On some Western ranches, riders learn a gentler way Riding: Several ranches practice and teach 'natural horsemanship,' which is getting a lot of attention since the release of 'The Horse Whisperer.'

June 07, 1998|By Susan Kaye | Susan Kaye,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There's a new language being spoken in horse pens across the country. Some would say it's being whispered, but others say that's too mystical a term to explain the common-sense approach being popularized by Robert Redford's new movie, "The Horse Whisperer."

Bronco busting, the weeks of hard work that precede a horse accepting a saddle, has been discredited. "Breaking horses" has been replaced with "gentling" them. Spurs and whips have been tossed aside in favor of communicating through body language.

Although they're in the minor-ity, several ranches in the West practice horsemanship along the lines outlined in the movie and the best-selling book by Nicholas Evans.

According to the novel "The Horse Whisperer," men whose voices could calm wild horses and whose touch healed broken spirits were once called "whisperers."

Author Evans relied on Monty Roberts, a champion of natural horsemanship, to learn about "gentling" horses. Roberts, who in his 70-plus years has gentled more than 10,000 horses at his California farm and around the world, dislikes being called a "horse whisperer." In his mind, he's simply a man who has spent a lifetime observing horses.

In the past, breaking a horse often meant breaking its will, or even its bones. Roberts communicates to a horse by reading its body language and sending similar signals back. This results in the horse "wanting" to perform in a joint endeavor with a human.

Here are several ranches that practice natural horsemanship, along with their schedules for clinics. Rates generally range from $200 to $250 per day, per person, all inclusive.

* C Lazy U Ranch, Granby, Colo.: Riders at the 115-guest ranch learn the basics of communicating with horses through movement and pressure; beginning and intermediate instructional rides are offered daily, as are three levels of trail rides.

Buck Brannaman, a superstar in horsemanship, runs clinics from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1. "Because these are clinics," says John Fisher, manager, "any level of rider is welcome; the more you know about horses, the more you'll get out of them. We've been offering these for six years, and some people return every year. They don't glamorize the process, just teach common sense to the common rider."

Information: C Lazy U Ranch, Box 379, Granby, Colo. 80446; 970-887-3344.

* Hidden Creek Ranch, near Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho: "We teach 'centered riding,' which is a tool for every level of rider," says instructor Elaine Steele, who along with the head wrangler is a certified instructor for centered riding. "We look into self-awareness, postural habits and balance, all of which communicate to a horse."

Daily instruction is offered on the four basics of centered riding; two Centered Riding Clinics with a senior clinician trained in the Alexander Technique are scheduled for Oct. 10-17.

Information: Hidden Creek Ranch, 7600 E. Blue Lake Road, Harrison, Idaho 83833; 208-689-3209.

* The Home Ranch, Steamboat Springs, Colo.: Few ranches are as dedicated to natural horsemanship as this one, a high-end enclave for 45 guests and 150 horses.

It's one of the few ranches that not only owns all its horses but, for the last five years, has also worked toward the goal of raising them from birth.

Every week this summer, Home Ranch will offer a package for riders starting to explore the field of natural horsemanship, with ground work, round-pen work and a series of classes on subjects including psychology, nutrition, first aid and saddling.

Owner Ken Jones works with his wife, Cile, to train the foals. Guests are invited to join them in the pasture with the brood mares and foals. "It's a way to realize that horses are herd animals always looking for a leader. They actually want to be with people," says Jones.

Information: The Home Ranch, Box 822, Clark, Colo. 80428; 970-879-1780.

* Latigo Ranch, Kremmling, Colo.: "We bring in a mixture of techniques," says head wrangler Sue Stuska, who has a Ph.D. with an emphasis in equine curriculum.

The 35 guests are educated in horse psychology, communication and safety in the arena and on the trails and become skilled in maneuvering their mounts during the weekly team penning and on the twice-weekly checks of cattle. Ranch co-owner Jim Yost is certified by the American Riding Instructor Certification Program for beginning through intermediate recreational riding instruction.

Trainer Marty Marten returns to Latigo Sept 17-19.

Information: Latigo Ranch, Box 237, Kremmling, Colo. 80459; 800-227-9655.

* Lazy K Bar Ranch, Tucson, Ariz.: "We apply techniques advocated by a trainer called John Lyons, who uses the 'resistance-free' method," says Carol Moore, general manager. "It's really training the horse's mind rather than training with force."

This summer will be the third year at the ranch for one- to four-week summer horse camps for children ages 10-16 run by Moore. The 50-guest ranch sponsors two seven-day camps for women in January and April, with daily lessons.

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