Teaching the Trainers

If you love to work with horses, consider adding an element of professionalism by becoming a Lyons Certified Trainer. Learn more here.
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If you love to work with horses, consider adding an element of professionalism by becoming a Lyons Certified Trainer. Learn more here.
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On his way to help a client on a rainy late winter day in maryland, bob ciri notes that he's happier than he's ever been. A couple of years ago, he traded in his business suit for jeans, boots, and horses. And then he gained skills and confidence through the John and Josh Lyons Trainer Certification program. Now he helps abused horses at a rescue organization.

The trainer certification comes with both discouraging moments and thundering successes- think of it as graduate school in horse-human communication. Participants talked of blisters in embarrassing locations, the dust of Western Colorado, bruises of both ego and bone. At times they wanted to cry (and did) with frustration. But they walked away from the certification at My Dream Ranch in Parachute, Colorado, with a deep knowledge of horse training-more of an ability to listen and understand horses-and a lifelong support network.

One Man's Decision
For Bob Ciri, who celebrated his 50th birthday in Parachute, the choice to join the Lyons program came only after he'd analyzed many similar programs. As a young man, he'd worked at Belmont Racetrack in New York, the closest horse locale to his New York City home. The trainer who put him to work as a 13-year-old told him cleaning stalls would give him all the horse knowledge he needed.

"I'd have to clean their stalls while they were in there, so I learned to read the horse's body language and also to jump over the stall door, with a rake in one hand, in one leap," he says. "Then they let me exercise the horses. I got to ride on Belmont Raceway! They told me, 'Hang on to the reins and let the horse go.' That's how I learned about horses."

Like many urban horse lovers, Bob went on to take arena lessons, but found that being with the horses was more interesting to him than looking good on top of one, so eventually he went to work with abused and difficult animals that just needed, he says, someone to treat them well.

However, after his summer in Parachute, Bob says he knows how little he really knew then. "But I guess I knew enough to choose the right program."

The program is challenging, but maybe not in the ways you'd expect. Bob says, "There were half a dozen days when we thought, 'I should just quit now.' We all felt the desire to do well but also the tension. I was so frustrated at times, I'd think, 'I'm just not good enough, or it's the horse.' "

On one particular day, "I could have killed Josh," Bob says with a smile and a shake of his head. Plagued with blisters on the insides of both legs, he complained, and Josh fired back that he should trade in his city-slicker Levis for more riding-appropriate Wranglers. Bob says he wishes he'd known about Wranglers and their special seams before the course even started.

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Meanwhile, a couple of the more experienced female participants took him to Wal-Mart for tights to wear under his jeans, another little tip Bob picked up during the program and an example of the camaraderie that bonds the participants long after graduation.

Program Specifics
Launched 15 years ago, the program accepts around 18 students each year, although program coordinator Michele Lenard notes they get several hundred inquiries annually. Students have enormously diverse backgrounds, ranging in age from 19 to 70. So far, they've produced 228 trainers from 40 states and six countries.

The program accepts those who have some background with horses. All experience levels are welcome, but the Lyons staff will tell a potential applicant without enough experience to work with a trainer and become more comfortable around horses for a couple of years before applying again. "Because of how expensive it is," Michele says, "the program tends to attract people who will make a career out of their knowledge, or build on to the business they have."

Is the program hard? Physically it can be, says Jana Lyons, Josh's wife. Students spend three weeks (Monday through Friday) at a time in Colorado, during four sessions that start in May and end in November. During the weeks between the sessions, they have homework.

Although the program can be physically demanding, Josh notes that it's all a learning process. "You ask anybody about a job. If they haven't done it, they think it's hard. The further into the program they get, it switches from being hard to being easy. That's what I call the light bulb moment." Every student has one-a build up of frustration followed by rapid improvement.

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The Horses
Ideally, students bring one horse with training and one unbroken horse. The first week, Jana Lyons explains, is spent on the foundation. "Typically when we start, we do unbroken horses and problem horses in the round pen in the morning, because that's what the training is based on. We start looking for that 'yes' answer from the rein or body pressure." In the afternoon, it happens all over again with a different horse. The Lyons' connections in Parachute help fill in horse gaps if necessary.

It's one thing to take the course; it's entirely different to prepare individuals to cope successfully with the spectrum of horses they'll encounter as professionals. "If we're working on lead changes," Josh Lyons explains, "we'll cover 15 different ways to get that lead change. We'll also take several breaks, talk about two to three ways to do lead changes, what way affects that particular horse the best." Each lesson is adapted to fit the rider and the horse together, which further prepares participants for the real world. "That's the greatest lesson in the certification program. You don't have to do it the way the other person did. There are many ways to accomplish the same result."

Lifelong Support
After they've completed the certification, participants are given some support from the Lyons organization-listing on their web page, a photo with Josh to post on their own sites, marketing advice, and general support. What they then choose to do with their knowledge varies considerably. Some will change their careers and start training horses professionally.

After 20 years in corporate America, you can find an enthusiastic Bob Ciri, in Wranglers instead of a business suit, on his way to Days End Farm, a non-profit horse rescue organization in Lisbon, Maryland. At Days End, he uses what he learned in Parachute to help abused horses become trusting again. He also helps private clients of all kinds-from dressage to trail riders-build better relationships with their horses.

The Lyons keep track of each person who comes through, and in addition to the horse training elements of the program they also offer some business workshops, such as how to set up a website and how to set fees for services.

"This program is for all persons who'd like to expand their horse knowledge, whether they want to make a career in the horse business, or just do it for themselves," says Josh Lyons. From there, they take their knowledge in whatever direction they'd like to go, standing on a solid foundation that's the language between horses and humans.

For more information on the Lyons Trainer Certification program, please visit www.lyonslegacy.com, or call (970) 285-9173.