Monday, April 20, 2015

My experience at Charlie Hill's colt starter clinic

Charlie working with Smoke in the round corral



The very first time I met Charlie I saw his patience and understanding with a client that made a few ignorant statements regarding his mare and breeding operation. Charlie was able to guide the client away from the negative mindset, direct him on a much better understanding of the horses and support a much more positive future for them all. Most people would have just said no that's not right and tried to push their ideas on that person or just let that person be. To watch Charlie calmly turn that negative into a positive without letting his emotions take over was a trait I highly respected. From that day on I told myself I would like to learn more about life from Charlie and this weekend I believe that the Colt starter program was a good start.




Our proud stud colt posing while out for a walk.


 Before I get started I will give you a little history on our horse. Gunsmoke is a F5 (or GAP5 depending what registry you ask) Foundation Appaloosa. His sire DREA Ocho Stormcloud and dam DREA Firesnowy Sassi are from Milton Deckers Red Eagle Appaloosa's in Alvadore, Oregon. Storm and Snowy were purchased by Dan and Sherrill Sumrall and moved to Chandler, Arizona to live on the their farm. March 4th, 2012 Snowy gave birth to a foal they named Gunsmoke which I am grateful we were able to later purchase and call our horse. The appaloosa horses have a strange history and some of his family can be traced back to Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indian Tribe's breeding program of these horses. The goal to selective breed forward to a "pure bred" appaloosa is something we are working towards with members of the ICAA registry so Smoke has remained a stud with that in mind. In the beginning we researched his blood lines and were on the fence about whether to geld him or attempt to raise our first horse as a stud. Raising a stud properly is no easy process as we have been told by every single person that we run into, but nothing is impossible if you put your heart into it. I feel as though we have had it pretty easy so far thanks to a good disposition and a lot of help from great people. 


Charlie is one of the hardest working men I have gotten to know. Here is won't even stop long enough to eat his lunch so he enjoys some food on DW's back.

 Charlie Hill has developed a program he is calling the Chill Method which you can read more about by clicking the link. You can also follow Charlie's Facebook page which he does post on periodically. Charlie defines horsemanship as "The understanding of your horse's movements and thoughts and how one influences the other. It is recognizing your responsibility to the horse in all situations. It is the ability to arrange these thoughts and movements to obtain a willing service". 

  Now growing up, understanding meant something completely different to me as it does now. Recently I saw a quote from Tom Dorrance and it really stuck with me. Looking back I wish I could have been more accepting to others advice but I wouldn't be where I am now without the choices that were made. "I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.". To me that quote is about not having an open mind to accept someone else's idea so you make it what you want it to be rather then what they were trying to convey to you. I went into Charlie's clinic with my mind wide open and ready to absorb everything I could. How often do you get an opportunity to learn first hand from someone you respect and look up to in person and action. There was no way I wanted to walk away without plenty of new concepts to work on myself. Coming from a 160 acre ranch with a lifetime of experience I knew that four days was not nearly enough time to get a full understanding of what Charlie has learned. He himself is still learning and progressing the ideas he has come up with as well as the ones he has learned along the way. One of the bigger influences on Charlie was Ray Hunt which is another person I look up to and wish I could have had the chance to meet. Charlie spent a good amount of time with Ray and spent over 10 years starting horses on a ranch in Texas to advance his understanding of Ray's teachings. I first heard of Ray in probably the most novice of ways and that was through a DVD a friend of mine let me borrow called BuckBuck Brannaman is another Ray Hunt student and man I look up to with his horsemanship. The movie intrigued me more on the understanding of working with a horse instead of working against the horse. After some research of Ray and his students I found Charlie was shoeing horses out here in Arizona, putting on clinics of his own and I was lucky enough to work something out with his wife Debbie to get in to the 2015 February Colt Starter Clinic.  




Charlie helping Chance work with Legs.


