Next Level Horsemanship

BY PIPER WHELAN

Natural Horsemanship clinician Glenn Stewart leads this challenging event, culminating in the obstacle and task competition.

Natural Horsemanship clinician Glenn Stewart hosts this challenging event, culminating in the obstacle and task competition.

You’re in for a fun, stimulating weekend of schooling and competing at the Horse Ranch’s 2015 Extreme Horsemanship Challenge Clinic and Competition on Aug. 28-30 at Fort St. John, British Columbia. Now in its 13th year, this event is led by Natural Horsemanship clinician Glenn Stewart.

During this challenging and enjoyable weekend, participants have the opportunity to both improve their horsemanship skills and show off their abilities in an obstacle course and a number of tasks.

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Sharpen your horsemanship skills in sessions with Stewart, preparing you for the competition component of the weekend.

“I wanted to have an event that tested all four savvys: the two on the ground and two in the saddle,” says Stewart, who was the 2010 Calgary Stampede Extreme Cowboy Champion. “I wanted to see how people and their horses handled going all six directions: forward, which is (used in) most events, backwards, right, left, up and down. I wanted to test as many different areas as possible, looking for speed, softness, connection and understanding.”

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The entry fee for this three-day event is $600. The event is open to riders of all levels and disciplines, and entries will be accepted until all 16 available spots are filled. Participants are welcome to camp at the ranch, where they will enjoy campfires each night. Last year’s participant feedback included statements like, “I had no idea how much I could learn in such a little amount of time,” and “What a cool weekend filled with a lot of different aspects of horsemanship, and the competitions was so exciting.”

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This clinic and competition is a chance to “learn about the horsemanship skills that the judges will be looking for and how to prepare and develop a great horse on diverse obstacles, as well as build your fundamentals and skills” relating to elements of a variety of disciplines. Stewart’s clinics feature his particular method of horsemanship, in which he introduces horses to concepts in a way they can more easily understand.

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“The first two days are a clinic where we help them with the four savvys, and give them tips on how to get and lose points in a competition,” says Stewart. “It is also a chance to improve or get help in areas they feel could be better.” The third day begins with more horsemanship, and then moves into the competition. There will also be demonstrations throughout the event, on “anything from trimming, conformation, colt starting, liberty, bridle-less riding and anatomy. Each year is unique.”

As for what Stewart hopes participants will get out of this event? “I hope they have a lot of fun, learn something and bring their best chili for the chili cook-off Saturday night.”

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For more information, visit the Horse Ranch’s website. Also be sure to check out their Facebook and Twitter pages and Stewart’s YouTube channel for more on Natural Horsemanship and the Horse Ranch’s upcoming events.

Day Four High and Wild Adventure

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BY: KELSEY SIMPSON

I woke up in a slight panic this morning. First I thought I had slept through breakfast, but when I realized I hadn’t something else entered my mind. “Day four? How is it day four already?” I thought to myself. We only arrived a few, very short days ago and now the trip is already half over! What happened to our week!

But after thinking about it, and how we had come as a group, and as individuals it kind of made sense. When we stepped off the plane we were “newbs”. We acted like “newbs”, we walked like “newbs”. We were true “newbies” to this strange and unique environment. It didn’t matter if you had been on a horse a thousand times or just once. For the most part everyone was on a level playing field. I mean we were dealing with wild horses.

In the beginning we watched Glenn with intensity as he entered the large pen full of horses. I grew up on the back of horse and rodeoed all my life, and yet there was still a sense and almost fear, or apprehension, of the unknown. These weren’t my horses at home (although they can pretend quite well to be wild horses and not come in when I need them to). These horses were foreign and I had no idea what to expect from them. I found out later they also had no idea what to expect from me. Still, the thought of wandering through a pen of over 100 wild horses was worrisome, but we all witnessed Glenn smoothly and casually stroll through the herd and come out unscathed. It appeared like a risky place, one we wouldn’t want to be in, one we probably shouldn’t be in, but today that changed, we changed.

Even though our group ranged from people with zero horse experience to moderate experience, we all grew from that first day and that first impression. We have continuously been pushed (for some forced) out of our comfort zone as we listened, learned and experienced new things or reinforced old things to a higher level everyday. This results in varying levels of newfound confidence. A confidence no one was looking for but we all gained.

Today we continued to work on horses that needed some yearly maintenance. Yes they sound like cars in need of an oil change or a tune-up, but cars are maintained more than once a year and these horses are not. Some needed their feet trimmed while others had injuries to attend to. Some needed a good wipe down while others just needed quality time around people.

