- Written by Mark Boardman
- Published on September 01, 2009
Little is one of the biggest names in Cowboy Mounted Shooting—no question about it. Charlie is the reigning CMSA World Champion. Chad won the 2009 CMSA National Championship. And between the two of them, they have enough buckles and records to fill a barn.
Throw in the fact that mom Debbie, dad Pat and little brother Shaun also shoot…well, there’s not much else that needs to be said.
Except that Chad and Charlie are working hard outside the arena, too, trying to build a big name in the training field. And since they train the horses they ride—and win on—you’ve got to say they’re pretty good in this area as well. And they’re still learning.
Welcome to Little’s Performance Horses of St. Michael, Minnesota.
The Littles have horse training in the family tree. Their grandfather, father and uncle all spent time working with equines. So it seemed natural when the boys—who’d been on horseback almost forever—followed in their footsteps. Charlie and Chad admit that they really didn’t know much, and they never were formally schooled. But they learned from kin, from watching other trainers, and began developing their training skills.
And when the youngsters discovered mounted shooting back in 2000, they had a goal—create the best shooting horses in the world.
A Little Philosophy
Chad and Charlie are the major players in Little’s Performance Horses. Mom and dad have other business interests. Shaun is still in school but helps out his brothers as time allows.
They’re currently running about 35-40 head at their place, about half of which will become mounted shooting horses. The others could end up as ropers or reiners or whatever.
Let’s be clear on one thing: Charlie and Chad Little are brothers with some similar interests, but each one is his own man. They don’t always think alike. They don’t ride alike. They don’t always train alike. They point out that it can be an advantage when a new horse comes in—if it doesn’t take to one brother, it might work with the other.
Chad believes in the importance of bloodlines; Charlie is less concerned with it. Charlie (now 19) tries to shoot off the horses early; Chad (22 in October) puts it off for awhile. Charlie prefers mares, and even though Chad’s top three shooting horses are mares, he’d rather train geldings.
But there are points in common, Charlie says—they both prefer horses around two years old Chad agrees, saying, “If you want them to last and you don’t have to show them at a certain age, a full two year old is the best to start on.”
The initial step is to break the horse (assuming it isn’t already broke, to one degree or another). For Charlie, that means, “I want one to move off the bridle. And if I want to go up there and just use my legs, it’ll be able to move off the legs, too.” Chad adds, “If you can get them broke to where they trust you, where you can turn them around and put them wherever you want, move their body around, it just makes it that much easier to take the horse and do something with it.”
Both guys say they take their time with their horses, not wanting to push them into some bad behaviors. According to Charlie, “We start ‘em off slow, just walking them around and not putting any speed on them. And we lope them and ride them through patterns and shoot off them. Then if the owner wants more, he can take it from there.”
Unless the Littles are training the horses for their own use. In those cases, speed might come in a bit earlier—along with some shooting.
Now just how long that takes depends on the individual animal. But Charlie and Chad say they’re patient, because it’s an ongoing process: “You never quit training on them. You’re always training them.”
Both Charlie and Chad want to make horse training their career. It just feels right to them, even at their relatively young ages.
But reality is hitting them square in the face: “The shooting market is only so big. You can only sell so many shooting horses,” says Chad. “If one doesn’t make a shooting horse, make it into something else.”
To a certain extent, they’ve been doing that for some time—horses not suited to mounted shooting end up in roping or barrels or even just pleasure mounts. To do that, the Littles needed to diversify. Chad says, “Originally I just wanted to take something from everybody—learn from some reiners, learn from some cutters, from some cow horses—and then put it into my [mounted shooting] program, to make my horses better. I wanted to make just an overall nicer horse. But now, I’m getting the itch to go show some horses in these other areas. Maybe I’ll do more in the cow horse area. Mozaun’s been helping me out a lot.”
That would be Mozaun McKibben, a well-known cow horse trainer in Texas. Earlier this year, Chad spent a couple of months at the McKibben operation, getting exposed to a different training regimen. He worked with younger horses, about two years old. And the finished product had to have some different skills: “You want a horse that will run up there and drag a leg and keep on going in mounted shooting, as opposed to one that will bury himself in the sand and stop in working with cows.”
The older Little brother says the experience changed the way he thinks and approaches the training of his shooting horses—adding a few wrinkles here and there that he doesn’t much want to talk about.
But it’s given him some insights: “My dad always tells me, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ And I kinda disagree with that. I always want to make it better, make it perfect. So I keep working with them.”
And that, according to Charlie, is the goal: the Littles want to be the best, whether it’s riding the mounted shooting pattern or training a horse for whatever. “My goal is to be as good a horseman as anybody,” agrees Chad. “I want to be the best horseman that anybody’s ever seen.”
That would be a big accomplishment for Little’s Performance Horses.