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Utah’s horse world; a close up look at world-class western trainer Joe Ruiz

Joe Ruiz, shown here on 'Debbie' (2012)
Joe Ruiz, shown here on 'Debbie' (2012)photo of Joe and 'Debbie' by Sarah Robertson, 2012

Many readers, after enjoying last week’s article about top local trainers, have asked for a closer look and additional in-depth information about the expert horsemen across the Wasatch front.

This week we’ll catch up with Joe Ruiz, answer some of the more popular questions, and talk about the many reasons why he’s the number one trainer selected by several Utah horse owners.

What is Joe’s specialty? Reining, working cow horse events, barrels, roping and general western performance fit into Joe’s well-rounded repertoire.

How long has Joe been training? Joe’s been riding and working with horses since he was a little boy in Arizona. He used to rope competitively with his dad when most kids still had training wheels on their bicycles. Professionally, Joe’s had his trainer’s shingle hanging out for well over 40 years. While he's served as the trainer at a few Wasatch front stables, his home base has been his at-home facility, conveniently located in Taylorsville (just 6 miles south of Salt Lake) for many years.

What are Joe’s training philosophies? Joe’s a real died-in-the-wool honest to goodness horseman in the tradition of Ray Hunt and the Dorrence brothers. The horse always comes first and he constantly takes the true nature of the animal into consideration. Timing is a key element (if not THE key element) when it comes to Ruiz’ training and he’s never one to rush. Anyone who thinks a good handle can be put on a horse in 30 days (it can’t) won’t agree with this proven expert’s slow and correct training regimen.

Does Joe work with riders as well as horses? Absolutely. Experienced riders, including many trainers within the mountain states, consider Joe their go-to guy when they need some help fine-tuning or polishing their own riding and training skills. He’s also got a stellar reputation for helping many quality riders regain their shaken confidence after serious accident or injury. Joe’s teaching manner is direct and he gets the job done. With true cowboy skills, he gets you riding and focused on the task at hand. Anyone who needs a lot of hand holding or coddling may not appreciate the program, but those with a real desire to learn about effective training and any horsemen (and women) who want honest direction to improve their riding, will fit right in.

What’s the Ruiz’ training facility like? This is a no frills stable with an ideal set up for training. Everything is designed for convenience and the quality training of multiple horses. There is a spacious barrel/roping arena outdoors and a creekside trail with a nice little bank for hill work. There’s no fancy indoor arena, rather a spacious 60’ covered round pen, perfect for year-round use, day and night. The panels on the end open to create a large oval riding space when horses are ready to work in a larger area. Assorted hitching posts and the tack area are right there at the center of the riding pen. Walkways from stalls to tack area to the riding pen are all covered; shade in the summer and no ice in the winter. This is a seriously smart set up! The workman-like layout is ideal without wasting space. And no wasted space means no wasted time, translating to more time on the horse.

How are horses cared for at Joe’s barn? Joe and wife Carrie personally do all of the quality care and feeding. Stalls are picked out daily. There is a combination of covered but partially open stalls (the mare motel variety) and enclosed stalls, all immediately adjacent to the riding area. Every stall has rubber mats over dirt or wooden floors (no cement) and plenty of shavings are added to keep the horses comfortable and their feet healthy. Joe does his own trimming and horses are kept barefoot. Slider plates are added as needed for the competitive reining horses. Hay (a grass/alfalfa mix) is doled out, again by the Ruiz family, around 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. so the horses schedule remains consistent and they have the same amount of time between their morning and evening meals. Hay quality is always high and the amount fed is plentiful, allowing the animals to graze happily through each lengthy meal. Large water containers are filled with cool, fresh water daily as well and cleaned out every week.

How often are the horses worked? When you take your horse to Joe’s facility for training, you’ll discuss the animal’s individual training plan. Most horses, when ready to be under saddle, are ridden 4 days a week, on average. Training sessions are as long as they need to be. If a horse gets it all right and has a successful schooling experience in 20 minutes, they're often allowed to finish up at that point. Joe's not one to believe in mindless drilling or working a horse until it's too exhausted to care. No loping pointless circles until their legs fall off. There's always a method that will make sense to the horse. They have a hot walker on site to exercise the horses that aren’t under saddle on any given day and to keep them from getting bored in their stalls. Small pens are regularly set up as well so the horses get a change of scenery and a chance to stretch their legs and get a break from the stall environment. Keep in mind too that Joe is out there 6 days a week, on average 8 hours a day. This is a disciplined trainer who consistently and reliably does his job, exactly the sort of dependable, trustworthy, reliable, calm, confident leader that you want putting a foundation on your horses.

What types of training equipment does Joe use? Again we’re talking about traditional cowboy gear; quality saddles with real wood and rawhide trees, leather headstalls, split reins and a variety of top-shelf bits for every training level imaginable, from your ultra-green baby to the most finished world-class performance horse. Joe’s own line of custom handmade iron bits (CR Bits) are a favorite amongst horsemen throughout the mountain states. Crafted with the utmost quality, his bits are a must-have in everyone’s tack collection. You won’t find trendy gadgets or unusual restrictive accessories amongst Joe’s assortment of working class equipment.

Does Joe have recent competitive accomplishments? You bet. Adding to previous accolades (taking home titles at the world championships in Oklahoma, being named to the IRHA Cowboy Hall of fame, judging at top level reining and reined cow horse competitions) Joe’s 2014 wins include 31 AQHA points at the American Quarter Horse show in Elko, Nevada just last month (July, 2014) where he qualified three different mares for the AQHA World championships; Hear Me Peppy, a lovely and willing red roan filly, in Junior Ranch Pleasure, Machos Debutante in Senior Pole Bending and the adorable little buckskin, Machos QT Tink, in Senior Barrel Racing (for her second year in a row).

So there you have it. Just a brief recap of the exceptional skills and abilities that make trainer Joe Ruiz one of the most respected horsemen in Utah and across the western states!