CHC Trainer Spotlight: Rock Hedlund
Author: Alex Taft
There are riders that people have grown to admire for their performance records in the cutting pen. It’s hard not to idolize those trainers who have wracked up millions in their show careers. But while Rock Hedlund has accumulated nearly $2 million in NCHA Lifetime earnings over the years, people have come to appreciate him more for his service to the industry than his winnings.
Rock kicked off his cutting career in 1979 in the High School Rodeo Association, and quickly took to the sport and advanced to the finals all four years of high school. He knew then he wanted to dedicate his life to the cutting industry. From there, he went on to work at various ranches like Primco Ranch and Rapp Ranch where he gained much of the knowledge he needed to make his current training operation in Wilton, California what it is today.
Rock is on the NCHA Executive Committee and has passion for showing and training Non-Pros and Amateurs, but what means the most to Rock is being able to share the experience with his wife, Landy and son, Cody. Landy and Cody have also made names for themselves in the cutting industry.
Rock Hedlund and his family's stallion, Meteles Cat
In the past few years, both Rock and Cody made a big splash with their talented stallion, Meteles Cat and built up his lifetime earnings to more than $435,000! They are both enjoying starting the stallion’s oldest foal crop, who are now 2-year-olds. Rock said spending years together learning and growing together has made their family unit strong and he wouldn’t trade that for the world.
Rock has done his best to stay honest, humble and helpful throughout his years as a trainer, and that infectious attitude earned him the Dave McGregor award at the PCCHA Core Balance Derby & Classic this year. Trainers that receive the prestigious award have demonstrated good sportsmanship and the spirit of fair play among the cutting community.
Rock Hedlund receiving the Dave McGregor Award • Photo by Midge Ames
CHC took some time talk with Rock about his background and his feeling after winning such a big award!
- What do you like the most about cutting?
I really enjoy the training and showing part of it, but I also really enjoy teaching and helping youth kids, Non-Pros and Amateurs. I give probably 8-10 clinics a year at the ranch in Wilton, California, and I really enjoy that. I am also really having fun starting these 2-year-olds by Meteles Cat. We are very pleased with them. We hope they will be how we want them to be when we go to the show pen, and they will speak for themselves.
- What is your favorite memory so far from a cutting?
I have been very lucky and fortunate throughout the years to have a successful life. There was a couple years in a row that I won the World title in the $3,000 Novice. That was a highlight and pretty cool. The year my wife was a World Champion in the $20,000 Non-Pro was really cool, and then my son came back a few years later and won a World Championship in the $20,000 Non-Pro. That was big. When I won the El Rancho Derby out here on Meteles Cat was awful cool.
- How did it feel being the recipient of the Dave McGregor award?
I was very surprised. My wife did a fantastic job keeping it a secret. Dave McGregor is a great man and a tremendous horse trainer. He was just somebody you saw at every cutting, and if you could beat him to the pen in the morning, then you were doing something right. For me to win this award is probably one of the most special awards I could ever win because this award comes from our peers in the cutting horse industry. For them to think I am worthy of this award was very touching to me. There was another award I won about 15 years ago called the Ed Smith award. That is also voted on by past recipients of the award. I think to win awards that are voted on by the peers are the most prestigious. It is one thing to go down there and win in the cutting pen because you had the best run that day, but it is something else when people come together and say that is the person we want to win that award. Those two awards are some of the highlights I have had in my career.
- Who has been your biggest influence or helped you the most as a trainer?
Wilson Thomas, because he was the one that got me started in the cutting. He taught me to be patient. Another one I learned a lot from was Dave McGregor. Chubby Turner was a large part of the people I looked up to, along with Bill Freeman.
- A big part of your program is training the youth in our industry. What do you like most about helping kids grow as cutters, and why do you think it is so important to nurture their passions?
My clinics are geared towards any budget of person, and they are just a one-day clinic. I have had a lot of people who have come to me that had never been on a cutting horse. I feel really good about the fact that I am able to introduce them to the sport, when there normally wouldn’t be many places to get help or learn about it. I have been a judge for 20 plus years, and I think that gives me a little more insight when it comes to teaching and talking about showing. I think that is another way I can give back to the industry.
Rock Hedlund enjoys leading clinics and getting new riders involved in cutting.
- What does it mean to share that with your family?
It is hard, because there are times we get away from the family side and as trainers get awful wrapped up in the business of training horses and taking care of customers. A lot of times, family is put on the back burner and it is hard to juggle and keep things in perspective. Over the years, we have worked hard as a family to keep things in perspective. We have gotten to a place where family really does come first. Even though Cody lives in Texas and we live in California, we are still as close as we were when he was growing up. It’s very special that we still have that relationship. Watching my wife have success in this industry at the level she has and watching my son grow up in this industry and have success has been irreplaceable.
- Do you set goals for yourself based on where you are at in your career or is there just one big goal that drives you?
I think the biggest goal I look for is to be as successful as I can possibly be, and I want to be honest and true to myself. I believe that if you trust in the Lord, all things like this are possible. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. A lot of times we get away from that.
- Name one horse past or present you wish you could have gotten to show?
I would have loved to ride Smart Little Lena. I have been fortunate enough to ride quite a few babies by Smart Little Lena, and I think it would have been cool to ride him.
- If you could give an outsider one reason to give cutting a try, what would it be?
It is the most fun you can have with your clothes on!
- What is one piece of advice you would give to young trainers looking to make a career out of training cutting horses?
Be honest with yourself, be honest with the people that are around you and passionate about the industry and being a cutting horse trainer. If you are passionate about it, you won’t mind the long hours and little pay, because it is something you enjoy doing. But you have to enjoy doing it, or it is not for you.
Read more about Rock’s accomplishments by viewing his CHC Trainer Profile here!