Every Tuesday, a group of eager Ranchers report to the barn for their weekly Horsemanship Class. DHR’s Animal Husbandry Specialist, Naomi Russell, teaches the class with the help of dedicated long-term volunteer and experienced rider, Debby Alley. Together, the team teach the Ranchers about horse care and behavior.
As a part of DHR’s Day Program, Ranchers have the the opportunity to sign up for the Horsemanship Class each quarter. On occasion, a curious Rancher will join the class, despite being timid of the large animals. In an effort to introduce the horses at a comfortable pace, the Ranchers spend the first few classes working with DHR’s beloved mini horses. During that time, the students practice using lead ropes to walk the gentle minis, brushing them and cleaning their hooves. Experiencing the sweet-tempered, trusting personalities of the minis helps to build the confidence to meet the full-sized horses.
When the Ranchers begin working with DHR horses Chesney, Buttons and Casino they first learn how to halter, lead and tie quick release knots. Once the horses are brought out of their stalls and securely tied, the Ranchers give the horses the same grooming attention as the minis. “My goal is to have the Ranchers become independent enough to do the tasks on their own,” says Naomi. Although the horses have calm, tolerant demeanors, their massive size and strength can still be intimidating to some Ranchers. Naomi explains nervous Ranchers tend to keep a distance and avoid touching the horses. She emulates how one might brush a horse by stretching with a straight arm rather than by standing next to the horse to avoid contact.
Once the horses have a thorough health check and good brushing, the class heads out to the corral. There is an obstacle course in which every Rancher takes a turn walking each horse through the various obstacles. Guiding the horses in between the obstacles is fun, and both mentally and physically engaging for the Ranchers and horses alike. During this exercise, Ranchers begin to recognize animal behaviors and identify each horse’s individual personality traits. This is where trust is built. Over time and with repetition, nervousness fades and a true bond begins to form.
Naomi and Debby shared a story of Rancher John who recently expressed interest in working on bonding with Buttons. Rancher John wondered if Buttons would follow him without using a lead rope. Noami, Debby and the class proudly watched as the horse listened to John and followed him around the corral. “These exercises build confidence” adds Debby. Inspiring moments like this have Naomi hopeful that Down Home Ranch will someday enter the non-riding events at the Special Olympics.
Horsemanship class is not just about taking care of the animals. It’s about strength, trust and friendship. It’s a place where fears are conquered and beautiful connections are made. It’s igniting comradery and personal growth while challenging everyone to be limitless.
“The outside of a horse is good for the inside of the man”
-An old quote in the riding world shared by long-term volunteer and Horsemanship teacher, Debby Alley