California Riding Magazine • October, 2008

Views & Reviews
The Ultimate Level of Horsemanship: Training Through Inspiration
Review by Elizabeth Allen
Intro by Nan Meek

At one of the first “big” shows I attended, I remember getting a chuckle at the name of a ranch splashed across their horse trailer: Almosta Ranch. Whoever owned that ranch has a great sense of humor, I thought.

Later I discovered that Al Dunning not only had a sense of humor about his ranch name, he had horse sense beyond compare. In this issue, our summer intern Elizabeth Allen gives us a glimpse of Al’s horse sense in her review of his book, The Ultimate Level of Horsemanship: Training Through Inspiration, written with Tammy Leroy.

Elizabeth, who recently graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science: Equine from University of Wisconsin-River Falls, found out about California Riding Magazine through an American Horse Publications internship opportunity while attending UWRF. She says, “I always liked to write and with my horse experience thought it’d be a good way to possibly start a career writing about horses. I applied for the internship and Riding Magazine was gracious enough to take me in.”

From her Duluth, MN, childhood riding mostly western, she went on to many jobs as a groom and riding for various barns including Cedar Ridge Arabians, Brian Welman Training Center, Kasten Reining Horses and Spring Hill Enterprises. While she was at school, “I got into reining and have been riding reiners on and off for about two and a half years.” She worked for Manuel Campos Performance Horses at Rancho Los Amigos in Imperial Beach, San Diego, while interning at Riding.

Here is Elizabeth on Al Dunning’s new book:

Training Through Inspiration

In The Ultimate Level of Horsemanship: Training Through Inspiration, by Al Dunning (with Tammy Leroy), the trainer shares his insights on handling and training a horse—including body language, voice commands, feeding, equipment and competition.

With almost four decades of training and competitive experience in reining, cutting, working cow horse, trail, western pleasure and almost every other western-oriented discipline, Al has been able to educate horse people across the nation. His philosophies can be applied to riders, trainers and owners of every level and any discipline. Though this is a book with western emphasis, any horse lover can gain a wealth of knowledge from it.

Interspersed in the pages of Al’s wisdom are breathtaking images by Robert Dawson of everything western: from the alluring landscape of Arizona to Al demonstrating his techniques on horses. When finished, readers will walk away with the same kind of confidence gained after a successful lesson with their horse. Even illustrating simple ideas such as horse health, Al is able to teach his readers as much as he teaches his riders, or at least it feels that way.

Though Al’s concepts and training methods are not revolutionary, he communicates in a style that isn’t yet common in horse training books. This is not a manual about a step-by-step process to ride or train a horse. It is for those who are looking to view their horse training or ownership in a different light and perhaps need a bit of motivation.
Every chapter begins with a definition of some version of the word “inspire,” which can be applied to both horse and human. Readers can pick this book up again and again and learn something new, even if it is just a different perspective. It is apparent that Al understands people as much as he understands horses. Through calm education and simple phrases, anyone can gain meaning from Al even if it has nothing to do with horses.

Al is not one of those self-proclaimed horsemen who maintain that the only goal for riders should be to accomplish the ultimate communication between horse and human. He actually uses competition as a way to test the horse and rider as athletes. He truly believes that what makes a horse great, rather than just good, is adding a little something extra. “They may run a little faster or cut a little quicker,” he asserts in the book. “The greatest horses are the ones that do things in a unique way.” Competition is the essential proving ground that decides just those elements of a horse and rider combination and, he adds, “Greatness can only occur under pressure.”

Al really emphasizes the importance of every aspect of horses from the thrill of winning to the necessity of losing to the struggle of getting to the summit of a mountaintop and coming back down only to get right back up there again. The evident passion and heart that can be read in between the lines of The Ultimate Level of Horsemanship can inspire anyone to be a champion at least in some small way.

Al Dunning has won and led his students and horses to multiple world titles, including nine AQHA World Champions and Reserve Champions, seven AQHA Amateur World Titles, three AJQHA World Champions and 11 All-American Congress winners. He has been on the AHSA/USEF Stock Seat Committee as well as the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s and AQHA’s judges committees.
He is based at Almosta Ranch Quarter Horse training facility in Scottsdale, AZ. Al also has training, reining, cutting and other videos available for purchase. For more information visit his website at