Shawn was raised in west Texas on a working cattle ranch. He inherited his love of horses and showing from his grandmother, Judy Hays, who successfully bred and showed AQHA halter and all-around horses. Shawn competed in all-around events as a youth before leaving west Texas to apprentice with JD Yates of Pueblo, CO. Shawn spent six years training and showing rope horses first for JD, then for Jay Holmes of Sarasota, FL, and finally as the in house trainer at Carousel Farms in Sulphur, OK.
In the spring of 2004 Shawn and his wife of two years, Tammy moved from Sulphur and Shawn set up a training operation in Saint Jo, TX. It wasn’t long before Shawn realized he had a talent for the cowhorse events.
He started spending time with legendary cowhorse trainer, Don Murphy and earned his first check in a NRCHA limited aged event in the spring of 2005 at the Circle Y Derby in Stephenville, TX. He would end that year with a top ten finish in the Limited Open at the Snaffle Bit Futurity.
Since 2005, Shawn has amassed more than $700,000 with titles that include Reserve Champion World’s Greatest Horseman, Holy Cow Bridle Spectacular Champion, SBF Open Bridle Champion, AQHA World Champion, Reserve Champion World’s Richest Stockhorse, and finalist and top ten finishes at the NRCHA Stakes, Hackamore Classic, Derby, and Snaffle Bit Futurity.
He has also helped numerous non pros achieve NRCHA World and Reserve Championships in the Non Pro Bridle classes. He now resides near Nocona, TX with his wife and sons, Bryce and Hunter.
Hays accomplishments include two time Reserve World Greatest Horsemen titles and a 3rd place finish at the 2021 World’s Greatest Horseman, 2019 and 2020 NRCHA Hackamore Classic Open Champion, 2019 NRCHA Open Bridle Reserve World Champion, and five time AQHA World Champion.
What is your training philosophy?
“…I try to focus on quality instead of quantity with horses. Make sure the good ones get broke.”
What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career?
“Work hard, have goals. Make sure they aren’t too high…Try to be the best you can be and go show what you have… I see a lot of guys, they might have a 71 or 72 horse and they’re trying to make it a 74 or 75 and end up with a 67. Don’t try to over show your horse…”
Do you have any preferences when picking cows?
“I want one that will move away from you…There’s not really any preferences as far as [colors], It’s all about watching them and how they settle and how they are up next to a horse.”
What’s the most important quality you must have in a horse?
“Eye appeal. If you can walk in on a pretty horse you’re already going to get the judges attention…Nowadays they have to be able to be low headed and slinky for cutting. They have to be able to lope around low headed for reining and relaxed with a big stop and turn around.
“You have to have one that can [run], and get up and catch a cow. Some horses don’t have a lot of speed and by the time you run down there to catch a fast cow, they’re maxed out running and all of a sudden [you have to stop] and they’re just thinking run, not thinking about the stop part.”
What have you learned or adjusted in your program in the last year?
“Mainly my cutting. It’s been getting a lot better. I’ve been going to ride with Spud Sheehan and Tatum Rice, they’ve helped me a bunch. Now my cutting scores are my highest scores…I’ve also been focusing on keeping better [horses]…”
How do you describe feel?
“You can’t teach feel. You can improve people’s feel. To me, feel is knowing when the horse gives instead of just asking and asking. To me, the more you use your feet, the softer their mouth will be… If you’re putting 5-10 pounds of pressure with your hands, you better be putting 5-10 pounds of pressure with your feet…To me timing and feel is something you have to [practice] over and over again until you get it. To me [feel is] something you have or you don’t have…”
Why is it so important to you that the horse is soft? What does it do for you?
“When I take ahold of them, they don’t tell on me and be rude in the face. When I pick up, they respond. Everything looks soft, natural, it looks like they are broke and they are on your team…If you pick your horse up, he better do something and respond.
“I don’t want one to be totally locked on the cow where you can’t pull them off. I’m big on safety if I’m running down [the fence] and I pick up and rein [the horse] to the left off the cow, [the horse] better go left…”
“Be patient and try to bring that horse along at whatever pace he wants to go. If you feel like [the horse] is getting worried about something or backed off…be aware and be more patient.
“Everyday I try to step that horse up a little bit more, if I feel like that horse can take it, I’ll ask for more…”