 The clinic is 4 days from 8am till 5 but I don't think I ever left before 8pm each day because I wanted to soak up everything I could.  The first day was pretty much what I expected which was a lot of working with Smoke on learning to respect boundaries and yield to pressure.  Smoke, being a stud has that natural instinct to want to be in charge. While a lot of that behavior we worked with in the past, a stud will always test you to see what they can get away with. After a little time in the round corral with Charlie on horseback he was pretty much in the mindset that I had hoped him to be in and Smoke was very accepting of what Charlie had me working on and I felt even more confident about getting into that saddle. Smoke was first up for the day so after he was done I watched Charlie and his apprentice Chance, work with the other horses. Chance was in charge of starting a large thoroughbred gelding named Legs for a young girl. This horse was pretty intimidating and un-trusting of anyone who came too close for his comfort. Watching Legs go from not wanting to have a halter in the same stall as him to being able to ride out on the trail was probably one of the most impressive parts of the clinic for me.  Chance spent a lot of time with Legs that day and on into the dark. When I arrived the next morning Chance was already in the stall with him and probably had been since the sun rose, in an attempt to show the horse he doesn't mean it any trouble. 




Charlie teaching Smoke how to yield to pressure. "Respect isn't fear, it's acceptance" - Buck Brannaman


   Day two was off to a similar start working with Smoke and the other horses in the enclosed round pen establishing that respect of boundaries and ability to yield to pressure. This came in handy for the horses later as they were let into the one hundred and fifty foot round arena together. The group consisted of a gelding colt about the age of Smoke, Legs, a young palomino filly and an older mare. Charlie rode his horse DW and helped keep the horses moving around the arena, which taught them to work together as a heard. Later that day we took the young filly out and put Smoke in so he could get some experience with the other horses. The older mare wasn't too much of a concern to Smoke allowing Charlie to keep all of them moving with ease. Now that all the horses had pretty good focus, one at a time we moved into them into the round corral and took our first step into the saddle.  Everyone had pretty good luck getting on and moving around without incident. Two of the horses had been ridden before; the mare was a little spooky but she did okay, until she got a little too excited and her rider slid off into the sand. Now, Legs took some convincing but Chance got in the saddle, had a nice little ride. Part of what I need work on is holding onto a light feel. This doesn't mean constantly pulling on the horse but rather to give the horse the freedom to make his own decision but being there to direct him if he starts to go down the wrong path. A light feel is something I will work on the rest of my life establishing a lighter and more gentle approach each time i grab a lead rope or reins. Smoke didn't seem troubled by me getting in the saddle and riding around so we all ended the day on a good note. 

Chance taking that first big step onto Legs




    Day 3, In my opinion it was the biggest day for Charlie and DW. We had the horses saddled early and worked with the young colt that was having some trouble being saddled. After that Charlie took everyone into the large arena and had them working together as a heard. The young filly seemed to take a little liking to Smoke over the weekend which brought her into season. Smoke being the stud colt that he is, took that is his invite to follow her around and figure out what this new scent was all about. Charlie spent a good amount of the day running around on horseback insuring that Smoke never crossed the line of boundaries he established. After a lot of running and sweating we took Smoke out to relax in his stall and the rest of the group got in the saddle to ride around the arena. Smoke and I started off slower and spent the rest of the day riding in the round pen figuring out what we were asking of one another. I have only been in a saddle a hand full of times so mix that in with a stud colts first time being ridden this weekend and you normally would expect a disaster. Fortunately enough, we were both ready for this new step together beside a little bumping into the panels and him lying down once, we did pretty well as one.  


Smoke was pretty hooked on this filly but Charlie taught him its ok to move with her as long as her respected the boundaries that Charlie had set.




"Redirecting the energy allowing the horse to move" 


   Helped us work in a positive frame of mind and that seemed to be my main focus for the last day of the clinic. We were in the saddle and working around the round corral without a bit, using only the halter and lead rope as my reins while the rest of the group rode around the arena. I had a minor issue figuring out the proper position for my hands while sliding the bit into Smoke's mouth but after a moment of watching Charlie I learned exactly what my mistake was and resolved the issue. The quote I mentioned above from Tom made me realize I had focused on what I thought Charlie said rather than understanding what he was saying.  


