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Tricks of the Trade (2)


From their herd of 16, the women work to condition their primary trick-riding horses, and each trains two additional horses with Monroe’s help. He asks both Abigail and Meishja to mount their horses.

Placing himself in the center of the makeshift arena, he watches the women ride.

While still a teenager, Monroe worked on a horse ranch in South Dakota and began to notice certain dynamics between horse and rider.

A horse that turned his rump toward a trainer refused to listen and showed disrespect. A horse that turned his head sideways to gaze at a trainer with both eyes showed respect, giving a trainer the position of “herd boss.”

Today Ambrose taps into that lifetime of observations as a trainer. His method is that of a horse listener — he teaches riders like Abigail and Meishja to interpret a horse’s expressions.

It’s equally critical, explains Abigail, for trick riders to clearly communicate with their horses so animals understand expectations once they’re up to full speed and reins are dropped.

The sisters work on delivering one-word cues such as “Whoa” with consistent tone and body language.

They apply steady pressure to the lead line to make the horse halt.

If the horse doesn’t stop, the rider backs up a few steps and tries again. Eventually the horse responds to vocal cues without the added pressure on a lead line or reins.

Both Abigail and Meishja studied equine science at Kirkwood Community College, learning from courses such as horse anatomy and horsemanship.

“As riders, it’s important for us to understand a horse’s body and what’s going on with it,” says Meishja.

She leads her new trick-riding horse into the arena and croons in his ear, “Easy, easy.” The simple cue lets the horse know it’s time to quiet his mind.

She strokes his neck, back, flanks, and legs.
(Read more Tricks of the Trade)

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