Wil Howe, the Trainer...Where did he come from?
By Bob Remington
Southwest Horseman, August 1990
Note: This gives a well-rounded background of Wil, consolidating the highlights and milestones of Wil’s life in his pursuit of refining his horsemanship. Since this was written in 1990, Wil has followed his dream, closing his public training stables and moving back to the country with his wife, Beverly. Together, they have built a nice horse ranch for the of training the performance cowhorse geldings they sell, and in 1994 they established their School of Fine Horse Training. Now they pretty much stay close to home, enjoying the finer things in life . . . , "good horses and helping people help themselves."
Many of you have heard of him, many of you have seen him, but not many know this illusive, intriguing man. A noted reinsman and trainer, Wil Howe has made his life with horses a work of art, and to him it is a work of love. This devoted horseman is a true expression of individuality, to which his life and his horses that represent him are a living testimony. He is a trainer whose valued reputation has not only been earned in the show ring but even more so in the sale ring. There are many satisfied, successful owners of his well-trained horses.
With tall high top cowboy boots and his wranglers tucked in, full beard and often a leather vest, Wil’s unusual attire has added to his reputation, both for and against him. But one thing is for sure, you always remember him. Wil believes that he is just one hundred years too late to really fit in the western world, and his unconventional dress is nothing more than personal preference. "Twenty years ago I was considered an outcast, and today tall boots are a fad." In a Waylon Jennings song, the words "winding up somewhere one step ahead or behind" always seemed appropriate to Wil’s life.
Today if you see him mounted in public, you can bet that the horse he is astride is a special one, and nine times out of ten, it will be a gelding that he is riding. Years ago, when he first got started, he made a vow never to be seen in public on anything but a good horse, a commitment that has paid off. With Wil’s yearly appearance at the prestigious Annual Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale, he has become a near celebrity, having had the high-selling gelding for the past five years. This is a feat no one else has achieved twice, let alone five times.
Red Bluff, however, is not the only sale Wil has been recognized by for his performance horses. For years he reigned as "King of the Sale"’ throughout the Northwest, making a name for himself with his well-broke fancy geldings. Wil’s horses became a trademark for quality . . . bringing top bid as high-seller at all of the west’s major sales. There is an art to getting one shown right, and Wil is a showman; the ring has been his stage.
His outstanding geldings are a product of his fine-tuned hands and natural ability to communicate with the horse. Referred to by many as a "true horseman", Wil has an uncanny ability with his horses. You can spot him out anywhere by the loose horse who follows him through the crowd at his heels. "I don’t feel I need to drag a horse around," says Howe. "I simply get their attention and keep it. It makes for a much more pleasant animal to be around. He’s with me because he wants to be, not because I’m forcing him; it’s an attitude."
Wil’s philosophies are simple and direct, and he has been sharing his training methods and secrets to understanding horses for the past ten years in his clinics. Held previously in Oregon and Washington, his clinics are now available in California for the first time.
His clinics deal with all types of horses and phases of riding and training. Wil, known for his unique approach, comes across with a very through and deliberate message . . . no mystical, grey areas. Every stone is uncovered.
His in-depth presentations include equine psychology, ground work, problem correcting and preventing, starting colts, and finishing the performance horse. "This area of training benefits riders who wish to go on and advance their horses regardless of their event or goal," Wil says.
"Starting colts is only the tip of the iceberg. In my clinics I go on to emphasize the deeper aspects, teaching riders what they need to know when taking their horse beyond the snaffle bit." In sharing these advanced techniques, he breaks them down into tangible information that even the novice can apply. Wil calls it his ‘ABC’s, From Foundation to Finished.’ The results are miraculous, and both horse and rider leave his clinic reborn and awakened to a higher sense of understanding and communication. Wil is proud of the fact that his past students continue to be successful with his methods and maintain his theories long after the clinics.
"What you put out is what you get back when training horses, positive or negative. It makes no difference to the horse, that is why we as the leader must decide what kind of response we want and then create it in the horse."
Wil loves to work with horses and reminds his students how real horses are. "They have no hidden motive. Horses are very much here and now creatures and can’t help but show their true feelings. They are very sensitive and receptive, but don’t confuse this with intelligence. A horse's body language is so obvious that if we learn to be aware of it and read their behavior as a message of communication, we will all get along better."
Wil is a humble and well-respected individual. "In this business you see a lot of talented people miss the boat when their ego keeps them from being open-minded and able to expand and learn," says Howe.
