A.J.Garcia - Catching Dreams

by Marilyn E. Short

Heading, Heeling, and Calf Roping is evening and weekend entertainment for most people. For A.J. (Porky) Garcia of LaVernia, Texas, it's his dream job, a dream he's been pursuing since he was 6-years-old, and he's not just good, he's real good at his job.

A.J. has a real talent when it comes to training horses and dealing with people, and developing that talent didn't start as evening or weekend entertainment; he's been around horses his entire life.

The second to the youngest child out of four, and being the only boy didn't hinder A.J.'s opportunities to perfect his roping and riding skills. His first ride took place when he was just 2 years old and he's been riding horses ever since. Family activities almost always revolved around horses. A.J.'s three sisters barrel raced, his father roped calves and competed in steer roping, and A.J. competed in Texas Youth Rodeo Association, 4-H, and High School Rodeos.

Most kids grow up having to take lessons wherever their trainer conducts business to achieve their riding goals. A.J. was no different, wherever his trainer went, he went, but A.J. was luckier than most, he grew up learning from one of the best horse trainers around, his father, Abel Garcia who is a well-known and respected horseman.

"My father had the most influence and inspired me when it came to roping and training horses," said A.J. "I loved it so much that I wanted to do it all the time."

In 1994, A.J. decided to set out on his own and "A.J.'s All Around Horses" was born. A.J. specializes in training horses for roping, reining, and cow horse. Ideally he should have 16 horses in training, but his skill and finesse with horses is well known and he's maxed out at 32 head in training, with a 6-month waiting list.

The horses A.J. has in for training aren't there for just a week or two, they're there for the long haul. It takes a minimum of 1 year to train a horse for roping, reining, or cow horse competition.

A.J. likes to start with a clean horse, one that is unbroke to ride. He requests the horse owner send the horse out for 2 weeks of training to get the horse going under saddle, then he takes over starting the horse with reining maneuvers to give them a good handle.

"Reining is the foundation for both roping and working cow," said A.J. "Once the horse has learned reining, the ground work is set up. I can work on the finesse for reining competitions or move easily into heading, heeling or working cow training."

With each new horse A.J. considers for training, he takes the first 2-4 weeks after the horse has been broke to evaluate the horse's ability. The first thing A.J. looks for in his evaluation is a good natural stop, a requirement for any discipline.

A.J. looks for a natural stop for roping, the stop and the way the horse moves for reining, and the stop and ability of the horse to turn a cow for working cow.

If the horse doesn't have the natural ability for A.J.'s program he'll talk to the horse owner and suggest a different discipline for the horse. If the owner is set on heading, heeling, reining or working cow, A.J. will suggest another trainer or another roping prospect.

"The horse may not fit my program", said A.J., "that doesn't mean it's not a good horse, it may just work better or fit someone else's training program."

It's tough when a client wants A.J. to mold the horse into something the horse isn't naturally suited for. He can train the horse, but it takes longer to train, and the horse's movements aren't as flashy - those horse's are the ones A.J. calls "man-made" horses. There are too many good horses out there for all disciplines, and A.J. would prefer not to "make" a horse do something he's not suited for.

When asked what style of training he follows, A.J. tells people that every trainer has their own thing with horses. He's never much followed any of the top nationally known trainers, with the exception of Robbie Schroeder and Benny Gurtion.

If a horse has a problem moving left, A.J. will get in the round pen and lope to the left until the horse relaxes and becomes at ease going left. He takes pride in catching and correcting any minor problems the horse has, and corrects them before they become major problems, catching things at the beginning versus retraining or having a horse laid up with a physical problem.

"You always need to watch your horse", said A.J., "if the horse refuses to do something it's either one of three things: he doesn't understand, he's scared, or he's hurting. I'll go back and first see if he's hurt, if not, then we back up and start from zero to see where the problem starts and work from there. The key is to get into the horse and really know the horse, then you'll know if he's refusing because he doesn't understand what you're asking, he's scared, or if he's hurting."

A.J.'s knowledge of the horse's personality and natural ability has been a winning combination.

A horse with natural ability that helped his career a lot was "Born to Be Great", owned by Thomas Smith and Tony Smith of Bay City, Texas, winning a Superior in Heading and Heeling, Reining Champion, and 5th at the 1992 World in Calf Roping.

"I had "Born to Be Great" from 1991 until 1996, he was so easy to show", said A.J. "He was a nice stud with a natural stop, nice personality and good ability. I was on the road with him almost every weekend and he was a consistent performer with a big heart."

A.J. use to spend every weekend on the road campaigning horses, now with all of the big World and Stock Shows, his on the road time has eased up considerably.

"If you have a good horse you can go to just the big shows", said A.J., "although with AQHA it takes a little bit more road time than that." A.J. has shown at all of the major shows, Paint, AQHA, Palomino, Pinto and Stock Shows. He doesn't have a preference on which breed or stock shows he likes best. "They're all the same," he says, "you're just paying for a judge's opinion on that day - that's all it is, but I haven't missed a Paint World Show since 1989."

