Spalding Labs Presents the Third Annual Light Hands Horsemanship Symposium

April 1, 2009
Spalding Labs Presents the Third Annual Light Hands Horsemanship Symposium

Light Hands Horsemanship held its third annual Symposium event from May 29 to 31, 2009 at Intrepid Farms in Santa Inez Valley, CA. Before the event I asked five of the clinicians — Eitan Beth-Halachmy, Dr. Robert Miller, Jack Brainard, Lester Buckley, and Jon Ensign— about the clinic and what guests might expect to learn.


How did you come up with the idea for the clinic?
The concept for Light Hands Horsemanship came about in 2005 in Brazil, where the first International Equine Congress was held. Dr. Miller, Lester Buckley, and Jon Ensign were fellow clinicians with me, and Art Perry, the LHH host, was a guest as well. LHH was actually conceived at McDonald’s in the San Paulo Airport on our return home. It has been our intention from that very moment to bring to the public a weekend that not only covered colt starting but took you on an equine journey from birth to the finished horse. We also wanted to have multiple clinicians who would cover their areas of expertise. While each clinician might have a different approach and different style, but they all come together at get the same results: lightness. The four horsemen that make up the core of LHH are the real deal. They live, eat, and breathe what they teach. They are continuous students of the horse. All have the credentials and knowledge to make each session lively and very educational. The four have a great sense of humor so there is a lot of laughter too.

We do not wish to be a huge event but to keep the numbers somewhat low, that way we can maintain the “up close and personal” atmosphere. Our guests at the clinic are treated like “guests,” not like auditors.
From that first conversation in Brazil we have stuck to our original concepts, plus we also include guest clinicians, chuck wagon cooking, vendors, museum tours, and entertainment.

What will you do at the clinic?
My desire to inspire and open the eyes and minds of horse people is my first goal. You must form a partnership with the horse, and you must understand how his “engineering” works. If you have those basic concepts you can work with him, not against him. To work with him you have to be able to control the placement of his feet and have control over the three parts of his body. This is not something that is achieved easily or quickly. I will demonstrate how you get that control, and how you can actually place his feet. This is how you create the movements and maneuvers that you see in a Baroque or Dressage horse. When you understand the mechanics of the horse and his movements you can combine the elements of footfall, cadence, balance, and carriage to create magic. I want to plant that seed and thirst in our guest to be better, to learn more.

What is your background with horses?
I was born and raised in Israel, which isn’t a country that is known for its horses. In my time, the horses, mules, and donkeys were used for work and farming. Even so, I’ve had the horse bug for as long as I can remember.
I used to wait for the milk and kerosene to be delivered each week by donkey. While he wasn’t a horse, he was close — and that was good enough for me.

As I grew up I became more active with the horses that were available. I spent a lot of time behind a single blade plow and a mule or draft horse type breed. Later, I became acquainted with Leopold, a circus trainer and another horseman, a former Calvary officer from Europe. They were instrumental in my first learning experiences with riding. As I look back, it was crude but there was a respect and understanding of the horse.
Later, I went to the University of Vienna Vet School. While there, I worked as a stall cleaner at the famed Spanish School. Not glamorous, but very educational. I later moved to the United States and attended U.C. Davis in California to further my education.

I had grown up in Israel watching cowboys and their horses in the movie house. And I wanted to be a cowboy more than anything. As my journey in horsemanship continued, I combined what I had learned from the Calvary and circus trainers in my youth with my observations at the Spanish Riding School to create Cowboy Dressage. I ride and train what I consider a Baroque Western Horse. I combine many schools of teaching and training to create my horses, but they are all built on the principles of dressage. Each of my horses that I swing a leg over is schooled in dressage basics.
Right now, work is under way to create a Cowboy Dressage Division in the USEF rated shows. The tests are along the lines of the dressage tests and judged similarly. A great need and demand has grown for such a division. The benefits of horse and rider are easily apparent.

Because of this demand of dressage knowledge for the western rider I have started a Cowboy Dressage School of Horsemanship. It has been a big success for us and even more of a success for its students.