Smoke and I getting along pretty well in the round corral. Photo- Anastasia Coleman


    Now  it was time to get out into the area with the rest of the group.  I'm pretty sure the owner of the Palomino filly was more nervous then the rest of us but I knew that Smoke and I could get a long out there without causing anyone trouble. The phrase redirect the energy was burned into my brain, and with so much practice my inexperienced hands are much quicker with sliding down the rein while juggling the rest of the rope. A similar quote came to mind while working on keeping Smokes focus was "You have to plan ahead so that rather than seek revenge for the horse's misbehavior, you see his aggressive behavior shaping up and can redirect it. You change his mind before he's acted and move on to something else." - Buck Brannaman.  After some practice I think we all got a long just fine out there, but I wanted to get more time in the saddle to better my skills before moving into the pasture so I rode for a while after the rest had moved on. This clinic was called a colt starter clinic but for me it was much more about getting myself ready to present new ideas to my horse. A concept I have heard a lot over the last year is that 'its all about your presentation'. That same idea was told to me by many people I respect in different industries like Manny Chee a professional fisherman, Charlie when learning how to properly saddle a horse and talking a friend of mine about how to run a successful small business. It's not a new concept to me but again as I grow older these words tend to make sense in a different light.  



Out with the group for our first time. Photo- Anastasia Coleman




 Charlie was constantly telling us to "Guide, direct and support" which goes hand in hand with redirecting the energy. His focus is not to control the horse and stop it but rather to let it know that it's okay to move as long as it is a positive movement. When the horse starts to seem like he might lose focus you redirect the energy then guide, direct and support a positive change. Now I'm just a student and have a lot less experience than some of you reading this but I hope this blog entry gives you a little understanding of Charlie's methods and the desire to learn more. 

 
Don't let Smoke fool you, he kept a close eye on anyone who chose to go near "his" filly. But as Ray would say it was up to me to "make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy"
Photo- Anastasia Coleman




 Off to the pasture of obstacles with the rest of the group. We had a pretty fun time with everything and no hesitation until we got to the water. Smoke has always been a little weary of walking through a puddle he can't see the bottom of so this was no surprise to me. Eventually he walked through at an angle then decided that laying down to drink from it was more fun than walking through. Smoke seemed to enjoy having a job to focus on walking through big rocks, crossing tires, walking through cones and anything else I could put in front of him. Charlie said it looks like you can ride that horse anywhere. Things went pretty smooth until a couple geldings in the pasture next to us got excited and ran up to the fence. Smoke acted with the typical stud like behavior and decided he needed to get to that fence and make sure they weren't causing any trouble. I have never been on a horse moving as fast as he was and I am not sure if it was just luck or natural instinct for me to grab onto that horn and stay centered but fortunately I did. After a second I was able to get focused and again redirect the energy to a much calmer idea. A couple of the girls in the clinic said that I have a pretty good seat in the saddle and I am going to say that must come from riding BMX my whole life.


Walking over, around, through, back, sideways and stopping on these rail road ties was no trouble for Smoke.
Photo- Anastasia Coleman


