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Horses Can't Resist This Trainer

Horses Can't Resist This Trainer
Life-Long Horseman Ross Munsey Teaches Resistance-Free Training
by Tammy Thielman

"I grew up around young horses," says resistance-free trainer Ross Munsey of Salmon Valley. "When my Dad managed the Gang Ranch, I started all the horses." A soft-spoken, personable man, dressed in the faded shirt and jeans of a working cowboy, Ross is a third-generation rancher and horseman.

Ross used to train horses as a hobby. Now, well-known for his successful training method, Munsey trains horses professionally. At Interior horse-shows, crowds gather to watch Munsey -- wearing chaps and a cowboy hat -- calmly work with young and problem horses. Bystanders listen to Ross' step-by-step talk, amplified by a hands-free microphone.

Munsey teaches clinics and offers lessons at the farm he owns with wife Cynthia. The latest Munsey clinic was booked to capacity with over a dozen participants, eager to learn about Munsey's progressive approach to starting a young horse. Munsey-trained horses learn to trust and respect their rider. Under Ross' guidance, riders learn to understand their horses. Ultimately, horse and rider become an extension of one another, perfectly in time.

When horse and rider are out of tune, the problem shows: "The horse's feet are the rider's legs -- if the rider gives the wrong signals at the wrong time, the horse gets confused and protects himself by resisting." A young horse will blow up, if a rider applies too much pressure, Munsey warns. Ross teaches riders to have a "soft feel" on the reins, and use weight shift and body position to guide their horses.

"Curbing a horse's resistance begins with halter breaking, before the saddle touches a horse's back," says Munsey, adding, "Ground work is time consuming, but makes all the difference when you sit in the saddle. When a horse doesn't understand, resistance grows, and the horse then protects himself. A trainer must change to help a horse understand. When the horse understands what the trainer's communicating, the resistance goes away. If resistance isn't corrected, it'll multiply from bad to worse," explains Ross.

The basic principle of resistance-free training is to make the wrong thing difficult for the horse to do, and the right thing easy to do -- in a non-violent and non-threatening manner. If the horse and rider are in tune with one another, the resistance-free horse will think the rider's idea is his own.

When necessary, Munsey uses a "flag" -- a long whip with a plastic bag attached to the end -- to communicate with horses. The "flag," an extension of the rider's arm, creates movement, noise, and pressure, that the horse respects but doesn't fear. The "flag" is similar to a natural equine warning system -- another horse's swishing tail.

Twenty years ago, at a Ray Hunt resistance-free clinic on the Douglas Lake Ranch, Munsey "learned a different and better way" to start and train horses. "The clinic was an eye-opener," Ross explains, "I saw a new method of communicating with horses." Munsey continued learning with fellow-clinician and trainer Larry Nelles, and poured over "True Horsemanship Through Feel," the respected book by legendary California trainer Bill Dorrance.

Resistance-free training is suitable for any horse, says Munsey, whose trained hundreds of horses of all breeds. "Breed doesn't mean that much," Ross shrugs, "I work with Peruvians, Warmbloods, Quarter Horses, and every breed in between."

After putting a few rides on a young horse, Munsey heads out on trail rides. "You can't hard school a horse in a ring all the time -- horses need freedom. Walking in the hills teaches a horse how to place his feet," says Ross, who once worked as guide. In true cowboy tradition, Munsey introduces horses to a lariat, a crupper-strap, and cows.

On the Munsey's 30-acre farm, a tree-lined lane leads past the gray farmhouse to a cluster of horse pens. A log hip-roof barn sits surrounded by trees, corrals, fields, and an outdoor riding arena. "Our facility is basic," says Ross, who also enjoys cutting and team-roping. "We have a small barn, lots of corrals, loafing sheds, and miles of trails."

"Some people don't want to learn much more -- they're happy going on trail rides, and there's nothing wrong with that," says Ross, "For anyone who wants to open their mind to new ideas and understand their horse better, I can help them."

Other articles by Tammy Thielman

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