Nineteen horses and nineteen trainers are spread out in the arena at the Apache Gold Casino Pavilion yesterday. The bleachers on the south side are full. In the center of the arena, a Quarter/Arab horse named Winn is circling a trainer, changing direction every ten seconds or so. From the bleachers on the other side, Clinton Anderson reminds the crowd that the horse they’re watching would not have been willing to follow directions only that morning. In a few hours of training, he says, the horse had learned to respect its trainer.
Clinton Anderson is an Australian trainer with an international following, largely thanks to a cable TV show that started in 2011. Anderson learned to train horses as a teenager and has been teaching his method, called Downunder Horsemanship, for nearly 20 years. According to his website, the method “is based on mutual respect and understanding and gives horse owners the knowledge needed to become skilled horsemen and train their horses to be consistent and willing partners.”
Simon Hook was one of the horse owners in attendance at the clinic yesterday, bringing a three-year-old that he said he has just started riding. He says he came to the clinic after seeing Anderson on TV because he wanted to learn a different method to train his horses. Hook has grandkids that are already rodeoing, and he says, “I want them to have the best horses so they can win when they get older.” He adds, “This way I think I would feel a lot safer with the kids. … I really want my grandkids to ride gentle horses.” He says he’s found that “the horses are a lot gentler and a lot better when you train them the way these guys do.”
Bonnie Houston came up from Tucson for the clinic—and got stuck in the snowstorm that came through the area on Thursday. She has a trail riding business and gives basic horsemanship lessons. She described how on Friday when everyone first arrived, they had to lead their horses down the alley into the arena, while it was snowing. Houston says when they got into the arena “some of them were whinnying and running around and walking over their owners.” She says Anderson “immediately had everybody start backing their horses up, and within ten minutes all of the horses were standing still, and with the lead rope 14 feet away from them.”
When we spoke with Bonnie during the lunch break on Saturday, she said they still had not even gotten onto their horses yet—they had only been doing ground work. Most of what they did was backing. “A lot of backing,” she says, “a lot of different ways to back your horse up besides just jerking on him.” She says this was a way of teaching the horse to respect the rider. She adds, “Before, I would have gotten on my horse and loped him around in circles. Where you might not always feel comfortable doing that. … Now, if my horse is acting up I’ll back him up.”
Anna Johnson, a trainer from Sierra Vista, is training Winn, a Quarter/Arab, for owner Nancy Olmstead. Both came up from Sierra Vista for the clinic. Olmstead is a former trick rider and has owned Winn for a year. She says Winn would buck and spring up with all four feet. “He’s seven going on three, and it’s time for him to grow up,” she adds.
While we talked with Johnson, Winn stood at the end of his lead rope. For the most part he was quiet, but suddenly he started pawing at the ground. Johnson immediately corrected him by snapping the rope, and Winn stopped. “It’s a lot like children. You’ve got to be firm. You can still love them,” she says, but also “you’ve got to establish that you’re the leader.”