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This cowboy is extreme

Special to the Daily/Jim MedfordHorse trainer and breeder Daniel Harris, of Whitewater, won the Extreme Cowboy Championships recently held at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo at the Eagle County Fairgrounds.
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EAGLE ” Every teacher longs for the day when a student comes back to pay a

compliment.

But what happens when the students can’t speak?



There are other forms of communication, as Daniel Harris knows.

Harris recently put his teaching skills to test at the Extreme Cowboy Race at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo in Eagle.



All of Harris’ hard work was rewarded when the horses he trains put on quite a show. Harris, from Whitewater, won the Extreme Cowboy Race on a horse owned by Peggy and Mitch Brasington of Eagle.

“The horses will do quite a bit of the talking for you,” Harris said. “I’m rooting for the horses because they are my students.”

In a competition where the handlers have to guide the horses through a series of tasks, many of which would startle normal horses, Harris and the Brasington’s horses were the class of the field.



Harris, competing in his first Extreme Cowboy Race, advanced two horses to the finals ” a first among any rider in the series ” and took first place with one and tied for fourth with another.

Although the 23-year-old Harris is well-respected as a horse handler for customers, the competition gave a tangible result ” one that all the other handlers and owners could see.

“In the horse business, the way I look at it is your horses are your success,” Harris said. “It’s good to have this kind of exposure. For me, making two horses in the finals ” and being the first guy to ever do that ” everything else was kind of gravy for me.”

The Brasington’s, who have about 50 horses on their Salt Creek Ranch, wanted the fame for the teacher.

“We didn’t care so much about our horses winning,” Peggy Brasington said. “It was more about Daniel winning. “We love that his talent was getting displayed and he was getting recognized for what he does.”

Because the tasks for each competition change, there isn’t a specific training regiment the handlers can take the horses through.

“You have to have your horses confident going into different situations,” Harris said.

One trick Harris used was having the horses walk over a blue tarp.

“They are scared of tarps,” Harris said. “It flops and makes noise. But they both went over that really well.”

More than anything, Harris believes it takes trust to train a horse and thrive in the Extreme Cowboy Race.

“For a horse, the most natural thing is to be scared of something,” Harris said. “Putting them into a position that could be scary, and saying, ‘OK, I trust you, let’s go on with our job,’ ” they were confident and it went really well. I was pleased.”

In the finals, Harris had to take the horses in front of balloons, then fire a shot at the balloons, which emitted large flames.

“I’ve never exposed the horses (to that),” Harris said. “I had an idea they weren’t going to buck, but you never know. Shooting off the (balloons) was probably my biggest concern, but for everything else, I was pretty confident in them.

“They had always showed me good disposition and a willing attitude to do whatever I asked them.”

Harris had spent time with the horses (both the winner, Hank Styled This, and fourth-place finisher, Maximus Dream) before he saw them again this spring. He had a month with to prepare them for the competition.

“Everyone in the final had great horses,” Harris said. “I was really honored to have come out on top with such good horses and hands. I’m just really proud of my horses.”

Along with his parents, Harris works as a full-time colt handler.

“He likes (the title) of colt handler or horse handler (versus) trainer,” said Katherine, Harris’ mother. “He thinks you have to be kind of more like my husband’s age or older to be a trainer because you are always still learning.”

Fresh off his victory last week, Harris was back into learning mode Thursday, taking a ride with some older trainers.

“He goes and rides with a lot of well-established trainers,” Katherine said. “He loves to go and ride with them because they have so much knowledge and he likes their stories.”

Harris has plenty of knowledge already. At 15, he was named as an alternate to the American Polocrosse Junior All Star Team. The following year, he captained the same team and the year after that, he was chosen by teammates to captain the team again.

“We were one of the first teams to actually beat the Australians in a test match,” Harris said. “That was pretty big.”

While touring in Australia, Harris got to show off some of his other moves.

“When he went to Australia, they had always had a band and dances, and all the girls liked to dance with him,” Katherine said.

Harris, whose other crown is that of former Colorado State clogging champion, spent some of his younger years letting his feet do the talking.

Other proud moments in Harris’ young handing careering include showing several horses at the National Cutting Horse Association charity shows.

For all of the horses Harris trains, there is only one that he can calls his own.

“We stay so busy riding other people’s horses,” Harris said. “It’s kind of like a carpenter ” his house is the last one to get shelves put in.”

While Harris enjoys spending time with his clients’ prized horses, he tries not to grow too attached.

“It can be a tough thing when they go home,” Harris said. “But when you are in the business and have done it as long as we have, when they go home and people call you up and say, ‘Our horse is doing great,’ that’s a part of our reward. When they say, ‘We want to bring another one to have you get started,’ that’s another one of the rewards of the job.”

And Harris hopes that one day, the base foundation he’s given to the horses will pay off at another level.

“It’s kind of like school ” when they graduate you pat them on the back and say, ‘Good job,'” Harris said. “And then they go on into their lives and have great careers. We’ve had horses go on to more specialized trainers and you can poke your chest out when the horse goes on and is in a magazine or wins a big event.”

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.


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