What is your background with horses?
I started working with horses when I was 15 and continued working with them as a summer job, except for my two years in the army.

How did you become interested in natural horsemanship?
In my 20s, I rejected the bronc bustin’ methods and came up with what is now called “Natural Horsemanship” on my own. I became a veterinarian at the age of 30 and thereafter only started colts for myself. When the Revolution [in natural horsemanship] began when I was 57, I promptly joined it because I knew it would succeed.

What are you planning to do at the clinic?
I will explain, scientifically, how horses learn. If we understand this, we can achieve results with amazing speed. I’ll also discuss what’s new in foal training — some people are doing remarkable things.
The LHH event has become the high point of the year for me. Why? Because in May we have five clinicians who are absolute geniuses in several disciplines: dressage, California Vaquero horsemanship, and reining. We all learn from each other and share it with those who are interested.


Why did you decide to do the clinic this year?
I am happy to take part in the Light Hands clinic because it involves a new and different concept in training the western horse. It is called Cowboy Dressage. It is a much-needed renovation in true horsemanship, making use of proven methods and training techniques that are not new but have been neglected by many modern horsemen.
This clinic will take the horse from start to finish with qualified trainers who will show the reasoning and the progression of turning out a finished horse.

What will you be doing at the clinic?
Since training a horse involves control of the horse, we must be especially cognizant of how and when we apply the controls. This involves training exercises and the manner in which we apply them. If we are to control the horse, we must first control the parts of the horse: his head, neck, front feet, and the hind quarters.
I will attempt to demonstrate these exercises, the value of them, and the results. I think this clinic will be different and unlike most others. It will be a true learning experience, and the attendees will be happy they came.


What is your background with horses?
I grew up on several small farms and ranches around North-Central Texas. I say several because I lost my mom when I was five and then my dad when I was seven. This began a period of my shuffling from kinfolks to kinfolks for me--the only consistent things I had in my life during this time were the horses and cattle.

I finally settled in with an aunt and uncle in Graham, Texas who adopted me and did their best to see I always had livestock. They are real good folk, and I appreciate all they did for me. I don’t begrudge those times, for that was the foundation of my life-long desire to be with cattle and horses. With the livestock is the place that I have always fit in and belonged, even if I was feeling squeezed out of other areas in life. We always had horses while I was growing up, no matter which family I was with. We all spent lots of time riding bareback, falling off, riding double, riding the cows, or whatever we could get away with. You know kids: no fear and probably too much free time. I think this is where my dad had developed his philosophy of there is “no boy like a tired boy,” which I have to admit has credibility.

Through all my school years, my interest in livestock superseded any school work. But if I could combine studying with livestock, horses, or cattle, I figured that would be a grand life, and it has been. I continue to study the horse in-depth from all angles and disciplines and I have never been one to settle on just one discipline of the horse. As I mature as a student, I do find some areas are of more interest than others and those are the ones that stress the respect and welfare of the horse over other more vain uses.
Who influenced you most with your training?

The biggest turning point for me was when I was at college at Sul Ross State, studying for my Horse Science degree. My teacher said it would be a good idea if I “missed” a little school to go see Ray Hunt. I missed all week. Time just stood still when I saw Ray work with some unstarted colts. I was already training by then and thought I knew a little. But that changed everything for me and anyone who has ever ridden with me since. I am by no means Ray, but I am the best Lester Buckley I can be and a lot of people have added to who I am. I followed Ray around for most of the rest of my college years.

I also worked with Willie Richardson. He is a National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Fame rider, past Open World Champion with Sonitalena, and a many-time champion and finalist of too many shows to mention. Not only is he a great trainer but he is probably the finest employer a guy could ever want. He told me once when I asked him about working for other famous trainers (which I’ve spent some time doing), “If you want to know what a trainer is really like to work for, then ask for his help.” I spent seven years working for Willie seven days a week in different states and barns. Never once did he say a cross word. He put a lot of time in on me, and I will always be thankful for that. One day, he wrote me a letter of recommendation and told me I could stay if I wanted, but he felt it was my time to go and be me. God bless him.

