On most articles or newsletters, we offer advice on traveling with your horse or new adventures you might undertake, but in this article, I want to focus on finding the right trainer for your horse. In the first part of this article, we will talk about the issues but in the second part, I will go out on a limb and name several trainers that I admire.
At first thought, you might think you do not need a trainer. Most of us feel that way. Some folks think it makes them a lesser rider to seek help. I actually talked to a rider once that said they were going to take care of a problem with their horse that spooked sometimes for no reason by watching a training DVD they paid “good money for”. This is a foolish thought. While information may be helpful, it does not solve the problem. Even though I have ridden thousands of miles from one corner of this country to the other, I have sought professional training on a couple occasions for a horse. We can always learn more. Remember, it is the safe end result we want to achieve.
If you or a friend has a horse that has an issue, it is important to address it. I often hear someone talking about a horse they just acquired that is perfect, “except for the occasional rearing up or kicking out for no apparent reason.” It is just not worth it to have a horse that may hurt or kill you or someone in your family.
Yes, I have trained most of my horses or, in some cases retrained a horse but on a couple of occasions I have chosen to have a trainer work with a horse. Sometimes it is a professional trainer that can do so much more for a horse in such a better way.
So, the question is how to find the perfect trainer. Here are my thoughts and guidelines. First, I look at the character of the trainer. If the trainer seems a bit rough and abusive when talking to you, imagine what they might do when no one is around. A few head slaps of a horse can break a trust that took years for you to acquire. So, if the trainer is not someone you would want to have around your 13-year granddaughter, you might want to think about it again. PAIN and abuse is never acceptable. It is key to good training to improve the horse, not break the trust.
Second, discuss the issues with the trainer in detail. Watch closely to see their reaction about their experience in dealing with those issues. This will raise your confidence level when they offer specific techniques on dealing with a problem.
Never, ever send your horse to a trainer that cannot tell you who will be doing the training each day. Many well-known trainers hire apprentice trainers to actually do the work. Be specific in asking who will be working with your horse and how often. If they say we will take your horse for 30 days for whatever amount, be suspicious. Consider dropping in unannounced one day to see what is going on. It may well be worth the trip.
This part of my suggestions will get me a great deal of emails but I will do it anyway. I want to mention trainers I admire. None of the names I will mention know I am including them in my notes here. These are a few people I have seen, first hand in my travels and would trust them with my horse. These are people with experience and have the natural talent to communicate effectively with a horse. Moreover, they are folks that have that ability to cause the horse to want to perform well for you.
I base much of this from my grandfather who worked with horses every day and also loved and trained mules. What made him special was the fact that he was a deaf mute. He would go to the gate in the morning and simply clap his hands to get their attention in a huge field. They would come to him and get a bit of attention with an ear scratch or a silent communication. The rest was simply hand signals. No yelling, no whips, not even a lead rope. They welcomed his ability to love them and be their master. As I grow older, I realize what an amazing event this was. (By the way, in recent years, I have enjoyed taking advantage of this act by making sure my horse was in the field with horses of a well-known trainer. In the mornings, I would take great pleasure in signaling and calling my horse which came to me when he saw me while the trainer was chasing his horses to corner them. (I kinda think his horses did not like him much.)
The most gifted trainers I have seen, (other than my wife Pat with her horse which is the best trainer I have ever seen) would be Justin Dunn of Colorado, Bobby Knight of West Virginia, Kerry Kuhn of Kansas, and Richard Winters of Nevada and, although he is not a trainer, per se, James Brown of South Carolina. Here is why I name and recommend them.
First and most important, they are people of true character. These are people you would want to invite home to have dinner with your family. You would trust your children or grandchildren with them, so trusting your horse with kind and gentle people is a given. My wife Pat can walk into a 25-acre field and her horse will literally run to see her without even being called. She trained the horse from green-broke and later rode the horse from the Atlantic to the Pacific, in towns, parades, by railroad trains, without an incident. She developed a gentle character in her horse, not unlike her kind ways.
Second, they are accomplished trainers. You can look up their records and see they have achieved respect from people across the country but it never went to their heads. They do not have to prove anything or be any kind of a ‘show-off’. Their personalities and abilities speak for themselves. They each love what they do and do not look for the limelight or fame.
