My first riding instruction came from Anna Sewell. I read "Black Beauty" when I was 7 or 8 years old.
I loved horses with an uncontrolled passion, but it was the passion of a child with no experience. I wanted to run like Roy Rogers and Trigger, have a horse which reared and screamed like Fury and loved only me like my friend Flicka.
Black Beauty opened my eyes and heart to the hard life of a horse trying to survive in the harsh world of man.
Anna Sewell taught me to emphasize and sympathize with the potential cruelty waiting for a kind-hearted, thinking, feeling animal tied to humans forever through no choice of their own.
Marguerite Henry followed and gave me the need to run wild and free on a horse who chose to spend time with me. Walter Farley made my desire to fly on the back of my closest friend even stronger. Reading through the Black Stallion series and watching Alec grow into a competent and caring horseman under the careful tutelage of Henry planted a seed of thought. In order to become a real equestrian, to truly understand this magical animal I was going to need a mentor.
I wasn't a child who listened, not in school, not at home, but I understood the importance of listening to someone who could teach me about horses.
My first real, honest to God instruction came from Mark Reynor, the owner of a local dude stable. Mark taught me how to sit a trot, neck rein and suck it up when I didn't get to ride the beautiful horse I was hoping to ride and instead was given the scabby, icky ones nobody wanted.
My next instructor was my best friend from junior high through high school. She taught me how to saddle a horse, the joyous difference between a dude horse and an owned horse, and through my years being friends with Karen, I developed a ferocious desire to compete, that I still have and struggle with to this day.
During this same period of time I rode with Mike Craig. He opened my eyes to the magic of training without force, but with the use of timing and rhythm. He taught a training approach he learned from Monte Foreman, a innovative and intuitive trainer wrapped in the exterior of a gruff and surly old cowboy. I became not only a better rider, but discovered a curiosity which translated into a need to train my own horses, no matter what discipline I might be caught up in at the time.
As my life's path unrolled in front of me I eventually became a horse trainer. When I entered this incredibly competitive field I was many years behind my peers, not only in method and awareness, but in age as well.
I began to catch up with the help of Devin Warren. Devin is a beautiful rider, sleek and professional, and I met him while learning to ride an extremely difficult stallion in events I had no understanding of.
I was supposed to show this horse in Western Pleasure, Reining, Western Riding and Trail. I was so lost I came to the conclusion everything I had learned until that moment was crap. It was wrong, wrong, wrong. I threw everything away and started over.
Horses were now my business and I had to be a pro. I learned to use a German martingale, a correction bit and the value of a tie wall. I found my core, my legs and learned how to remember a pattern.
I learned how to create drive in slow motion, find control through the feet of my horse instead of my hands, and that Western Pleasure wasn't my deal.
My next trainer and true mentor was the Big K. Over several years he introduced me to Reined Cow Horse. The event gave me everything I had ever wanted, finesse, beauty, technical challenge and speed. He taught me to throw away all my gadgets.
I learned to train a horse from the ground up without a noseband, without a martingale, without heavy use of my hands.
I advanced into a world of the highest levels of horsemanship I had ever seen and the most horrific treatment of horses I had ever witnessed. I learned to love the fire and sensitivity of a winning bridle horse and to take pride in not only being able to ride them, but to train them. I also began to question every single aspect of what I was doing.
Slowly my past began to seep back into my awareness. I remembered Mark telling me I needed to learn to feel the rhythm of my horse's gaits, so I could tell when I was riding him until he was footsore.
The patience it took to feel a horse onto his leads or to encourage a youngster to lope up his first trail came from Mike, not the "hurry up and ride them through" world I was in then. I realized my horses stopped better, turned harder and understood their job better if I let them find their way through a slow building of cues and giving them time to think.
I left the Big K bitter and disillusioned. I struck out on my own and finally had time to think. I began to develop the theories and ideas that had been kept on the back burner for so many years. My training became better, cleaner, kinder, and more precise.
My final trainer was a retired veterinarian who had me starting her colts. She had ridden dressage in her youth and had been an Olympic team alternate many years before. She recognized a "touch of the classics" in my style and was happy to comply when I asked her for lessons.
My western ways no more interfered than my cutting saddle as we practiced and discussed shoulders, hips, balance and forward. The language of the horse was no different no matter the trappings and some final bricks fell into place. I worked and sweated and strained my brain, it was great.
Since I retired I have made peace with all of my mentors. Whether they were complete horsemen or trainers doesn't matter anymore. Each was instrumental in my development and each had something to offer.
I still think like a trainer, I'm currently working on lead changes on a straight line every eight strides. My immediate goal is to trim it down to four.I still try to learn, cutting is probably the hardest thing I've done, but I love it.
I am enjoying immensely my time with just my two personal horses. Our relationships are peaceful and filled with joy, I'm remembering the lessons taught by perhaps my greatest mentor of all, Mort, my first horse. I can appreciate the shine and scent of a sun soaked summer coat. I am finally able to just hang around and visit with my horses. Sometimes I saddle up and we meander the same way I did as a kid. Every once in a while we blow across the prairie at full speed just because we can.
So who was your trainer?