Respecting the horse

Horsemanship seminar offers tips on establishing healthy relationships

By Ann Griffis
Special to the Times

TUBA CITY, March 22, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Diego James Robles)

Traditional horsemanship trainer Jay Begaye, left, and clinician and equine specialist Ty Jones at the Tuba City High School Spring Celebration & Benefit/Contest Powwow March 4.

During the benefit powwow at Tuba City High held to raise funds for a trip to New York City, horses played a major role.

Jay Begaye, who served as a consultant for the powwow, explained the reason for making horses part of the event.

"I want my celebration to be safe and be blessed," he said. "To have horses out there around the celebration brings blessings."

There are many horse owners in Tuba City but apparently few got the word about the horsemanship seminar that took place in the old baseball practice field at Tuba City High on March 3 in conjunction with the powwow.

Members of the audience came from Monument Valley, Kayenta, Shonto, Page, and Dilkon, with only a few Tuba City residents from the teacher housing who stopped by out of curiosity.

Ty Jones of Flagstaff, father of powwow organizer Kami Jones, and a Native American horseman, equine specialist, and former Northern Arizona University rodeo team coach, gave a presentation on establishing a relationship with horses.

Base on trust, respect and knowledge, his talk was titled "Controlling the Five Body Parts."

Jones said," We want to get people to think about having respect for horses, taking care of their health and well-being, not just keeping them for pets or turning them out on the range.

"Horsemanship is part of our culture that we don't want to lose," he said. "Many kids want to learn how to ride horses, but their parents don't understand it that well, and can't teach. We encourage them to take that journey and learn horsemanship."

Jones noted, "When a horse respects you, there's not a whole lot you can't do with him."

Wayne Franklin of Twin Lakes, N.M., a certified journeyman farrier with a bachelor's degree in equine science and agricultural education, gave a presentation titled "Horsemanship and Conformation."

Seminar participant Eugene Bartlett commented that there were no horseback riding manuals or lessons when he was growing up.

"My five uncles put me on the back of a horse bareback and told me to ride. I was about eight years old," he said. "It wasn't a gentle ride, either. They said, 'Let's go to the windmill!' and took off. It must have been 100 miles per hour.

"My uncles wanted me to be a bull rider, too," he said. "To train me, they put me on the back of a bucking cow, tied my heels together, and let go. I slipped underneath, and couldn't kick free. That cow must have dragged me 500 feet through the brush. My head was all scraped up, and my uncles were laughing."

The 8-year veteran of the Marine Corps added, "That's Navajo humor, when somebody gets hurt. It's good, it makes you tough."

Yet, he does not want that for his young daughter, who wants to learn how to ride a horse.

"That's my baby. I don't want her to fall off and get hurt," he said.

The presentation of Nadia Spencer of Spencer Valley, near Gallup, was titled "Women and Horses." Bartlett commended Spencer for earning her place in the traditionally male field of horse training.

The former barrel racer and team roper agreed that breaking into the field hadn't been easy.

"I thought rodeo was hard, competing against guys," she said. "Becoming a horse trainer was harder. I was told, 'Get off the horse. It's not your place. Get inside and take care of the kitchen. Take care of the sheep.'

"Even my dad didn't want me to do it, because he didn't want me to get hurt," she said.

Then people tried her training suggestions and it worked for them.

Spencer said, "Now Dad sees me as an equal person."

Spencer used Colors, her dad's renowned roping horse, to demonstrate how to work quietly and respectfully with your horse.

Spencer praised the cow pony, whose qualities of athleticism and distaste for cows were represented by Colors.

"In a cow pony, you have the makings of a team-roping horse," she said.

Her theme was to communicate with light hands.

"With heavy hands, you're constantly pulling him, commanding him. You get tired of fighting with your horse. He throws his head up, takes off," she said.

"You want to have light hands," she said. "With the right lead, you feel good, and he feels good."

Spencer demonstrated the use of different bits for different purposes, from schooling to competition. The bosal, a simple rope form, is closest to the yucca root and hay twine used by Navajo ancestors.

It took a combination of 30 bits to train Colors. Bits are used to let the horse know what kind of work he'll be doing for each event at a rodeo.

She explained, "The calf roping bit tells him, 'I'm going to rope today!'"

One result of great training is to not use a bit at all. Spencer lightly held a thin strip of leather around the horse's neck and he responded.

An experimental attitude led Spencer to use an English saddle. With the English saddle, there is no saddle horn to hold onto.

"It's scary. I could slip off!" she said. "I've gained confidence in the horse that he's going to take care of me."

She continued, "He'll listen to my voice, hands, and body posture. I have confidence in him and know he'll behave."