to keep your hands down. You cannot use your hands. And there’s a cow involved.”
He also notes that it’s the second most popular equine sport, after thoroughbred horse racing, and continues to grow in popularity year after year.
Established as a sport about 50 years ago, cutting is derived from ranch work and showmanship, with cowboys demonstrating the ability to efficiently and accurately pull specific cows from a herd while on horseback.
“Cutting horses are bred a certain way,” says Adams. “They are absolutely bred to do what they do.” Bloodlines are important—not just any old ranch horse will get the job done.
“It would be like trying to train a schnauzer to hunt birds. It’s just not going to happen.”
The popularity of cutting has gone global, and that’s where Adams has found his sweet spot in business. Today, his great joy is helping competitors across the globe develop their skills and the sport in their home countries.
“There are things I can really work on to grow their industry over there that are hard to do here because they’ve already been done,” he says. Which is why he spends so much time in Sweden. Typically, Adams serves as a clinician teaching people how to show or train cutting horses. He’ll run two or three four-day clinics for 12-15 people per clinic on each trip. “We work from sunup to sundown,” says Adams, noting that he employs a variety of exercises to create success.
Although cutting was developed in the American West, it’s an activity that has gained broad appeal. “Pretty much everywhere I go in Europe, they love the Western heritage,” says Adams. “One of the things I’ve committed to them is that I’ll continue to come back over there year after year to teach them a cutting horse program.”
While he enjoys adding the stamps to his passport, there’s also a wealth of knowledge his international clients can gain from training in the United States. That’s why Adams and his wife, Kris Behrens, keep a travel trailer on their ranch. It becomes home base for visitors who spend weeks at a time training on their property and attending or competing in domestic cutting events.
It also allows them time to work with the horses Adams and Behrens raise, some of which end up being good fits for their performance needs. “What they used to get were horses that were used up, or had developed bad habits,” Adams says of his European customers. Through extensive relationship building, he is now able to help match the right horse to the right rider. It may be a horse Adams and Behrens have raised, or it may be one found elsewhere. If it is one from his own ranch, Adams will escort it in the cargo hold of a commercial flight to deliver it.
“I really do enjoy it,” Adams says of the travel. “There are just a lot of really nice people. Not many horse trainers get to go all over the world.” While he misses his wife when he travels, and acknowledges that she has a big job keeping up the ranch in his absence, they’ve also incorporated an annual couple’s vacation into his work. “Kris and I try to pick one place a year and she goes with me,” he says. Next stop together: Germany.