It’s no surprise that John Lyons certified instructor Ivonne Gutierrez has found a special niche with beginning horse people. She came to her equine passion relatively late in life, at 21, and, after initial hurdles, realized that training horses is not rocket science, but a series of easy steps. Thus the name of her business, Easy Step Horsemanship.
Ivonne is based at Hideaway Ranch in the East Bay Area’s Castro Valley, and she teaches horse owners locally and far beyond through clinics, private lessons, videos and e-mail consulting.
Her first horseback ride was during a cattle drive trip that she took with several friends while studying film making in college. “It was so much fun and I became enthralled with riding,” she says. Easy-going and out-going, Ivonne befriended the ride’s trail boss, an Oregon cowboy. The more she observed his “magical” way with horses during later visits to his ranch, the more she became interested in learning to train horses herself.
The trail boss, however, wasn’t a teacher, and Ivonne spent considerable time searching for the right riding and horsemanship instructor. After a few “whip and spur” type places, Ivonne began to hear about John Lyons’ natural horsemanship approach. She sought him out at horse expos and became a believer in his gentle and effective techniques. “A lot of people confuse natural horsemanship with a soft, fuzzy, ‘let the horse walk all over you,’ approach,” Ivonne observes. “But really it is just plain common sense. It is about presenting the horse with an idea, through pressure and release, and letting the horse figure it out.”
Ivonne entered the John Lyons certification course in 2005, after saving up money to bring the required two horses, one unbroke and a started mount, for the seven-month-plus program at the Lyons’ Colorado headquarters. Although Ivonne now asserts that training is simple and straightforward, it didn’t seem that way at first. “What I learned there is that it’s not the mechanical stuff, it’s the psychology that’s important,” she explains. “My first few days there I was trying to move my horse’s feet by copying what (John Lyons’ son) Josh Lyons was doing with his body. Eventually, I learned that it’s your energy and how you focus it that gets the job done.
“I was really a mess when I started,” she continues. “But once I cleared out all my own problems, my horse quit his behavioral problems. That’s when I realized, Hey, this training is for me!”
Training In Action
After earning her certification, Ivonne stayed on in Colorado and set out her professional shingle. She later moved to Texas and built up a solid client base before family ties called her to California. She’s been at Hideaway Ranch in Castro Valley since April of this year, and word of mouth is again building up her clientele.
In Texas, Ivonne focused mostly on training horses for their owners, but since coming to California she has shifted to training the horse and the rider at the same time. She has refined her clinics to add more fun for horse and human into the learning process. Held on the fourth Saturday of each month at Legacy Farms in the Salinas Valley’s Hollister, regularly scheduled clinics incorporate bridges, gates and even mounted soccer and paintball games. Asking participants to disengage their horse’s hindquarters while bumping a giant ball has proven to be a fun and engaging format for learning, she says. The next Hollister clinic will be held Oct. 25.
Ivonne finds it gratifying to work with horse and rider because “You can make a lot of horses happy at the same time.” As for her affinity for beginners, the trainer says, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard somebody say, ‘I’ve got this horse and I don’t know what to do with it’.” In some cases, the owner is a raw beginner and in other cases it’s a middle-aged woman who rode as a kid and is now able to return to the sport. “They are 40 or 50 and bought a green horse and are asking, ‘Why is my horse doing all these things?’” Ivonne says. “They forget that the horse they rode as a kid was dead-broke, maybe, and also, there is often a bit of a fear issue.”
Unlike many trainers, Ivonne doesn’t automatically eschew a green rider, green horse match-up. “A lot of trainers would tell their students to get a different horse, but I think the rider will often have the same problem with the next horse because the problem is usually their confidence.”
The one-rein stop is the first thing Ivonne teaches any new student and once they’ve attained that control, the stage is set for confidence building. One of her mottos is, “Green on green doesn’t have to mean black and blue.”
“I learned to train horses as a beginning rider and I believe that if a person has the determination and dedication, they can do it, too.”
In addition to her regular students at Hideaway Ranch and in Hollister, Ivonne welcomes distance learners. Her “home study” courses incorporate e-mail communication and DVDs or videos that are currently enabling students in Montana and England to make progress with their horses. And she is happy to hit the road: A group of Vermont horse owners is one of Ivonne’s biggest fan networks.
For more information on Ivonne Gutierrez’s Easy Step Horsemanship, visit www.johnlyonscertified.com or call 925-922-0238.