The Southern Horse Bonanza

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By Leigh Ballard and Tommy Brannon

The Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, TN was the venue for the 2013 Southern Horse Bonanza held March 8-10. The event showcased several nationally known trainers and clinicians who demonstrated their training methods and philosophies.  Many other lectures and demonstrations informed the attendees on subjects as wide-ranging as: 1)Treatment and Rehabilitation;  2)Bitting;  3) Horse Owner Responsibility;  4) Matching Feeding Program to Lifestyle;  5) Barbaro: The Courageous Battle of a Warrior;  6) Trailer Safety;  7) Saddle Fitting;  and much more. A large collection of vendors selling saddles, tack, equipment, health care products, clothing and more displayed their wares around the mezzanine above the main arena.

The opening night’s events included each clinician’s preview of what they would offer over the following two days. Chase Dodd, a two-time Extreme Mustang Makeover Champion, showed the crowd his method of colt-starting. In his short allotted time, he was able to teach a colt some basic groundwork and respect, get a saddle on it, and then ride it briefly around the roundpen, all without incident or undue stress on the horse.

Craig Cameron, well known clinician with Road to the Horse, RFD-TV, Cowboy Hall of Fame, and Extreme Cowboy racing credits on his list of accomplishments, discussed and demonstrated his core horsemanship philosophies.

Tommy Turvey is an entertainer, stuntman, and animal trainer who owns and trains horses that are seen in many TV commercials and movies. He recently trained the Clydesdale horses used in this year’s Budweiser Super Bowl commercial, the number one Super Bowl commercial ever. Tommy’s opening night performance included his roan Mustang, Blade, who is seen in the show “The Walking Dead.” He also let his dog, Maverick, show the crowd the trick he learned for a movie with Kris Kristoferson. The dog ran across the arena to an ice chest full of bottles, opened it, removed a bottle of “root beer” and then came tearing back across the arena to deliver it to Tommy. The crowd loved it.

Eric Gray is a trainer and clinician from Cumming, GA who specializes in gaited trail horses. His opening night demonstration explained how to use lateral work and hindquarter engagement to keep a gaited horse smooth and supple. He explained how exercises can keep a trail horse in its gait and prevent the unwanted pacing gait.

Many other preview demonstrations on opening night set the stage for the rest of the weekend’s activities.
Saturday was devoted to clinics for the spectators, with a few volunteer participants. Both Saturday’s and Sunday’s clinics started early and went on throughout the day in the main arena, as well as in two other buildings. 

Trainer Joe Harper from Russelville, KY, gave a demonstration of Cow Horse Fundamentals. He used a pool of student riders to demonstrate how to learn these fundamentals. He coached each rider through proper positioning of themselves in the saddle as well as positioning their horse properly to the cow. He showed how very small differences in position can show either aggression or submission for the cow. An interesting aspect of Joe’s demonstration was the explanation in the difference of how one must ride in relation to working a cow. The use of one’s body, seat and hands is different from other disciplines. He explained how proper “equitation” position is not feasible for cow work. Also he explained that when working a cow, as in cutting or cow horse work, motion is backward. Reining and all other riding disciplines are based on forward motion.

Mark and Miranda Lyon, a husband and wife clinician team, used a pool of riders in their presentation, “Building Confidence on the Trail.” Their focus was to teach a horse trust and confidence in the rider so that the horse will willingly negotiate any obstacle put before it. Many of the horses in this demonstration were inexperienced with obstacles, but they learned about tarps and wobble bridges in front of the crowd. Following that presentation, Craig Cameron used some of the same obstacles to present “Extreme Cowboy Trail.” Some of Craig’s gems of wisdom were that horses have their riders’ problems. And the biggest problem is that riders don’t ride enough! With the horses that were fearful of some of the obstacles he advised, “Slow down and let your horse do the thing, quit trying to make him do it!” His definition of patience is “waiting without worry.” He said nothing works in this world without discipline, and that enthusiasm is what makes a great horse, and enthusiasm is what makes a great rider.

Chase Dodd’s Saturday and Sunday clinics showed just how observant he is. It did not take long for him to evaluate the needs of his students, both human and horse.  He told his students that forward movement is the number one key to performance. He had a comment on bits, Shank vs. Snaffle. “The shank bit multiplies the pressure by 100%. You may think you are just using a little pressure with the shank, but may be way too much. Spurs are just a tool of mine. I always wear spurs.” He demonstrated riding a nervous horse that did not want to stand still, shifting left then right, left then right. Chase explained his technique while he was performing it: “Move him forward, stop, disengage the hind quarters. Stop, forward, stop, disengage the hind quarters.” To one horse owner in the clinic he gave some frank advice:  “As stiff as he is and as big as he is, send him to a trainer and take lessons with him. A $20,000 horse can become a $1,000 horse in a short period of time. Any horse can be untrained. This horse needs everyday riding.”  
Eventer and trainer Elisa Wallace rode the horses in her clinics bareback. This was a very good way for the audience to see the position of her leg and how she used leg and balance to teach a green horse what she wanted. She explained her position and the moves before she executed them. In a very short period of time she had the horse performing for the audience sans bridal as well as saddle.

Saturday night’s Celebration of the Horse had many the trainers from the previous night,  but also, quite a bit of entertainment with parading horses, quadrilles, carriages, horse and human pas de deux performed by the Tennessee Walking horse stallion Ivory Pal and ballerina Amanda Whites, and music by country singer and cowgirl Templeton Thompson. There were also some very impressive groundwork and riding demonstrations of mustangs from the extreme Mustang Makeover competition, including 8-year-old Casey Hiser with Pancake; 12-year-old Madelyn Ernest with Mighty Mouse; and 18-year-old Harley Gold with the fourth mustang she has trained, Molly.

Southern Horse Bonanza organizer Patrick Kayser said that they are planning an even bigger and better Southern Horse Bonanza next year.

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