Session offers tips on horse training

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

STEAMBOAT, Ariz., August 9, 2012

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W ith all the recent coverage on horse problems within the Navajo Nation, horse owner Monica Begay wanted to help her community understand the critters a little better.

So on Aug. 3 she hosted a "Problem Solving Challenge" at Willie's Ranch a few miles west of Steamboat, where everyone was welcome to come and watch experts demonstrate basic techniques to train horses.

"Even though you encounter challenges with your horses those challenges can be overcome with the right teaching techniques and proper knowledge," Begay said.

Three Navajo horse trainers demonstrated techniques before an audience of about two dozen people, showing basic training exercises, and tips on loading them into a trailer and calming them when they get spooked.

Matthew Smiley of Manuelito, N.M., led off with a demonstration of basic groundwork and exercises to prepare horses to be saddled and ridden.

He said when starting a horse, you need to earn its respect before moving on to any other training. Since horses look for a strong leader to follow, the human has to demonstrate that in terms the horse can understand.

According to Smiley, if you can get the horse's feet to move before your own you have achieved dominance and gotten its respect.

Smiley worked with a 3-year-old quarter horse as he maneuvered him around the corral using verbal and physical commands.

In place of the old-time methods of subduing a horse by force, Smiley showed that calm and consistency, not violence.

"This method is not just safe for you but (for) the horse," he said, adding, "There's always an answer to a problem horse."

As rain clouds gathered overhead, Carlos Ray Chee of Wheatfields, Ariz., demonstrated how to soothe a frightened horse.

"I just like playing around with these horses," he said.

He refers to horse training as horse teaching, and said, "If your horse has problems it's not their fault."

Working with an 8-year-old mare, he introduced a tarp to test its fear factor.

As the horse grew agitated, Chee moved it around the corral until it calmed down, eventually getting it to accept being rubbed on the hindquarters with the tarp.

Afterward he advised introducing your tools to your horse, and let the horse know it need not fear them.

Chee then spread the tarp on the ground and encouraged the mare to cross it. She walked around it a few times before she gained the confidence to walk across it without fear.

"If you can earn their trust they will understand you better," he said.

As the wind picked up and raindrops began to fall, Ty Jones of Flagstaff demonstrated tips to help your horse learn to load safely into a trailer.

Jones started off by earning the respect of the horse as he led it around the corral. To get the horse used to stepping up, he led it over a pole that was propped up several inches.

When you work with your horses, Jones said, you have to make sure you give them 100 percent because as a horse owner that is what you're expecting of them, so meet the horse half way.

Jones led his horse to the trailer, allowing it to get acquainted before encouraging it to step inside. Calm and collected, the horse stepped into the trailer without hesitation.

Although their styles differed, each trainer had the same goal - to share their techniques with the community with hopes that people will be able to handle their horses better.

And they all agreed that horses don't have problems, it's people problems that make horse problems.

Jessica Dooley, 30, of Vanderwagen, N.M., brought her husband Casey to the event because he wanted to see Navajo horse trainers.

"We know that they have a lot of knowledge toward horses," she said.

She said she hopes that she and her husband will be able to apply some of the techniques they learned to the horses they have at home.

"We need to start with the ground work. We need to let the horses know were in charge," she said.

Piñon, Ariz., resident Gary Begay said he hoped to pick up what he could to work with his own horses, noting, "It's hard to find trainers."

Begay said he works with six horses and after attending the Problem Solving Challenge, he understands the importance of groundwork.

"I guess you got to build trust with your horses before you can do anything with them," he said.

Monica Begay said she hopes to turn the Problem Solving Challenge into an annual event for her community, and plans to increase her efforts to publicize it to other communities across the reservation.

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