After working for Todd Crawford for about six years, Dustin Mills went out on his own in 2019. A few short years later he claimed the 2021 Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Reserve Championship and Intermediate Open Championship riding Jule Smart Rey.
Mills, who grew up showing cutting horses, is the son of cutting horse trainer Mark Mills. Mark taught him all he knew. With the desire to forge his own path and learn something new, Mills went to work for Crawford. Mills attended college for two years and rodeoed but soon realized academia wasn’t for him. He even went to helicopter school to become a pilot but the horses kept luring him back.
What is your training philosophy?
“Teach them how to be trained. Todd told me that when I worked for him. It took me a long time to understand it but now I truly believe it. Anytime I have a problem, I always go back to teaching them how to be trained… Anytime you have a problem you need to go back to the basics of it versus trying to beat it into them, just slow it down and go back to the basics and restart…
“When you go to a show and put them in show mode you have to come home and bring them back out of that. The only way you can do that is by having that saying in the back of your mind. So they don’t always stay red-lined, they know how to come back down out of it.”
What have you earned or adjusted in your program in the past year?
“[I’ve learned to] trust the process. Before it was not that I got worked up but there were times I overdid things. I had a really good three year old and he taught me to just leave it where it is and take the good days with the bad days and just trust the process basically.”
What inspires you?
“I love what I do. I love training horses. I love getting up everyday and riding horses. Even on the days that I’ve had two or three hours of sleep, I still find myself wanting to get up and work horses again. I want to produce the best horse I can possibly produce and loving what I do is what gets me up and going in the morning.”
How do you define feel and can you teach it?
“To teach feel is going to take a long time. I think to find feel you’re going to have to screw up a lot of horses first.”
Do you do anything outside of training cow horses?
“We have a couple of momma cows and I like trotting out on a colt and having to do a job on them other than arena work. I like doing that. I fish and hunt and we have some cow dogs we train. But having to give a horse a job is a lot of fun for me.”
What are your goals?
“Short term, I would like to try again at the Futurity. Long term, I’m hoping to [be a] million dollar rider before too long.”