Just a chance to work with such horses, to learn and grow in confidence with them was an amazing feeling. We were not allowed to just come in and work with these horses; we had to earn the privilege. Over the days I have observed how Glenn is assigning more difficult tasks and challenges to different people, while allowing them to gradually increase their ability to handle the challenges offered.

Today everyone pitched in to catch the horses, spending time with each one to identify anything that they could help with (or fix themselves), and if not, then be able to bring it to Glenn’s attention for help. For some that once feared the large pen of wild horses, were now able to go and aid in helping the herd get through another year.

We have one 2 year old that has an abscess, two days ago she was assigned to two of the participants to soak the horses foot. Can you imagine a horse that has only been haltered one or two times ever in her life to allow us to place her foot in a bucket full of water? The two took on the challenge, and applied Glenn’s program and principles. They worked at their own speed and the speed necessary for the little mare to learn, building trust and confidence in themselves and in the horse. The first day it took them a little over an hour for the horse to comfortably place the abscessed foot into the bucket. But today they were able to walk right up to her, and after a moment of greeting they were able to bring the bucket of medicated water over, lift the foot and place it right in the bucket like they had been doing it for years.

These are the kinds of things most people in the group have found so rewarding. We are all learning that our actions either individually, or as a group, will help aid the herd and the horses, and their overall quality of life. Even though we all came here with varying levels of knowledge and experience with horses, we all did what we could to help because of our common interest, the horses standing before us.  I am so impressed about the health and quality of the horses in the herd. 110 horse’s all shinny coats, clear bright eyes, and I have not heard one horse cough

You could tell people had grown more relaxed with the horses and themselves. They weren’t afraid to ask Glenn for help or advice, but they also weren’t afraid to try it out for themselves. After spending countless hours trying to pick up on the slightest details of Glenn’s skills, it was rewarding to think that it had paid off. It didn’t matter if we had never lead a horse before or if we grew up on the back of one. Everyone’s skills and self confidence are improving by leaps and bounds each day in this environment.

It is interesting to me how little people in the more “traditional” horsemanship world learn and change each day, or how little the horses learn and change each day. I have found here the changes in horses and horsemanship have been extreme.

These experiences we have shared far exceeds our horsemanship. It is all spilling over to our everyday lives.

None of us will leave the same people we were when we arrived, all due to the experiences we are sharing.

Find out more about Glenn Stewart at his website and his Facebook page. Also check out his educational video on his Youtube Channel.

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Day Three High and Wild Adventure

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BY KELSEY SIMPSON

This was it. After the last few days of preparation, learning, and practice, it was all coming together. We were so eager, and perhaps a little nervous for the outcome, but today we went on our first ride with our horses.

We spent the morning watching Glenn work with a black mare. He was demonstrating the importance of proper warm up on the ground to prepare our horses for the upcoming trail ride. The mare, Spider, was on high alert, and only got her first ride outside the round pen just last year. Glenn is the only one that has worked with her, just a little on each of his trips here for the past three years.

Glenn figured it was time to see what she remembered. Like Elvis from the day before, she started off a little uncertain but it did not take long for her to remember the training from previous years. She trusted Glenn so much that he was able to trim her feet with the lead rope on the ground, while she stood perfectly still with out problem. I know of many domestic horses that don’t stand well for the farrier. This mare was very well behaved and clearly enjoyed her “pedicure”.

After some minor maintenance, Glenn started with the fundamentals. We all watched with our glued eyes on him and the horse to gauge her reaction to his cues, which in many cases were so subtle they were undetectable to all but Spider. Again, his horsemanship development program was the key throughout this session. I don’t like to say training, because it didn’t really feel like a training session. It felt more like a dance, and the development of a harmonious partnership. When I picture a training session, I picture intense, hard work, running around with sweat pouring off the horse and a frantic expression in their eyes. That was not the case here. This was unique, as it was done with ease and had a flow that built up communication, trust and understanding.

As he continued, Glenn talked us through each step of preparing our horses on the ground and offered key advice of what to do in different situations with our own horses. It was clear that every horse and human can be improved, no matter how advanced they may be. There is always something more to learn.

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Eventually, Glenn had the mare accepting of the Australian whip, red flag, blue tarp, and lariat, just as he had with Elvis from the previous day. He saddled and even hopped on her, demonstrating a show of great trust and teamwork between the two.

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This display of terrific horsemanship and precise instruction had us all inspired to see what we could do with our own horses. It wasn’t long before we took the horses out to see what we could accomplish with them. It was wonderful to observe everyone applying what we had garnered from the demonstration to their own horses. All were working on following a feel, drive and draw games, moving the different body parts in yields with relaxation, lateral flexion and, most importantly, building a relationship of trust with a lot of friendly games.