 The last thing on our list before we finished up the clinic was a short ride through the neighborhood and out into a field behind all the homes. I was excited to get out of the property and explore for once. The reason I want horses is to do just that but on a larger scale and one day with my wife, I plan to ride from the valley up the Arizona trail to my brothers place in Flagstaff. There will be plenty more work before either of us are ready for such a trip but it's good to have a goal set. We took off down the rode and worked with a few obstacles that didn't seem like much to Smoke because we have spent a lot of time walking in the neighborhood, experiencing whatever came our way.  We passed other horses, dogs, goats, a storm drain and walked between a trailer and a trash-can which some might call a squeeze before finally reaching the path through some trees and into the field. This walk was pretty busy for me as Smoke didn't like the young colt walking near what he considered "his" filly. Much more practice of redirecting the energy which only will help me with my hands and my release of the reins. I enjoyed being out with the group and was The last thing on our list before we finished up the clinic was a short ride through the neighborhood and out into a field behind all the homes. I was excited to get out of the property and explore for once. The reason I want horses is to do just that but on a larger scale and one day with my wife, I plan to ride from the valley up the Arizona trail to my brothers place in Flagstaff. There will be plenty more work before either of us are ready for such a trip but it's good to have a goal set. We took off down the rode and worked with a few obstacles that didn't seem like much to Smoke because we have spent a lot of time walking in the neighborhood, experiencing whatever came our way.  We passed other horses, dogs, goats, a storm drain and walked between a trailer and a trash-can which some might call a squeeze before finally reaching the path through some trees and into the field. This walk was pretty busy for me as Smoke didn't like the young colt walking near what he considered "his" filly. Much more practice of redirecting the energy which only will help me with my hands and my release of the reins. I enjoyed being out with the group and was pretty impressed that Smoke was able to focus on working with me. There is still plenty of work ahead for us both and it won't ever end but may get to be a little more organized on my part. The main thing I have learned through my experience thus far with our horse is a whole new meaning to the term patience and understanding. This new path I am on with my horse is not just about him and I but about understanding how to get a long in life with any path I choose to go down. I have the Serenity prayer tattooed on my forearm not because of any type of addiction but because it took something so drastic like a tattoo for me to remember that advice. A quote from Charlie's website is "Ray Hunt often referred to it as being about life, taking responsibility and working on ourselves so that we could have more to offer the horse. After chewing on this all these years I've decided its not about me and what I desire for my horse, but what do I have to offer the horse."  I now feel like I have a little more to offer Smoke but we have only just begun this journey so together I hope we can grow and have so much more to give one another.
pretty impressed that Smoke was able to focus on working with me. There is still plenty of work ahead for us both and it won't ever end but may get to be a little more organized on my part. The main thing I have learned through my experience thus far with our horse is a whole new meaning to the term patience and understanding. This new path I am on with my horse is not just about him and I but about understanding how to get a long in life with any path I choose to go down. I have the Serenity prayer tattooed on my forearm not because of any type of addiction but because it took something so drastic like a tattoo for me to remember that advice. A quote from Charlie's website is "Ray Hunt often referred to it as being about life, taking responsibility and working on ourselves so that we could have more to offer the horse. After chewing on this all these years I've decided its not about me and what I desire for my horse, but what do I have to offer the horse."  I now feel like I have a little more to offer Smoke but we have only just begun this journey so together I hope we can grow and have so much more to give one another.

Out for a stroll with the group. 

Soaking up all the knowledge I can from a wise man.


 I will end the story off with a quote from Charlie that he said during the clinic. After a few times being corrected one of the riders made the correction before Charlie noticed and said did you catch that or did you just get nervous I was going to catch you. He then explained "It's not whether I catch you or not, its whether I can get you to think and catch yourself. That we be how you really begin to learn." I know there is so much more to learn from Charlie and I hope for many more times like this weekend in the future.

I couldn't be more proud of the young colt.
 Please check out more info at Chill Method

 Thank you for taking the time to read my account of such a great opportunity. I can't thank Debbie and Charlie Hill enough for this experience that I will remember as long as I live. Thank you to Chance for his advice and encouragement during the clinic and the rest of the group for all the support. Also to my friend Amber for hours of work with Smoke and I to be ready when this day came. Last but certainly not least, thank you to my loving wife because without your support, hard work and determination we wouldn't even had a horse to have taken this path on. 
-Tyler Coleman

Stay loose and keep a light feel.
Charlie at work.


I never had the opportunity to meet Ray while he was alive but it was an honor to learn from someone who called him a friend. Charlie couldn't deserve this saddle anymore than he already does and I'm so glad to have been a part of his clinic. Here is the saddle Charlie was given at a Ray Hunt Legacy event for starting a colt in a friendly competition with other friends of Ray.