By Cami Ortloff
Growing up, I was the kid who would rather play with plastic horses than dolls, and pleaded with my parents for a pony. Little did they know that this childish fantasy would mature into a passion and dedication to pursue a career in training horses. Through a fantastic educational opportunity, and the guidance of professional horsemanship mentors, I have breathed life into my dreams.
In my search for an academic program with a focus on horsemanship, I found the Horse Production AAS degree and Certified Horse Trainer Program at the Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Oregon. I was thrilled to discover that the administrator of this curriculum was Wade Black, son of respected horseman Martin Black and grandson of the legendary late Ray Hunt. I enrolled in the program, and have had tremendous opportunities and growth as a horseman since. My experience has especially been colored by horsemanship philosophies that focus on effective communication between horse and rider.
Wade’s horsemanship philosophy is founded on having an in depth understanding of the horse’s psychology – the things that drive a horse’s actions and the ways that a horse communicates with its rider. At the core of his teaching, Wade stresses that “a horse has his own will and is driven by three things: self preservation, comfort, and companionship.” Wade’s “Foundation for Perfection” principles can be applied to any discipline to develop a nurturing and harmonic relationship between horse and rider. For example, under the direction of Melissa Jeyo, I learned the invaluable lesson that it’s always best to stop on a good note. A session that ends with a light, responsive, and eager horse will have a greater impact on you and your horse’s productivity in its next session, rather than drilling, which can leave him conflicted and confused.
During my time at Treasure Valley, I also met accredited clinician, coach, and FEI level dressage trainer Donnette Hicks. Donnette taught a dressage principles clinic that was very much in line with Wade and Melissa’s horsemanship philosophies. In the clinic, I learned how to measure the tempo of a horse’s gait. It was fascinating to see how the horses’ emotions affected the rhythm of their gait and the way they carried themselves.
Over the course of the program, I was able to halter train two yearlings and put a solid foundation on three colts. By the end of the term, the colts were comfortable being caught, bridled, and having their feet handled. They were quiet to saddle, relaxed to get on, and confident with a rope. They could load in a trailer, lope in a straight line away from the barn, and lope circles. It was exciting to see that, by the end, the colts accomplished these tasks not because they were being forced, but because we set it up in such a way that they desired to produce the movement being asked of them.
While completing my certification, I have pursued an internship at Sage Creek Equestrian in Heber City, Utah to work further with Donnette. I have been involved in a wide variety of unique experiences here at Sage Creek. I acquired optimal seating at a rated dressage show by being the MC and witnessed training through grand prix levels. I helped with teasing mares, and breeding magnificent Friesian horses. I visited the BLM wild horse corrals for the Impact of the Horse competition. In addition to the traditional intern duties such as warming up and cooling down horses, bathing, braiding, and receiving lessons, I learned about barn office management. I watered flowers, did laundry, maintained the barn kitchen, assisted in Walmart and bank runs for the barn, and I have learned to clean proficiently. Helping with a kids camp was a definite highlight. Watching the young girls love on the ponies, and the ponies’ soften under their touch, reinforced for me what being a professional horse trainer is really all about.
In my training with, Donnette and her husband, Jim Hicks, I have gleaned priceless horsemanship skills. I am learning to actively ride with each horse’s timing, which helps the horse stay balanced emotionally and physically. Through this experience, I’ve learned to recognize undesired movements in the moment and correct them myself. To inspire me, Donnette let me ride her personal Friesian stallion. I was able to experience the incredible feeling of riding the horse’s mind and energy.
The college program gave me valuable training knowledge as Wade Black is a very masterful horseman, and it aided me in connecting with Donnette Hicks for this internship, which has given me valuable experience in running a barn and training. I am grateful for Wade’s expertise, wisdom, and for how he genuinely cares about each of his individual students and their futures. I also appreciate Donnette Hicks and how she has openly shared her knowledge, experience, and life with me. It has been more than just a college program and an internship; it has been life changing.