TALES FROM THE TRAILS
Annie Fair grew up near Murfreesboro, Tenn., riding on her family’s 10-acre farm. In addition to produce, they bred spotted Tennessee Walkers. In 2000, her father got a good job offer in South Florida, so they sold the place, packed up and moved. Annie was 17. The worst part was leaving behind her favorite horse, a mare named Comanche.
“I loved her so much,” Annie said. “I still dream about her. Then I wake up and realize that no, she’s really gone for good.”
Eventually, she got married and moved out of her parents’ house, then divorced and moved back home. She needed a job and an income. “Pretty much all I had was my saddle and bridle,” she said. “The only thing I really knew how to do was ride and train horses, so I decided to go into business for myself.”
Annie is especially good at calming horses down and starting colts. In 2004, she apprenticed with “Cowboy” Bob Faath at his Spirit Ranch in Jupiter Farms.
“Bob is awesome,” Annie said. “I’ve learned so much from him. He even brought me along to a Ray Hunt clinic in North Florida back in 2005. That was the most amazing experience, listening to and watching a living, breathing Ray Hunt! I wish I could ride and train like him.”
She learned a lot from that experience.
“One of the things he told us that really stuck with me was that if you know exactly where your horse’s hooves are, you can put them wherever you want,” Annie said. “It was as if a light bulb went on for me. I practiced that for months and months until I could do that. Now I can get a horse to do whatever I ask of him.”
In a lean economy, business was hard to come by in 2010. Many people ended up selling their horses and homes and moving away. Annie said it slowed her business down a lot, but she rolled with the punches. Down to three clients, she enrolled in nursing school. She plans to graduate in 2017.
Her three clients include an off-the-track Standardbred (“It took a while a teach him to canter”) and two Quarter Horses. One is just a horse she exercises; the other has some issues, including a stubborn case of “barn-sour-itis.”
Lou Westbrook of Loxahatchee Groves owns J.D., the Standardbred. “I’ve known Annie for 13 years,” Lou said. “She’s very good at getting scared horses to trust her. J.D. wasn’t fast enough on the track, so he was slated to be put down. Instead, the vet gave him to me. He was only two, and only knew how to pull a sulky. Annie did a great job with him. She’s excellent — a great person who really knows her way around horses.”
Annie’s favorite training involves backing unstarted horses. “I love getting to start right from the beginning, before they have any bad experiences or habits,” she said.
She insists on instilling correct ground manners, so the horse is easy and pleasant to be around. Also, she teaches each exercise from the ground first, so the horse can understand and calmly accept each new lesson. “The horse has to be OK and accepting of what I’m asking before we move on to trying it under saddle or add on something new,” she explained.
One of her clients owned a 4-year-old Percheron paint who had never been ridden. “The owner said he had good ground manners, but every time I tried to work with him, he would basically walk all over me,” Annie recalled. “He was a big horse, 17.3 hands. He threw me a few times, once into a fence. That was a long way down. The owner wanted me to just ride him, but when I insisted on spending time teaching him some basic ground manners first, he said ‘no thanks,’ so I moved on.”
The basics of horse training are pretty simple, she said. Horses respond to pressure and will work to have the pressure removed.
“You make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult,” she explained. “If I want the hind end to move, I shift my heel back and apply pressure until he shifts around or even gives me the smallest try, the slightest effort, and then I remove the pressure. Horses catch on pretty quickly, and it gets easier and better each time I ask.”
Annie is not into showing, although she can help clients train their horses in most any discipline for showing, if that’s what they’d like to do. She works part-time as a surgical tech, and she has time for a few more clients.
“My first session is free, so we can feel each other out. I can see what the horse needs, and the owner can observe me and make sure we’re a good fit,” Annie said. “I like to start working with a horse on the ground to see if I can move its front end, back end, and if he’s calm enough, I’ll get up and see how he feels. Then we’ll take it from there.”
For more information, call Annie Fair at (561) 635-4810.