No-Fuss Gus

Meet Gus.

Gus, named for Captain Augustus "Gus" McRae from Lonesome Dove

Gus, named for Captain Augustus “Gus” McRae from Lonesome Dove

Gus, whose given name is First Sixgun, is James Cooler’s Wild Card pick for Road to the Horse 2015. Gus comes from the legendary 6666 Ranch in Texas, known for its top-quality Quarter horses.

If you’re new to the Wild Card concept, check out the Road to the Horse website. Basically, Wild Cards are up-and-coming natural horsemanship trainers who have the chance to compete against the world’s best trainers in a three-day colt-starting event.

It’s big, believe me.

James drove all the way to Texas to pick up Gus at the 6666 Ranch three weeks ago. He and a friend made the 2700-mile round trip in 72 hours, passing through seven states along the way.

The journey was well worthwhile.

Gus has turned out to be a quick study: confident, smart, quick to learn, steady. He enjoys walking over tarps as well as nibbling them; when the blue plastic wraps around his legs, he steps out of the tangle with elegant nonchalance.

Tarp, schmarp, doesn't bother me

Tarp, schmarp, doesn’t bother me

Flags, plastic bags, ropes—nothing particularly rattles Gus. He did, however, take exception to a saddle on his back for the first time, as seen in this video of his first week of training. Since a saddle approximates the feeling of a mountain lion dropping on a horse’s back, it’s not surprising when a little bucking happens.

I got to see Gus in action for the first time on May 18 at his debut demo. It took place at Shangrila Guest Ranch, where James and Kate held a Cooler Horsemanship clinic.

First, the clinic participants admired Gus up close.

Mussing Gus

Mussing Gus

Kate Cooler set up her camera to film the session for the Cooler Horsemanship video library.

Kate, videographer extraordinaire

Kate, videographer extraordinaire

Dillon, son of Shangrila owners Gary and Julie Holmes, set up his camera as well.

Director Dillon

Director Dillon

James started with the basics: lateral flexing, disengaging hindquarters, moving shoulders, backing up. On to some tarp work, then time to saddle up.

We got a little show of bucking, but smart Gus decided not to pursue that path for long.

Is it a mountain lion or a saddle?

Is it a mountain lion or a saddle?

His humped-up posture shifted to a relaxed stride.

Relaxing with the saddle

Relaxing with the saddle

Next James prepped Gus for riding, flapping the stirrups, putting his weight on one side and then the other.

Taking things slow before getting in the saddle

Taking things slow before getting in the saddle

And then the riding began. James and Gus moved in sync as if they’d been together forever—hard to believe it was only their sixth ride. They did a slow trot, extended trot, and canter.

This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Speeding up the relationship

Gus took a while to pick up the correct lead on one side, but once he did, he was sailing.

Like Deuce, James’ other 6666 Quarter horse, Gus has the muscly ease and power of a natural athlete. His confidence makes him an even quicker study than Deuce; James estimates that he’s made as much progress with Gus in three weeks as he made in the first four months with Deuce.

“It’s going so well, I keep waiting for the catch,” says James. “But I think he’s just a good-minded, super-talented guy.”

This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship

This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship