Tom Ryan brings a whole new meaning to horseplay.

Ryan is in love with horses, and he proved it again last Saturday when he offered an entertaining and inspiring show at Gigglin’ Grizzly in McBride. Warming up with coffees and blankets, an enthusiastic crowd was introduced to methods of natural horsemanship and training young horses to overcome fear and anxiety. The young and skillful trainer Diquita Cardinal from the Cardinal Ranch in Tête Jaune joined him.

Natural horsemanship, also known as “horse whispering”, is a term for a variety of training techniques that foster developing a close rapport with horses; these are methods inspired from the natural behavior of free-roaming horses and reject abusive approaches.

“A horse doesn’t care how much you know, until he knows how much you care,” says Pat Parelli, one of the well known practitioners of the natural horsemanship.

But Ryan cares, as demonstrated with aplomb while leading and guiding patiently his beautiful young Lusitano though the various obstacles and lessons. For more than 20 years he took lessons and attended clinics with various instructors all over North America. He works gently together with his student while explaining to us the importance of allowing the horse to “make his choice”, “learn from release” or “find comfort”.

No harshness or frustration allowed, but rather reciprocal respect and close partnership. Fear and anxiety in horses are often not addressed by owners and trainers, possibly because they don’t recognize them, or don’t know how to address the emotional aspects.

Fear is present in many horses in ways that owners don’t understand.

Horses tend to react first while humans try to rationalize their fears. Ryan and Lusitano move graciously on the field with their horses, demonstrating how changing the environment a bit can induce fear in these animals.

Introducing novelty to a prey animal who is wired to be fearful for survival reasons, can trigger a refusal to obey or worse. The secret is not to try to force things. And above all – “don’t break horse’s spirit,” emphasizes Ryan.

“If your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question, or asked the question wrong,” says Parelli. Between you and I — I only wish management teams from the corporate world would also take some lessons in horsemanship and kindness that could be well applied to (human) employees.

Ryan plans to expand his training sessions and demos, and educate more people on the emotional needs of horses, so we can expect more successful events next year.