I did not have as much time with Bill Dorrance as I would have liked. By the time I met him, I had already been training horses for the King Ranch in Texas as well as the quarter-million acre Parker Ranch in Hawaii. I would get short opportunities from time to time to go “get in a visit” with Bill, and it always surprised me that he was usually the one asking the horse questions. He was always curious about the cutting horses and had all kinds of questions. The main things I learned from Bill were not on a horse. One was his humbleness, to always be learning more about horsemanship from whoever crossed his path. He is also probably the least judgmental person I was ever around.

Being non-judgmental is also a strength of Bob Miller DVM, one of my co-clinicians. I mean, you might have just gone through some real bad choices in life but he would make it real easy to be around him. He might say, “Well, I probably wouldn’t have done the same thing myself” but he’d still give you the hope that he really cared about seeing you make it through.

Also, whether working with horses or people, Bob never seems to be in any kind of hurry. To me he is a proper balance of confidence and true dignity wrapped in humility.

What brought you into the world of Light Hands Horsemanship?
We were all invited to come to Brazil as part of a clinician’s retreat. I’d already been friends with Bob Miller for 15 years. But I did meet Eitan and his wife, Debbie, and Jon Ensign while there. I have long been a fan of Jack Brainard. Art Perry who hosted the annual event in Brazil put this little group together, as I believe he saw we were complementary to one another as well as different enough to stir people’s minds and emotions. No one rides exactly the same, so it is refreshing to get some different philosophies about how to get where you want to be.

What are you planning to do at the symposium in May?
At this year’s Light Hands Horsemanship clinic, I will be riding English one day and Western the next day. On the English day, I am planning on discussing the strengths and differences of German and French classical riding.
On the western day I will be comparing the strengths of two different training styles: one from the performance-based mindset and the other from the working cowboy mindset. By no means do I pretend to be an expert on either of these, but I have spent considerable time studying and riding in each of these mindsets at different seasons of my life, and I can intelligently discuss them from the horse’s point of view. I can also talk about which style might be most favorable for different horses and different people as their riding matures.
Learn more about Lester at


How did you get into horses and training? Have you always lived in Montana?

I got into horses at a very early age. We always had horses as I was growing up, and I always enjoyed riding. We couldn’t afford a well-trained horse, so when we would buy one we would get a younger, cheaper one. Because of that I learned how to train horses. I lived in Montana all my life, and that’s where I was introduced to Buck Brannaman.

What notable horsemen influenced you?
I was working on a ranch when I was a young man and had the great opportunity to work with a man named Roland Moore. Roland is a great horseman and cowboy, and he took me under his wing and tried to help me as much as he could. I say “tried” because I was 18 and thought I new it all. Thanks to Roland’s patience with me I started to learn.

Roland’s brother-in-law is Buck Brannaman. Roland introduced me to Buck at a branding, and I was able to watch Buck and Jeff Griffith start some colts that afternoon. It was amazing watching them. That day, I realized it was Buck and Jeff who I wanted to work with and be around.

The three of these great horseman — Roland, Buck, and Jeff — helped me learn how a horse thinks and feels. They also helped me take my human thoughts and change them so I could understand the horse better.
What brought you into the world of Light Hands Horsemanship?

The Light Hands Horsemanship clinic first developed at an equine expo held in Brazil. The four of us met in Brazil and a friendship formed. A gentleman named Art Perry suggested that we all get together and have a symposium. Art offered his beautiful Santa Ynez facility, and we planned our first event. I feel honored that the other three horseman saw something in me and invited me to be a part of it.
What are you planning to do at the symposium in May?

I will be starting a colt that hasn’t had anything done with it in the past. It’s a hard question to answer because I like to work with each individual horse and I can only go as far as the horse will let me. When I start my colts, I go in with a mindset of having no preconceived ideas. I don’t like to rush my colts. The best gift you can give a horse is a good foundation. So that will be my focus. Visit Jon’s Web site at

The horsemen of Light Hands Horsemanship were recently featured on Rick Lambs’ “The Horse Show” on RFD-TV April 21 and 26, 2009. Visit the Light Hands Horsemanship Web site at Learn more about Spalding Labs at