During a break in working with her Oldenberg gelding Matrix, Cathy Routh received advice from horsemanship instructor Ryan Rose. Rose presented a three-day horsemanship clinic in Onalaska with one session benefiting HorseSense for Special Riders.

ONALASKA — Helping horse owners develop leadership qualities horses will accept was the goal of a Ryan Rose horsemanship clinic held May 25-27 in Onalaska.

“Ryan helped us focus on making our leadership and ideas the horse’s, so that they are willing companions and not forced into our activities,” said clinic organizer Sami Cunningham.

Throughout the clinic, Rose stressed the need for the handler to be the leader by showing confidence and to model positive and welcoming leadership.

“The goal is having the horse wanting to be with you without you asking,” Rose said. “Horses are super sensitive and can translate a handler’s intentions. The horse is a mirror of its owner.”

Cunningham first encountered a Rose Horsemanship Clinic in Minneapolis.

“I really liked Ryan’s personality and found out he was going to be located near me in Wisconsin practicing Natural Horsemanship,” Cunningham said. “Two years ago, I took my gelding and a friend and attended his five-day camp at Horse First Farm in Brooklyn. It was awesome and I knew it was training I wanted to get fluent and well-practiced with as well as share with others.”

One of the methods for achieving this partnership was to have the participants work their horses at liberty in a round pen.

“What do we gain in working a horse at liberty?” Rose said.

“You get the truth,” said clinic participant Cathy Routh of Sparta.

Routh brought her Oldenberg gelding Matrix to the clinic to learn new ways to communicate with her horse. Through the “games” they were introduced to at the clinic, the participants found they needed to be trained as much as their horses did.

“The most natural way isn’t the easiest way, because it isn’t natural to us,” Rose said. “Training should create a connection in a horse’s brain.”

Rose told the participants to train their horses so they will make the desired choice, the decision that will make their horse’s life less stressful.

“I don’t want to make him (the horse) stand still; I want him to choose to stand still,” he said.

While the horse owners were reminded their “herd mates” want to be calm and relaxed, Rose instructed them it’s OK to make their horses a little uncomfortable and to set up training so the horse will be curious, concerned and alert.

“I don’t mind making them uncomfortable, but I don’t want them afraid,” Rose said. “Horses need to find relief to where they are comfortable. Take them to a point where they aren’t panicked.”

If the handler puts too much pressure on a horse, the horse won’t be able to figure out the handler’s request. However, if the horse is allowed time and space to think about the situation, it will try to find a solution.

“Let the horse make mistakes and figure out the best answer,” Rose said. “Let them think their way through it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll figure out another way to do it.”

Rose cautioned that horses are capable of learning a lesson in one session, especially if fear is a factor. However, such a lesson can result in the horse learning an undesirable response.

Rose encouraged the participants to continue to progress their horses’ training to keep the horse stimulated and more willing to learn.

“The most crabby horses I see are the ones when trainers go the slowest,” Rose said. “The trainers who go the slowest do the same thing every day.”

In addition to the liberty work in the round pen, the clinic included sessions in online ground work, mounted maneuvers and rider confidence building.

“The last day, Ryan left us with some great games or patterns to play with our horses to build their flexion and agility,” Cunningham said. “Many of the participants learned how to add the right amount of pressure and time the ‘release’ to help our communication and partnership with our horses grow stronger and more clear.”

Cunningham believes it’s evident Rose shares her enthusiasm for teaching how to improve the interactions with horses as well as horsemanship abilities.

“I have a deep passion for helping people become better horsemen and pushing themselves beyond their own expectations,” she said.

Rose started the weekend sessions with a demonstration with a pony on a long lead at Bit-N-Bridle Equine Stables. The session raised funds for the HorseSense for Special Riders, an equine-assisted therapy program. It serves special riders in the Coulee Region who have been diagnosed with physical, cognitive, behavioral or psychological disabilities.

More information about Rose’s training program and his The Horse First program can be found  at​HorseFirstFarm.