February 2015 - Hang Up & Ride!
Written by CRM
Wednesday, 04 February 2015 05:23

Clinics geared toward gaining a “feel of” your horse embody Dustin Davis’ attention-centered approach.

Dustin Davis can be hard to get a hold of. His phone stays in the barn when he’s in the arena. Messages will get returned after the horses’ needs have been met, which may be a few minutes or a few hours. In a lifetime of advancing principals pioneered by Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance, Buck Brannaman and others, Dustin dismisses the time clock, too, when it comes to working with horses.

Horses have no problem getting his attention. “They deserve the dignity of our full attention when we are working with him,” he notes. That will be an underlying theme of the clinic Dustin has set for Feb. 27, 28 through March 1st at Dustin Davis Training Center in San Bernardino County’s Chino Hills. Attaining a feel of the horse and building a checklist of techniques to ensure safety and increase enjoyment, for horse and rider, are additional underlying priorities – for clinic participants, auditors and for Dustin’s many regular students.

This imported Warmblood came with lots of issues with a history of strong bits and other training gimmicks. Dustin has him working in a smooth snaffle and happily going about his job.

The small group, three-day session will focus on groundwork as the foundation for all training that follows, with saddle time dictated by the group’s progress. Much of the ground work will be centered around the concept that getting control of the horse’s mind starts with getting control of the horse’s feet. This is a golden rule of the Dorrance and Hunt philosophies, but not as simple as it seems.

“To direct the feet, you have to go through the mind,” Dustin explains. Tuning into what their horse is telling them is the cornerstone of this approach. When that occurs, it is about “having a bond and a unity with your horse” as opposed to the notion that training equals conquering. Many of the horses that wind up at Dustin’s door have endured a lifetime of attempts to conquer them. They arrive with the emotional braces and physical barricades that come with it and Dustin is grateful for the chance to break those down, establish a clean slate and start anew. These are “restarts,” he acknowledges, poised for a new relationship with their owners that’s rooted in respect and cooperation, rather than fear and force.

In keeping with Dustin’s philosophy that every horse deserves an individualized approach, the clinic will be suitable for a wide range of participants and for those riding any discipline. That includes beginners to long-standing Dustin followers, and casual trail riders to high-level competitors. The only requirement is an open mind and an understanding that many horse “problems” are people problems. Helping owners recognize and respond promptly and effectively to their horse’s body language is critical to cooperation and builds what Dustin distinctly calls “feel of” the horse. “I teach people to actually ride their horse, not just sit perched on them.”

The group setting of a clinic is conducive to great progress for all, Dustin observes. Some come bold in what they know already and others, not so much. By the end of the three days, everyone has typically learned a lot from each other and the unique experiences and issues of each participating pair.

Dustin’s fiancée Aimee Holliday breeds world champion Miniature Horses and also competes on the hunter/jumper circuit. In supporting Aimee’s interests, Dustin has steadily gained a following among the english set. Turnarounds for troubled hunter/jumper and dressage horses have been frequent and dramatic, and in ways owners can maintain on their own, rather than relying on repeated fixes from Dustin.

Dustin is also a go-to guy for starting horses and loves that aspect of his work equally. “There is no greater thing than working with a colt that no one has touched,” he says. “You can see some amazing stuff and it happens so fast!” Especially with a clean slate, “horses will often sort it out much faster than the humans will.” Recognizing and responding the moment a horse understands is “rewarding the slightest try” and it’s critical to making a horse want to work for its person rather than feel forced to do so.

At the same time, many horse problems can be cured or, better yet, prevented, if humans would slow down, Dustin asserts. Too often, people ask an elementary school age horse to do college work. Just as kids are sometimes “held back” or “given a bonus year,” some horses benefit from an equine counterpart in their education, whether they are learning something for the first time or the 27th.

Dustin is a good teacher because he’s a good learner.  He’s hard wired to eschew the hustle and bustle of modern life, yet actively hones that characteristic in his work with horses. “This doesn’t fit most people’s agenda, I know, especially in the show world, but it’s the reason a lot of show horses end up at my place.” What he’s learned by going slow over the years has actually enabled him to turn horses around more quickly. With each horse he gains more knowledge and feel to help the next.

Videos, DVDs and webinars are not part of Dustin’s business model, one indicator that making money is not what gets him out of bed every day. “This is not a commercial thing for me,” he explains. “To me, I have a style of riding, which I learned from my mentors, and what I do, you can do – in any saddle and any style and without any special equipment. For me, it’s all about what we bring to the horse.”


For more information on Dustin Davis and his upcoming clinics, visit www.dustindavis.com.