Richard Winters is a trainer that has taken horses to perform at their peak. He is often seen at expos doing clinics and seminars and his kind wife is assisting him. He takes great care to listen to you or anyone asking for help and advice. His quiet but effective training skills are amazing and he is glad to share his knowledge with you. He is the best on the circuit, in my opinion.
Kerry Kuhn is another trainer that has the talent to communicate with horses. I have had him on our television show as a guest trainer and asked him to work with a difficult horse I rescued from the slaughter line. His patience seems endless with animals and his results are permanent. I have seen him train a horse he had never seen until we brought it into an arena before a crowd of people to load on a trailer. The horse was the worse loader we had ever seen. It took him two or three hours to load the horse but when he finished, the horse would load or unload on command without a lead rope. No whips, no chains, no pain. My grandfather would have approved.
Bobby Knight has the ability to train successfully as well. A quiet man with a huge heart. I asked Bobby, without advance notice, to assist me in taking a totally paralyzed young woman with a breathing device to keep her alive on her first trail ride. She had whispered in my ear that it was her dream to one day sit on a horse. There are two factors here I want to emphasize. First, his heart to make her dream a reality and second, his horse was so well trained, there was no worry about spooking or any lack of trust the horse had to do this. (Although someone had called the police at the event in fear of what may happen, I saw tears falling on the faces of the police who wanted to stop this as they and on lookers as a well-trained horse and a couple of guys watched the joy on her face. The horse trusted the trainer and the rider.) Bobby can train your horse or mine anytime.
Justin Dunn of Colorado is quick to talk about his family and his horses. To him, they may be one and the same. He is a master in training wild mustangs to the point that I have seen small children ride them without any fear. He does not break the spirit of the horse but brings the wild horse into our world to be a show horse or a trail horse. He is the only trainer that really, in my opinion, can understand the mind of a mustang and train a wild mustang to be truly safe for anyone to ride. His work with cancer children and horses as therapy is inspiring. Again, Justin can be trusted to train my horse or yours.
Finally, there is a man in Greenville, SC who is not listed as a trainer, but his ability to communicate with a horse is as impressive as any national trainer. His name is James Brown and he rode one horse with us from Mexico to Canada. I have never met a finer gentleman in every respect. He is an example every man should strive to be. I watched him and rode with him every day for months, but it was his relationship to his horse that has impressed me more than any other rider I have ever seen. Without words, each morning, he would quietly feed and brush his horse. They knew each other as well as any person would know another. If there is such a thing as a horse loving his master, it was James Brown and his horse. It was the goal we want to achieve with our horse and he was the best I have ever seen. He does not know of this article or him being named and that he will be showcased in an upcoming television series on our trip from Mexico to Canada. A few moments of watching him and you will see the level of trust between a horse and rider we can all hope to achieve.
For me, I have had two great horses that I loved dearly. One is Willie which I ride now and also rode on Mexico to Canada. He actually loves to be with people and seeks their attention. He loves parades and crowds and children. The other was Marshal Dillon who I rode from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Marshal was rescued from the slaughter line. He loved doing things with me such as going inside of a nursing home to visit patients. He seemed to enjoy making people happy, including taking (unassisted) a totally blind lady on a two hour trail ride in the mountains many times. However, what made these horses great is the same thing that can make your horse equally as great: patience and kindness in training and riding. Of course, you have to sometimes be firm and demanding, but when you spend the time and work to teach your horse, there becomes a level of respect, a bond that can’t be broken. The horse’s nature can become a guarded protector rather than a spook and run. The curiosity as you explore new trails can be equally rewarding to you as well as the horse. For lack of a better word, the friendship between you and the horse can be achieved as you watch sunsets, explore beautiful places or just being together for a brushing and feeding after you have a tough day.
I suggest you consider talking to a trainer, like the ones mentioned , to help you take your horse to that level that my grandfather would smile about and would add a greater level of enjoyment to your life with your horse and trail riding.
Contact me anytime through Facebook, our website or my email of firstname.lastname@example.org
If I can help you in any way, I will certainly try my best.
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Learn more about the trainers Tom Seay talked about in his article:
Justin Dunn – Guffey, CO
Facebook: Justin Dunn Mustang Horsemanship
Bobby Knight – Jumping Branch, WV
Facebook: Knight Horsemanship