Les Vogt
“Dean of Cowhorse U”
Courtesy of National Foundation Quarter Horse Magazine
World Champion cowhorse trainer Les Vogt brings his Cowhorse U, and some 45 years of training experience to knowledge-thirsting Sweden in a two-weekend clinic format.
Story and photos by Martin Langels
As I meet and greet Les for the first time outside the Hanaskede arena in Skara, Sweden I´m struck by his easygoing and friendly nature. This, after all is a multiple World Champion and Hall of Famer. Les´s winning personality would portrait itself over the weekend as it became evident that he truly enjoys teaching, both horse and rider. Les had already conducted the first of his two clinics, focusing on competetive Reining. This, the second one was dedicated to the Reined Cowhorse event. For starters though Les held a general discussion on horsemanship and what the participants needed help with and what they hoped to get out of the clinic.
The pupils were divided into two groups with trainers and more experienced riders in the first and novice riders and participants with greener horses in the second. As the clinic went on with refining the handle and form on the horses in the reined work, Les made no difference between the proffessional trainers and the less experianced. No one was overlooked and Les´s scrutinizing eye treated everybody equal.
With a mixture of humor, warmth and an occasional stroll down memory lane with reaccounts of his own misshaps through the years , Les got the message implemented, it´s all in the neck. Most, if not all of the participants problems could be related back to some form of resistance in the neck area. Once the tensions and brace in the neck was worked out, manuvers such as stops, turns and spins came out much improved with a smoother more willing horse.

“It´s in the neck”

Swedish trainer Staffan Nielsen gets to experience Les Vogts “hands on” teaching style.
With his ”hands on” teaching style Les got the message across that the neck has to be in the game to get the collection needed to perform. Les stressed the importance of starting soft, with light rein contact and tapping with the legs for collection. If the horse didn´t answer, or in Les´s words: -You get a busy signal when calling, it´s time to get more assertive with both hands and legs until you get the desired response.
As with all great horsemen Les points out that it´s the timing of the release that makes a horse learn, not the preassure applied. Before day one was concluded Les also made sure to educate the clinic participants and attending audience on bitting. Les Vogt has devoted most of his adult life to the cowhorse and growing up in a ranching environment California style, the art of bridling a horse has alway´s intrigued him. As a premiere bit maker and innovator he belongs to that select group of horsemen with a never-ending hunger for knowledge. A natural curiosity that became even more evident when Per Larsson, one of Swedens more accomplished trainers, brought a 14-15th century leverage bit found in an attic on a local mansion. Les went giddy as a school boy examining the contraption and pointing out it´s functions to the audience.
Bitmaker and innovator Les Vogt holds a demonstration on bit mechanics.

Les´s scrutinizing eye fell on every clinic participant.
Les´s Cowhorse U is a program designed to put a solid foundation on you as well as your horse. It´s made up of a workbook and DVD:s containing excercises and Les´s thoughts on starting and refining your horse. After looking through the extensive material it really is an easy to understand guide to schooling you and your horse, and seeing Les in person and hearing him expound on topics like collection, form and function you realize what a deep pool of information he posseses. And the best part is it´s tried and found to work since he´s been there, done all that as his multiple world championships prove.
Les credits much of his succes to the golden years in the 70:s when he owned noted quarterhorse stallion King Fritz. At this time cow horse Snaffle Bit Futurities was a big deal in California and King Fritz horses was the hottest thing around. They could do it all and was so talanted and trainable that they totaly dominated the cowhorse scene. Les would enter three horses in a class and win first, second and third. With the passing of King Fritz in 1978 Les had some down years in wich he realized the had to start his program from scratch now that the talanted Fritzes were gone. But his hard work payed of and finally along came a horse named Chex A Nic. Les took Chex A Nic to the 1992 AQHA World Show and won both the senior cowhorse and senior reining, the first time ever a horse had won both titles in the same year. It proved to Les his training program worked and justified his methods.
Cowtime…
On day two a roundpen was constructed in the arena and the cows were brought in to action. Well maybe not action as the pupose of day two was teaching the correct placement and possition on a cow. Les stressed the point of the roundpen beeing like a wagonwheel with the hub in the middle and spokes running from the hub to the perimiter of the wheel. This aproach made it easier for the greener riders to always think of placing themselves along a spoke running from the cow on the peremiter, through the horse and to the hub.
Les, horseback as well, steering his pupils to the right place but also allowing them to make mistakes and find the sweet spot on their own. As they became more accomplished at this task, the tempo picked up some and a few hollers were heard from the stands. The more advanced riders were allowed to challenge the cow a little, to turn the cow but concentrating on keeping their horses in correct form throughout the turns. The afternoon session was devoted to herd work. The advanced group went right to work but again emphasis was put on correct form in the turns. For some of the advanced riders it was back to basics since brace, stiffness and dropped shoulders resulting from getting away with being just cowy, surfaced during this session. As for some of the ”newbies ” it was their first encounter with a herd full of critters not very eager to play along. But just sifting through a herd and cutting that one cow was such a thrill and the group was all smiles at days end. “ The wagonwheel deal”
Les´s winning personality captured the riders and attending audience alike.
Les relates well to both horse and rider.
Down the fence..
Graduation, time to put it all together. For most of the clinic participants the thrill of going full speed down the fence and turning a cow is what it´s all about. Les starts out riding cowhorse trainer Staffan Nielsens gritty mare Hotrodden Chic. He pronounces how important, as always, possitioning is. Without proper possitioning on a cow it can get to be a pretty wild ride, where you end up chasing the critter rather than controling her, as some riders soon found out. A nice boxing session at the end of the arena is followed by a couple of controlled turns on the fence and two clean circlings of the cow both ways. Les stresses again the importance of having and maintaining control before you start sending the cow down the fence.
Les´showing his stuff aboard Staffan Nielsens Hotrodden Chic.
Cowhorse trainer Per Larsson down the fence.
As shown by Les, controling the corner of the arena when you start your run down the fence is crucial. With the horses head slightly tipped in, facing the cows hip, you can maintain good possition and control through that first run by cutting the corner a little to keep up with the cow. If you start of flatfooted or have to chase the cow through the first run, the risk of overshooting the cow in the turn and subsequently loose your possition for the second one is imminent.
Henrik Fittinghof showing good positioning for squeezing the cow through the corner Les getting out of harms way as Magnus Nilsson circles his cow.
The riders were given several opportunitys to work down the fence with Les guiding them and throwing helpful hints their way. There were one or two runnaway heffers creating some comosion among the riders awaiting their turn, and Les barely escaped a few horses running blind showing some athletic ability himself. Useful tips and suggestions on the finer points of circling the cow and different types of cattle and their tendencies concluded the clinic. I truly believe the participants got their money´s worth as they all praised Les for his educational methods and his way of relating to horses and people. Props as well to Håkan Berg of Rocking B Saddlery for getting Les to come over and giving us an opportunity to watch a world champion in action.