In 1993 A.J. won the APHA World Championship riding "Just a Kid at Heart", owned by Tony Evans and Tom Evans of Alvin, Texas winning a 3-horse 4-Star Aluminum Trailer, 2 Saddles, Blankets, Buckles, Boots and was on the cover of the Paint Horse Journal.

All in all he's won about 25-30 saddles, and approximately 100 buckles. His list of wins from 1993 to 2001 is awesome. Riding "Alias Cody King" he took ApHC National Champion in Jr. Heading, ApHC Reserve National Champion in Jr. Calf Roping, ApHC Reserve National Champion in Jr. Heading, and ApHC Reserve National Champion in Jr. Heeling. "Bingo Sweet Dream" took the APHA World Champion Working Cow Horse title. "Born to Be Great" took AQHA Superior All Around and AQHA Superiors in Calf Roping, Heading, and Heeling. "Don De Pardon" was the ABHA World Champion Heeling Horse. "Hustler Trash" was the 3-year-old APHA Futurity Reining Champion. "Just a Kid at Heart" took the APHA World Super Horse and APHA World Champion Jr. Steer Stopping. "Pino Hondo" was the PHBA World Champion Working Cow Horse. "Real Bonnaza" secured the title of ApHC World Champion in Jr. Calf Roping Horse. "Jets Master Bug" took the APHA World Champion Jr. Calf Roping. "Wamps Rosita" was the Lazy E Futurity Champion in Jr. Heading and won AQHA Superiors in Heading and Heeling. Royal Black Bandit was the APHA San Antonio Stock Show Sr. Steer Stopping Champion. "The Perfector" has pulled in his ROM in Heeling, APHA Superiors in Calf Roping, Heading, and Steer Stopping, 2 time PtHA Reserve World Champion in Calf Roping, Reserve World Championship titles for both APHA and PtHA in Steer Stopping, PtHA Reserve World Champion in Heading and in Heeling, APHA World Champion Jr. Calf Roping, APHA Honor Roll Open and Junior Calf Roping, and most recently won the 2001 APHA World Show Top Ten in Sr. Heading, and Sr. Calf Roping, also netting A.J. the 2001 APHA World Championship title in Jr. Calf Roping.

It's obvious why none of A.J.'s clients have a problem with keeping their horses in training for a minimum of 1 year. In many cases he has horses in training for much longer, sometimes the owners change, but the integrity of the training remains constant, which says a lot for his talent as a trainer.

"The man is a honest and reliable trainer", said Will Ackerman, who has Royal Black Bandit in training with A.J. "What he says and what he does match up, there is no hidden agenda. He's not just a good trainer; he's a heck of a good friend".

A.J. treats his clients the way he would like to be treated. That quality is another reason he's had horses in training for long periods, his clients also become good friends.

"The Perfector", a 7-year-old Paint stallion has been with A.J. since he was broke to ride as a 2-year-old. Cheri Basham-Richardson is The Perfector's second owner, and wouldn't think of changing trainers. "I've worked with a lot of trainers," said Basham, "and he's the best. Not only will The Perfector stay with A.J., but I've been taking roping lessons from A.J. going on 3 years now. A.J. is my heeling partner at the United States Team Roping Association roping events. We rope in the number 6 ropings and we've gone back to the finals several times. There's no way I could have ever been at the level I'm at in such a short time without A.J.'s persistent coaching."

As if his training schedule weren't enough, A.J. also gives roping lessons. His students range from kids to adults, boys and girls, and men and women. Not only is A.J. an excellent roper, he's an excellent instructor. It takes years of experience to be able give instructions while heading a steer so the student can heel, and he's right there riding and working with each student. Some of his clients have done very well with A.J. by their side, especially at the 2001 World Paint Horse Show. Annette Pletcher won the World Title in the Amateur Working Cow Horse on "Major Impact", and Cody Pletcher won the World Champion title in the Youth Calf Roping, also on "Major Impact". Cheri Basham-Richardson placed in the Top Ten (6th) in the Amateur Heading on "The Perfector." Val Baker took the 2000 APHA World Champion title in Amateur Heeling on "Taking A Chance."

Roping is second nature to A.J. and his skill and enthusiasm for the sport is easily conveyed to his students.

As said by Katherine Whithorn, "Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it." With his natural talent and passion for roping, it's not just a business for A.J. - he lives to rope. The only time you won't see a rope in his hands is on Mondays, when he plays golf.

"I'm doing what I love to do", said A.J. "I help people catch their dreams."

If the weather's good and the arena's not wet, there's always something going on at A.J.'s, or if you'd like more information about roping lessons or to find out about getting a horse into training, call 830-303-7933.


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