Horse Sense Equestrian Teaching

There’s more than one way to teach a horse. Just ask Cathy Fleace, owner of Trusting Hands Equestrian Teaching near Worthington.
Fleace has studied many styles of horsemanship over the years and settled on a natural horsemanship style called the ‘California Vaquero bridal horse method.’ It’s what she refers to as a “whole horse” method, most similar to the more common Western dressage method. The technique has earned her a reputation of being able to fix problem horses.
“It’s not me,” Fleace said. “It’s the methods.”
Vaquero is Spanish for herdsman or cowboy and vaquero horsemanship methods date back to the warhorses of medieval and renaissance Europe. The Spanish brought their method of horse training to America where it evolved into the California Vaquero bridal horse method.
Fleace said the trainer most associated with the method is Tom Dorrance, one of several trainers she learned from during 12 years she spent traveling the U.S. following trainers who use natural horsemanship methods. She said she gleaned the most from another trainer named Harry Whitney, who she calls the horse world’s “best kept secret.”
“He’s taught me the real subtleties,” Fleace said. “The best way to explain what I do with horses is I talk in their language, which is simply body language.”
Much like people, Fleace said, horses have two primary responses to external stimuli: they either flee or fight. She believes the traditional methods most trainers use cause fear and teach the horse to fight. Fleace attempts to take fear out of the equation.
Fleace, who has spent time teaching children and who comes from a family of teachers, equated using fear to train a horse to a strict teacher who relies heavily on negative reinforcement. It’s not effective.
“If there’s fear present, there’s no retention,” she said.
In contrast, the California Vaquero bridal horse method focuses on understanding the horse and building trust with it.
“They want to be with you,” she said. “They’re in your pocket. You can’t get them off of you because they want to communicate.”

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