My own steed was a stout bay with a neck thick enough to hold up an elephant. His kinky and curly black mane was just long enough to fall onto his eyes, mimicking a “punk rocker” look, and did he ever have the attitude to go with it! The number one thing on his mind was eating, and my trying to play with him was certainly getting in the way of that. However, we did finally reach a compromise. He would give me a little appropriate response, and he could have a little grass. Who says wild horses starve? I have seen much skinnier horses on self-feed.

Eventually, it was time to saddle, and after Glenn inspected our skills with our horses from the ground, we were allowed to hop on to demonstrate them from the saddle. What had seemed fairly easy while on the ground became obviously less so once we were mounted. Glenn offered some additional training instruction and safety checks. Then, we were off for our first trail ride. This was the moment most of us had been waiting for since our plane’s wheels hit the ground. We were riding. We were riding horses that were born here in the wild, in the most beautiful places we had ever seen.

One by one, in a single file fashion, we weaved and snaked around trees, through ditches and over fallen logs following one of the many game trails. Glenn was in the lead, and he was riding Spider, the mare from this morning’s demonstration. It was hard to believe that she has only been ridden once before, and not for over a year, and she was amazing.

We skirted around the river following its bend and flow, with mountains surrounding us on all sides. My eyes were wandering around, observing the beautiful mountainside, the trees and wildlife. I was so impressed with all of the horses. They were calm, steady and sure-footed. Even the most nervous of the riders seemed relaxed and steady. The horses all knew the terrain, and if you did not get in the way, they easily went down trails that most domestic horses would have a hard time managing.

One might think that traveling this amazing trail would be enough. However, I am learning while working with Glenn that he will take any opportunity to challenge us emotionally and physically to enhance personal growth. He led us to a side trail and instructed us to dismount and tie our horses to a tree, up high and secure. He took us toward the rushing river, but in order to get there we had to cross a bog by balancing on the “ever so skinny” felled trees that were lying across.

“It is mind over matter” Glenn said, “and pretend you’re walking on your kitchen floor”. That did work for the first three people over, but after awhile one by one we slid off the tree and ended up stepping in the water to keep from falling completely into it. Of course I had my slick souled cowboy boots on at the time, and those mixed with water and an old tree with a 4” diameter did not do me any favors. Down I went, just barely catching myself (or dropping my camera) by submerging my foot into the water. Needless to say I came out with my boots full of water, and they even made the slushing sound when I walked. However, I can save face by pointing out that I was not the only one to get wet.

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We continued to the banks of the river by scrambling around the bend, across more felled trees and large, jagged rocks, finally arriving at the river. It was truly an amazing sight to just sit and look around. It was a fabulous and fantastic sight to behold, with mountains in the background, lush green clearings and trees along the banks. Add the rushing clear river, and the whole setting was picture perfect.

After taking in these glorious sights, we headed back across the rocks, and back over the log to get back to our horses (I might add that I made it completely across without falling but of course no one was there to witness my success). Fortunately the horses were all still there, standing quietly where we left them.

After we were all safely mounted, we backtracked a little until Glenn wandered toward the river. We crossed a shallow side stream and sat on a rock built up in the middle of the river.

To my surprise, and probably a few other people’s, Glenn seemingly casual, talked about crossing rivers and the importance of following his footsteps, avoiding the big rocks or boulders, and not to stare into the water. What great advice! However, we have all learned this week that Glenn doesn’t say anything casually. It was all-important, and it was clear that you could risk your own safety if you do not listen to every word he utters.

Before I knew it, our entire line of horses and people started across. I might also add that this was my first river crossing of this kind, well of any kind. Puddles and maybe the odd three foot wide, shallow stream back home was more my speed. It was my time to stretch my comfort zone, and with Glenn leading us and my big war horse carrying me across, I felt confident.

The freezing water came up just past my horse’s belly, and immersed my toes. As I looked down at the water, it felt like I was drifting away. Yes, Glenn said don’t look down at the water, and I can see why. It was like an optical illusion. Every step my horse took I felt like we were floating sideways with the current and further and further from the rest. However, eventually the deep water got shallower, the river stones turned to slick bank mud, and my big trusty steed climbed the out to the meet with the other horses.

“WE MADE IT,” I thought to myself. I gave my horse a quick pat on the back and we were off again down the trail, this time angling back towards the lodge. The sun was just coming down from it’s peak in the sky and when it hit the tops of the trees just right, it would make beams of light that accentuated the true beauty of where we were riding.

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Of course to make it back to the lodge we had to cross the river, again. This time was much easier, because though wider at this spot, the water was quite a bit shallower than the last crossing. Add to that, the horses were eager to return home and to the herd making them move with ease and speed across the river.

