Brandi Lyons', daughter of horse trainer John Lyons, mission is to help 10 eager ladies develop horse training career and problem-solving skills on their own terms, and she's got just the horse training talent and intuition to do it.
I decide to take Sasha, a 9-year-old gelding I raised to the horse training career clinic. Has he ever been in a two-horse straight load trailer? No. Do I have experience behind the wheel pulling a horse solo over Colorado's notorious mountain passes? No. Is it possible to get lost in Parachute (population 1,300)? Yes.
Yet we've made it, and while Sasha investigates the first stall he has been in since he was weaned, I go to meet the other participants at a cookout at John and Jody Lyons' home.
Success at any horse training career clinic depends on many things-the preparation, attitude, and skill of the teacher, of course. Yet equally important, but often overlooked, is the support of the other students out there in the dust with you.
From the very beginning, I find this group empowering. Conversation is easy. We talk about ourselves and our horses. Each woman has her own reason for being there, but interestingly, nearly everyone admits to some sort of fear issue. This admission is likely not as common at a "mixed-gender" clinic, but it immediately opens doors for mutual support.
"Sasha," I inform everyone, "is a Thoroughbred-cross gelding who was born with a crooked leg. He had 45 days under saddle with a professional four years ago. I've been on him a couple of times for a few minutes of walk-trot in a small round pen." Pause. "He has a fairly impressive buck. This is not a horse I've been willing to get on when no one else is around.
"He may end up spending a lot of time in the stall," I add apologetically.
But Brandi is having none of that.
"Sometimes fear is telling you you're not ready to do something," she observes kindly. "You can't be totally safe on a horse, but you have to have fun, and you can do it in as safe a manner as possible.
"We'll push you a little bit," she forewarns with a smile, "but if you need to take a break at any time, that's okay, too," she reassures.
We have been given a substantial "goody bucket" with such niceties as skin lotion, sore muscle cream, bubble bath, chap stick, a water pistol, a personal journal, a copy of the Dr. Seuss book Oh, the Places You'll Go!, and a bookmark with Winston Churchill's quote "Never, never, never quit."
And so it begins.
I arrive at the stalls at 6:30 a.m. There is Sasha, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, ears pricked, and with a huge gash on his forehead that subsequently requires more than 20 stitches. We cannot find anything in the stall that he could cut himself on, but suspicion lingers on a water bucket.
John loans me Preacher for the morning's ground-work sessions. This is a humbling experience. Preacher is expert at these exercises. I am not. Although John assures me that a few hours with a hips- over novice will not ruin his horse, the trainer watches my clumsy attempts for a while and then comes over. I am overpowering the cue. It should be exactly like dancing. A delicate touch of the hand, almost just a thought of the intent, can tell your partner which way to go.
This is a definite "Aha!" moment. Preacher is visibly relieved when I finally "get it."
Each of us shows off her progress and is critiqued by the group. These ladies can pick up on effective or ineffective postures and techniques, but are tactful.
While the others go to lunch, Nickie Gwisdalla and I take Sasha for his stitches. I ask the vet how long I should wait to work him. "Lady, it took three shots to settle him down. If he were mine, I'd work him tonight!"
While the others opt for a night at the movies, I take the vet's
advice and work Sasha for 45 minutes on ground-work exercises. I am pleased with how well he responds. We really are starting to dance.