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home : blogs_old : quad-city creature blog September 15, 2014

Quad-City Creatures
By Heidi Dahms Foster, Prescott Valley, Arizona
A local blog all about pets and pet activities in the quad-city area.PV, Prescott and beyond.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Blog: A beautiful demonstration of horsemanship

Heidi Dahms Foster

MOTA trainer Toah Hatch isn't fazed by a horse that refused an obstacle time and again. Soon, he convinced the gelding to stand on the obstacle, and then demonstrated the animal's success with a trusting handstand in the saddle.
Photos by Heidi Dahms Foster

I'm always amazed when what is supposed to be a simple interview or photo shoot turns into something much more. That happened this past Saturday at the Arizona Agriculture and Equine Equine Center, (AAEC) high school just north of the Civic Center.

We had run an announcement for a Mounted Officer Training Association horse clinic that was open to the public, and promised to help riders learn how their horses think to become better and safer horsemen. The "Bombproof Your Horse" clinic came up with some obstacles and situations that would certainly make most horses look askance, but that any rider might encounter on the trail.

I stopped in before another event that morning and listened to trainer Toah Hatch. I realized that a lot of what he said about body language and confidence also could be applied to working with my dogs. MOTA workers told me the horses would be going through some obstacle and sensory training later that day, and invited me to stop back by. I did, and witnessed one of the finest demonstrations of horsemanship I think I've ever seen.

One of the class members was a woman whose horse had competed in eventing, which along with dressage and arena jumping, includes galloping flat out cross country and leaping a variety of fences.

When the rider had trouble getting her tall, beautiful grey gelding to step onto and over obstacles, Hatch told her it was because the horse always had been trained to jump over things, not walk on them. He explained that through her own confidence and trust in her horse, and his trust in her, which she telegraphed through her body language as a rider, she could teach him that it was OK to step on things.

The horse jumped over the obstacle, a raised wooden structure like a bridge, a couple times, but then trusted enough to put a foot on it, and then finally walked over it several times.

However, when his rider asked the horse to tackle the next obstacle, which admittedly looked pretty daunting to me, he was having none of it.

The obstacle was two large railroad ties laid crossways, with five or six more ties laid on top to make a rather tall, bridgelike structure. It didn't help that while the ties were solidly in place, they moved slightly when the horses stepped on them, because railroad ties are not evenly cut.

After her horse backed off and offered a buck or two to express his displeasure, the rider said, "This is where I lose my confidence."

Hatch offered to step up, and he set the horse at the obstacle using his body language and proper direction with reins, voice and heels. He is a wiry man, strong and obviously confident around and on horses. So the horse walked immediately up and over the obstacle, right? Not.

The big animal rolled his eyes, fidgeted, sidestepped, bucked, reared, and generally made it known that the obstacle was BAD and he would not step foot on it. "Such drama," Hatch said, laughing.

I have to admit that even though in my younger years I did a lot of riding and could easily see that Hatch was in control, I thought a time or two, "train wreck!" and moved away from the rail with my camera.

But Hatch was undaunted. He brought the horse back time and again to the obstacle, not forcing him, but exerting steady pressure and keeping him focused on the job at hand, long after I would have given up. With each small step of progress, he explained to the other riders what the horse was thinking and what he was asking.

Finally, after skittering around, leaping over, and every other kind of avoidance, the horse stopped, lowered his head, and sniffed the obstacle. "This is the first time he's actually looked at it," Hatch said, immediately releasing pressure from feet and voice.

Soon, the horse placed a foot on the obstacle. Then he went over it sideways. Finally, to everyone's amazement, he stepped up on the obstacle and stood. He still was nervous and pawed at the railroad ties. He then stretched out a foot, still feeling the surface.

"See, he's bowing for you!" Hatch said with a grin.

Finally, the big gray settled completely, with everyone staring in amazement. Jokingly, someone asked Hatch, "When are you going to stand up in the saddle?"

Right then, I kid you not, he popped up, and did a handstand in the saddle, with the horse that not 25 minutes earlier was doing his best to intimidate Hatch into giving up his quest to ride over the obstacle.

Hatch calmly rode over the obstacle a couple more times, and then returned the horse to its rider. I thought she would have trouble taking him over the obstacle herself, but using what she had learned during the day, she confidently walked him up the obstacle and trusted him to walk across. He did, several times!

This event is hard to describe in writing, but to give you an idea how we all were rooting for both horse and rider to overcome a big challenge, a few of us had tears in our eyes when we witnessed the horse's success, and Hatch's firm, fair and skilled horsemanship.

I have no doubt that the riders who attended this weekend clinic are now safer in the saddle, and have a more connected relationship with their horses.

For more information on MOTA, www.azmountedofficers.com/

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, August 2, 2013
Article comment by: Starlyn Dupree

I attended this clinic on Sunday. Toah's horsemanship instruction was great. He helped me fix some sloppy riding habits I had developed. This helped me communicate better with my horse. The afternoon obstacles were fun and educational for horse and rider. The clinic was very beneficial and I highly recommend it for everyone. Mostly, it was fun. My horse thought it was horsie Disneyland!

Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013
Article comment by: Cheryl Hartz

Heidi, perfect job of describing an event and the person demonstrating his amazing ability to pass along useful knowledge. I feel like I was there, and I was interested in reading all the way through, even though I don't own a horse.

Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013
Article comment by: Jill Clark

Heidi, what a FABULOUS article! We at M.O.T.A. Worked so hard to put on this event, and have it perfect. We had a perfect group of horses and riders, both Saturday and Sunday, and, as you pointed out, with some assistance, they and their horses are going to be safer out on a trail, and be more in synch with each other, when it comes to things they have not come across. They now have the skills to push through a situation, that they may have previously quit. I'm glad you had such a great time!

Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Article comment by: justa gal in PV

Thanks Ms Dahms Foster, you always teach me something new about our area. And most always about animals. Thanks, you have a great way with words.

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