We unsaddled with smiles on our faces at what we had accomplished that day. And boy, did it feel satisfying. We brushed down our horses for a good day’s work and let them out for the night. They ran just far enough to drop and enjoy a roll in the dirt before running over the hill to join the rest of them just as the sun sank behind the toothed peaks signaling the end of another day.

Find out more about Glenn Stewart at his website and his Facebook page. Also check out his educational video on his Youtube Channel.

Day Two High and Wild Adventure

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BY KELSEY SIMPSON

Gone is the sound of sirens, motorcycles, and cars rushing by. In their place is nothing but melodic birds and the distant sound of the river.

“I am still here”, I thought to myself when I opened my eyes this morning. I looked out my window and sure enough there were the beautiful rugged mountain ranges and tall and voluptuous trees I had been introduced to just the previous day.

Everyone woke and started visiting and filling their coffee cups to kick start the day. The talk around the table was about how much we have already learned and how much we have each grown in this short amount of time in this unique environment. After a quick breakfast, some headed to the kitchen for dish duty while the others were given the task of rounding up the 110 head of horses.

As the horses are getting settled in, Glenn reviews the morning activities with the group. Today is an important day here at The Big Nine Outfitters. It is our task to collect up all the younger horses, many of which have never been touched or halter, much less know how to lead.

Next up was display after display of true horsemanship. With complete and total ease, Glenn walked among the horses in the corral, rubbing on each of them as he passed by, approaching the ones he that needed caught or would benefit from a rub.Watching him maneuver you can see immediately he has a true gift, and a gentle touch working with horses and building their trust.

The first of several colts to be worked with that morning.

The first of several colts to be worked with that morning.

One seemingly overly protective mare and her youngster were very challenging for one of Glenn’s apprentices. Glenn came over to give assistance and advice, and it was soon apparent that the spectators were all in for a real treat. What had been an overly protective untrusting mother was able to soon relax and trusted with ease. The young, defiant colt evolved into a companion who enjoyed human’s presence while licking, chewing and yawning and was rubbing up against Glenn at the end of the session.

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As Glenn continued the work of separating the young horses we were instructed to go and gather our assigned horses, some were easier than others. Hours were spent grooming and rubbing down the horses, and brushing off the thick coat of dust they have collected. When both the horses and the riders were comfortable, the saddling process began. We were told to saddle and unsaddle our horses until we had it down pat and under five minutes.

It was evident how so many of us in the group are changing because of this adventure. Everyone is being stretched out of their comfort zone. The mental and emotional growth, and increase in confidence is exciting to observe and be a part of.

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After the group spent whatever needed time with their horses and confidently achieved the assigned task of tacking, they could head over to continue watching and learning from Glenn.

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The horse himself, Elvis.

One particular colt of interest was a slick bay with a white diamond on his forehead. Glenn shared with us that this colt named Elvis that was handled for just over 3 hours over a 3 day period three years earlier when it was just one month old and hadn’t been seen since.

Every trip back to the mountains Glenn looked for Elvis and finally this year he showed up.

Wanting to see just how much the colt remembered, Glenn started off slowly, but was able to halter Elvis in no time. It is remarkable that these horses come in after a year of not seeing any people, and are mostly calm and willing. Elvis hadn’t been seen in three years, making his previous session with Glenn, his only experience of people.

Soon Glenn was rubbing the colt down and picking up its feet like an old timer. Next was the Australian whip, and after just a few tries Elvis was standing calmly while Glenn cracked the whip above, behind and in front of the three year old. The bright red flag took a little bit longer to get used to but Elvis quickly calmed down. It was clear the solid impression Glenn made on him was remembered.

Glenn working blue tarp was the last triumph for the day for Elvis and like the flag it took some getting used to. However, for a horse that hasn’t had a human hand laid on him for three complete years, he partnered up like a champ. With a good scratch here and there, and the proper handling from Glenn, we were all simply amazed and inspired at being able to witness the importance of these colts having the proper foundation. When done correctly the impact is forever.

I always wondered how much horses remember. Well I guess even after 3 years without human contact they still remember what they learned. The scary part is they must remember anything we do, the good as well as the bad.

After a long day and getting a lot accomplished with the horses we headed into the lodge for another spectacular meal. Tonight, lasagna with garlic toast and Caesar salad. Who knew roughing it in the wilderness could be so hard?

With the sun sinking further and further behind the last ridge of mountain peaks, we said goodbye to another fabulous day filled with laughter, discussions, learning, fun, and of course, horses.

Find out more about Glenn Stewart at his website and his Facebook page. Also check out his educational video on his Youtube Channel.