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Ricky Quinn Jr. Goldfield Ranch Clinic, Oct 24-26 2008

By Nancy Lee

Pics & Info

* See clinic slideshows at the bottom of the page
* Click this link to read Ricky's profile
I couldn't make it to the first day of the clinic, but Saturday and Sunday found me north of Mesa somewhere off the Beeline Highway near a development called Goldfield Ranch. The land is more lumpy than flat around there, with rocky little hills sprinkled picturesquely with saguaros. The weather had cooled down to around 90 degrees and the sky was robin's egg blue, clear and lovely.

Mike Thomas and I got to the clinic early on Saturday. He snugged his Sante Fe close to the porch of the clinic hosts' barn, making it a short walk to the muffins and coffee. We said "hi" to the other early birds, including Ricky Quinn Jr., the clinic’s instructor. Ricky somehow gives the impression of being taller than he is. He's statuesque, though he might not care for the word. His gentle voice contrasts markedly with dark, intense features and his confident, upright bearing. His partner, Sarah Sandusky, is small, blonde, sweet, and tough as cordwood.

Mike and I pulled his $5.99 folding stools out of the back of the Santa Fe and took positions close to the fence. Ricky started the day with a saddling demo, showing us how to rub a horse on both sides with the saddle pad to make sure that the pad didn't startle him. He demonstrated the easiest way to hold and hoist a heavy saddle, landing it softly on the horse's back. Saturday and Sunday's lessons included turning on the haunches, leg yields, riding side by side, methods of tying mecates, and a lot of other things. The piece of instruction that made the biggest impression on me, though, was a short trailer-loading session with one horse.

This horse had been ridden in the clinic that morning, so life was working out for him in some ways, but the owner said that it had taken hours to get him into the trailer. She pulled her stock trailer into the arena so that Ricky could teach the horse to load with everyone watching. Shortly after he took the horse by the lead rope, Ricky declared that the horse didn't have a trailer problem - that he just wasn't really halter-broke. Then he worked with him on the ground in back of the trailer using just these tools: a bare horse, a rope halter and lead, and a "flag", a 3 or 4-foot length of thin steel rod with a bright piece of cloth at one end and a handle at the other.

The horse wasn't keen on the idea of walking in circles around Ricky and making other basic moves. I don't know whether he was upset with being moved around or just unfamiliar with the process, but either way, he was high-headed, anxious and reactive rather than soft, relaxed and compliant. The horse and Ricky conversed rather vehemently for awhile, Ricky working to head him in a given direction, the horse saying "not really", and Ricky saying "get along there!" by waving the flag at his hind end or forehand or wherever it was needed. If the horse tried to put up his head and take off for the hinterlands, Ricky snapped him back down with the rope halter.

Now, this was a vigorous meeting of minds, but a brief one, lasting only 15 minutes or so. After Ricky had the horse convinced to walk and trot a circle, and move his hind and forehand on request, then he led the horse up to the open end of the stock trailer and the horse put his front feet in. I was dumbfounded.

A little more work and the horse was going in the trailer frontwards and out of the trailer backwards easily, with no argument. Then Ricky stated that the horse needed a little more work with leading and brought him alongside the fence. He wanted the horse to walk when he walked, on a loose lead, and stop when he stopped, in both directions. They worked on that for 5 minutes or so. The horse didn't understand at first but he learned fast, and soon he was walking with Ricky and stopping with him.

Then they went back to the stock trailer and Ricky led the horse back into it. He walked the horse forward and backward in the trailer, stepped him out half-way backwards and let him stand with front feet in and hind end out, then brought him all the way back in and stepped him all the way out. He repeated this several times so we could see clearly that the horse didn't have a problem with the trailer.

A lot of other good things happened at that clinic, but for me, this was the big point. All those books about solving problems like trailer loading? You can pitch them. Because it's not fundamentally about a trailer or a creek or a gate, and it's not fundamentally about "training" a horse to perform behaviors by rote. (Though desensitizing it against specific scary things, and teaching it specific responses to specific events, is fine.)

But fundamentally, it's about the confidence, trust and compliance that a horse can develop in a human if that human is a fair and trustworthy leader who communicates to the horse clearly. Ricky demonstrated that so succinctly that it was hard to miss the point, and hard to forget.

Clinic Slideshows

Gold Ranch, AZ, 10.26.2008

Sarah Goodnick's Slideshow with Music!