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Bonnie Martin understands her mounts

By Kay S. Pedrotti The way Barnesville’s Bonnie Martin teaches horsemanship is, ‘more a philosophy than a technique,’ she says. Watching Martin and her apprentice Kacie Eicholtz, putting a couple of relaxed but alert mares through their paces, it’s easy to believe her version of natural horsemanship does work. The horses are Missouri Foxtrotters, a gaited breed similar to Tennessee Walkers. Eicholtz’s ride was so smooth the Gordon State College student’s head did not bounce up and down at all but stayed level. Martin says the type of horse training she thinks is most beneficial to people and their mounts started in the West with a ‘philosophical cowboy named Tom Dorrance, born in 1910, whose treatment of horses was much different for his time.’ Such notables as Ray Hunt and Buck Brannaman have carried on his legacy. She adds that it is all about understanding the nature of horses and training them in ways that make sense to the animals. ’Our method focuses on understanding then using the inherent nature of the horse to gain its trust and cooperation instead of making it perform. We need to recognize they are prey animals and react differently to predators, like people, and are herd animals who need to see us as trusted leaders in their social leadership hierarchy. I’ve been around horses since I was 18 and working with this training for more than 10 years. So I’ll only teach those who are serious about learning to understand their horses and not punish them when the riders think they’ve failed to perform,’ says Martin. The Foxtrotters are multi-purpose horses who once were called the ‘poor man’s Cadillac horse,’ Martin adds. The breed registry started in 1947, when a horse that could demonstrate the proper gait was accepted as a Foxtrotter. Now, says Martin, the breed has grown enough that registered parents are the criteria for classification. ’Back then, in the ‘˜40s, people wanted to own a horse who could work cattle, plow a garden, pull a buggy and carry people,’ Martin says. ‘They (the Foxtrotters) can also be show horses. We’ve taught ours to work with cattle ‘“ we were surprised that Lita was more curious and compliant than difficult, since she had never even seen a cow before.’ Martin objects strenuously to the use of painful bits to train horses. She says many horses wind up going from owner to owner as ‘trouble’ but she insists the problem is the people, not the horse, and how they’ve been trained. ’Rough treatment leads to mentally shut-down robot horses, or those considered untrainable. Neither result gives a rider a partner horse so they can rely on and enjoy each other,’ she notes. Martin uses mounting blocks or a fence to mount and everybody rides with helmets on. She demonstrated how her subtle signals and gentle handling of the rein rope tells Lita to ‘come to the fence and pick me up.’ She plans to attend a clinic with Brent Graef, a trainer who uses basically the same methods, in Gay June 7-9. Anyone interested in the clinic can contact Martin at Gemara Farm, gemfox@bellsouth. net The subtle clues given by Martin to Lita and Eicholtz to Junebug were not evident to an observer but it was obvious the horses were obeying their riders. One of the best examples of body signals, Martin says, is probably the ‘stop’ command. ’You just relax your energy. The horse senses that you have ‘˜stopped riding,’ so it will stop too. It’s that philosophy again that you do as little as possible but as much as necessary,’ she says.

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