Horses are a Gift
iVIEW columnist Gina McKnight
No duplication without permission from trueCOWBOYmagazine
Dale believes, “Whether you are new to horses or an experienced horse person, you influence your horse's body and mind every time you handle or ride him. It’s our responsibility to have a beneficial impact. I’ve been training and teaching people about horses for over 30 years. My favorite part of my day is showing people how to have a wonderful and safe relationship with their horse and how to help their horse do his or her job with confidence and comfort.”
Recently, I talked with Dale about her horse history, the horses she stables, and her training methods. An enjoyable conversation, I highly recommend you to take a look at Dale’s methods and her keen horse-sense.
Dale: It really started when I was young and being coached by other trainers. I owned my second horse, Weasel, and was riding at a show barn. The lessons consisted of riding on the rail. I was told to walk, jog, and lope around the rail. If my horse's head went up, I was told to bump it back down. If he sped up, I was told to pull him to a stop. That was the basic lesson structure – punish him for doing something “wrong.” I didn’t know what “wrong” meant and neither did he. I was told to buy a bumper bit. After a period of time, Weasel was getting a terrible sore from it. He was a sweet horse, but he got to the point where he was so miserable he didn’t even want to come out of his lonely metal stall. He started bucking at shows. He had no life. He was only brought out to be lunged, ridden, or put on the hot walker. I hated it. I began reading a lot; learning what I could from available magazines. I wanted to stop hurting my horse, so I bought him a snaffle. My trainer ridiculed me for that and ignored me for the rest of the day.
Dale: I own two quarter horses – Zena (Warrior Princess) and Rayna. Zena I’ve had for a few years. Where we live right now we don’t have a riding facility. We are in the process of buying a farm here in middle Tennessee. We’ve been renting, so we haven’t even put up the round pen. My horses have been on vacation! I tend to own Quarter Horses, but I work with all breeds. It doesn’t matter what the breed is or what the horses do because the horse is either balanced, relaxed and comfortable or they are not.
Gina: Zena and Rayna - two mares!
Dale: I love mares. My mare Zena was had a previous who hired somebody to start her. She was flooded. I was at the same farm and saw what she went through. She lost about 200 pounds in a week. I saw her being tied up and smacked in the head with a bag and other things. You should see a picture of her when she was going through that. She was crazy thin and so stressed.
I was able to remove her from this situation. I turned her out and let her be a horse. It took six months before she would let me touch her. Slowly she let me get close to her again. It wasn’t because I worked with her a lot; I just left her alone and let her call the shots. She finally decided I was safe. She’s such a lovely and confident mare. I hate that she went through that but she’s fine now. My other mare Rayna came with issues too. She’s 15. I don’t know what happened to her, but when we first got her she felt threatened. She was reactive and defended herself by biting and sometimes kicking. I use positive praise and reinforcement training with her. It works great, especially with horses that have been traumatized. She’s much happier now; less guarded, and enjoys it when we give her attention.
Gina: Do you like living in Tennessee? You are originally from California. The cultural differences between the two places must have been overwhelming at first.
Dale: Love it. Tennessee felt like home the minute I came to visit nine years ago. I grew up in Orange County, California. Tennessee is completely different and that’s what I love about it.
Gina: As a trainer, horse lover, and equestrian, what is your best advice for novice riders?
Dale: I have about 20 different things coming to mind! For novice riders I would say it’s supposed to be fun for everybody – horse and human. Learn all you can. Work with somebody who is a good teacher, someone who stresses safety and teaches horsemanship. Learning about horses isn’t just about riding. It is really important to understand behavior, how to feed and care for a horse, and to understand the why behind the how. Learn how to read a horse’s expression – their ears, neck position, etc. It will help you stay safe. The sooner you know horse is going to have a problem, the better chance you can do something to stop it before it gets out of hand. It boils down to have a well-rounded education from the beginning and knowing the horse from top to bottom, inside and out.
Gina: If I am a new rider wanting to purchase a horse for the first time, what should I look for in a horse?
Dale: If you’re new to riding I would strongly suggest hiring an expert to help you. If that expert was me, I would find out what your skill level is, what type of riding you want to do, and what your expectation of the horse is. I would want to see how confident you are when you’re handling and riding a horse. I would want to know if you are going to be working with a trainer or have some other support, which if you’re a new rider you should. I would educate you on evaluating a horse’s suitability, assessing personality, training, and movement. I would be there to help you choose that horse.
Gina: You match the right horse with the right person, as well as provide beneficial clinics and workshops. Can anyone come to you for advice?
Dale: Of course! I love helping people and their amazing horses have safe, fulfilling, and successful experiences.
Gina: You have been around horses a long time and have seen a lot of diverse and adverse situations. As you said, horses are amazing. Do you believe horses are spiritual?
Dale: Everything that’s alive is spiritual. Are horses more spiritual than other beings? That’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a more or less. It might be a unique spirituality from the perspective of the horse.
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