A Little Respect
A lifelong rider and her mount learn some new tricks with the help of famed clinician Clinton Anderson.
My first experience riding was as a young girl, while I was at home with my father in Hollywood, California. He put me up on the personal horse — named “Horse” — of the great stunt trainer Joe Canutt (son of Yakima Canutt), a former wild mustang that we were caring for while Joe was in Spain filming Ben-Hur.
From that memorable moment on I have had a deep passion for horses, and I have learned to ride both Western and dressage. My husband and I now have five gypsy horses on our ranch west of Fort Worth, Texas, four of which I have owned and trained since their birth. Words fail to express the deep bond I share with these unusual animals.
So when I had the opportunity to train with famed Australian clinician Clinton Anderson at his Downunder Horsemanship Clinic in Stephenville, Texas, I jumped at the chance. I was curious — what could a lifelong rider like me learn from an Aussie like him? Turns out, quite a bit.
We begin where all proper schooling begins — in the classroom. Each rider is quickly pared down to the basics, regardless of previous experience. Refocused and reinvigorated, we join our mounts in the round pen. Anderson explains that it is a useful tool to control your horse’s feet and get him to look to you for leadership, not just a means of wearing him out. I soon establish respect with my horse on a life-changing level.
“If you had a 1,000-pound Chihuahua that bit you and had no respect, you wouldn’t keep it,” Anderson says. “Most people look at their horse as an oversized dog and allow it to run over them. They end up below [their horse] in the pecking order.”
Still working on the ground, Anderson teaches us to read our horses’ body language. This is where respect begins. We get our horses to respond willingly to our instructions, moving their feet forward, backward, to the right, and to the left. With his methods comes a great level of understanding: We start to truly see how our horses think and react, and realize how, as owners, we are the ones in control.
Today brings new challenges as we send our horses through water, across a horse-size teeter-totter, and over obstacles, hills, and gullies — all situations that can be encountered at home or on the trail. We get to see how well we did establishing respect, trust, and control of our horses’ feet the day before. It’s exhilarating to accomplish tasks that we would have previously found frightening and overwhelming.
October 1 – 5: 5-Day Fundamentals Clinic, $2,000, Stephenville, Texas — Learn Clinton Anderson’s signature method from clinician Shana Terry. Up to 30 people will be accepted for this beginner’s course.
October 27 – 28: 2012 Walkabout Tour, $50, Lufkin, Texas — Watch Anderson put one of his own horses through its paces during a spectacular demonstration of horsemanship, then see how he starts from scratch with a fresh horse in the round pen. He performs both English and Western maneuvers, including side passes, spins, tempi flying changes, and sliding stops.
November 1 – 11: 10-Day Intermediate Clinic, $4,000, Stephenville, Texas — This intermediate level clinic requires participants to submit a video demonstrating that you and the horse you plan on riding are proficient at each of the exercises Anderson covers in his fundamentals course.
Find more info on clinics here.
The morning begins cold and windy as we work outside in the giant arena refining our leadership and ground control. Later in the afternoon we finally get in the saddle and all ride at a lope with loose reins, allowing our horses to go where they want. Surrounded by the other horses and riders, I feel a great sense of pride as I gain one more level of confidence with my animal, knowing we are becoming a great team.
We continue to ride in the arena, perfecting our horsemanship in the saddle. We learn correct stops and turns from a walk, trot, or lope.
After our wide-ranging ground training, Anderson brings us to the trees. With dust rising all around, he teaches us how to control our horses in a forest of oaks.
My horse spends the morning refining his manners while being led, then learns that a waving plastic grocery sack on a stick is not cause for a heart attack. As a reward, we head off to the biggest equine fun park. Anderson’s obstacle course is impressively diverse, with an immense variety of hills, valleys, bodies of water, teeter-totters, loading ramps, and even a “car wash” ribbon rack — all of which build a higher level of control and trust.
As the days progress, I become more confident. I realize that my horse and I are forging a greater bond built on respect, one that will last a lifetime. Our level of communication and understanding is surprising; my horse is calm, attentive, and responsive.
The culmination of all of our training is a test: working a cow. It ends up being quite hilarious given the number of students in the group who have never herded cattle. But in the end, each horse owner is successful at moving a cow across the arena. It doesn’t matter whether the rider is tacked Western or English, the same principles are applied and end goal achieved.
We finish with timed events on the obstacles mastered during the week. Awards are then presented for accomplishment. But we’re all convinced we are winners: We leave this place with the best Anderson has to offer — his knowledge, support, and fundamental tools that will stay with us as we return home. And the unexpected bonus? The bonds of friendships forged under the Texas sun. As I drive back to my ranch, the sun sets in my rearview mirror, reminding me of the promise the next day brings.