Wil has always given credit where credit is due. For example, in a television special last spring on Wil and his training of horses, the interviewer asked who, if anyone, inspired Wil to go on with horses. Without hesitation, Wil mentioned snaffle bit trainers Les Vogt and Bobby Ingersol among the many trainers he feels added to his growth.
His story differs from most, coming on the scene on his own efforts. Wil Howe didn’t fly in on the shirttails of another famous name trainer. Without a reference or someone to be identified with, Wil’s road to success has been a little rough at times.
Born in Oklahoma, raised on a one-horse farm in the west, he decided to get away from the hustle and in his mid-twenties moved east to Colorado to become a cowboy and work with horses. When you don’t know anyone or anything, you start at the bottom and work up. That’s exactly what Wil did.
Having never ridden a saddle before, having ridden bareback as a kid, he hired on a cattle ranch breaking broncs for $50 per month and shoeing horses for $8 per head. From Colorado to Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington, he traveled the Western states for ten years. He even spent a few years in the wilds of British Columbia, where after years of trial and error he began doing well and being noticed by others for having a special way, with horses.
He went on to train running quarter horses at the track, taking on problem horses and turning them into champions and ending up with a handful of top runners. As a matter of fact, it was at a muddy race track where he started tucking his pant legs into his boots. "I just left them in ever since," Howe stated.
Winding up in central Oregon in the seventies was the turning point of Wil’s career. He went to Reno, Nevada one year to watch the California Reined Cowhorse Championship Snaffle Bit Futurity, and it was there that Wil decided that he too could make a top reining horse.
With determination and a confident attitude, Wil pursued his dream to become a good hand. For five years he chased clinics and shows, even driving 1,000 miles to attend one clinic! Like a silent fixture he hung around at the practice pens of snaffle bit futurities and cuttings, watching and listening. He came unexpectedly from nowhere with desire and persistence. Wil applied himself so quietly he caught everyone by surprise. At his first show of his life he placed 11th out of 260 entries at the Reno, CRCHA Championship Snaffle Bit Futurity in the reining division, sliding 30 some feet at the stops.
Being seen at times as a nonconformist in the show world and misunderstood at times for being different made his lonely struggle tough. At one point a jealous trainer, trying to put down Wil’s enthusiastic desire, commented that it would take Wil twenty years to learn how to handle a snaffle bit horse. When Wil won his first championship title at the Montana Snaffle Bit Futurity, he laughingly reminded the trainer that it had only taken him five years, and the man’s reply was only "so I was off fifteen years." Wil always mentions this story at clinics as an inspiration to others who have a strong will to succeed.
The last few years Wil has directed most of his energies into cutting horses. "It is a thrill like no other," Wil claims. His horses have a unique style all their own which is a mixture of Texas influence and techniques he learned from the late R.B. Ashley and his sons of Oklahoma.
Riding some great cowhorses, including his well-respected own son of Peppy San, Pickapeppa, out of a daughter of Doc Bar, Wil has had his share of accomplishments competing at major Pacific Coast shows.
Being the fine instructor that he is, he has passed his style on to his students, sharing their successes. In 1988 and 1989 his group took home twelve buckles in the largest California cutting club. "I don’t claim to know it all. I am still learning myself. I just know what I like in a cutting horse and try to help others when I can," says Howe.
A resident of California since 1987, Wil runs a busy training stable where he and his staff have trained, shown and sold a variety of outstanding performance horses and mules. Pleasure horses, English jumping and dressage horses, barrel racing, roping and team penning horses are included in this group. Cowhorses, however are Wil’s specialty.
For three years he has had no time for his clinics, but starting this summer he is going to be doing at least one a month in California for the first time. They are bound to be a big hit. Wherever Wil is, he gathers a crowd. The limelight always seems to end up on Wil, even this year at the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale where his wife of fourteen years, Beverly, rode and showed the all-time record-breaking high-selling gelding, a gorgeous palomino paint. Afterwards Wil jokingly exclaimed, "I topped the sale and didn’t even have to ride!"
Although this candid character attracts a lot of attention, at time unintentionally, Wil Howe is actually a quiet reclusive man who would just as soon move back up to the mountains where he came from and simply "ride a few good ones." He definitely has plans of doing so someday.
Wil turned 49 this summer, and for a man whose only goal was to be recognized as a good horseman, Wil has certainly done that, and with class, establishing a sterling reputation as an honest and reliable source of quality performance horses. Now he is devoted to sharing his twenty-some years of experience, hoping to enhance some other lives and bring light to those who also wish to go on with horses. As his motto reads on the back of his business cards ‘Where there’s Wil . . . there’s a way.’