TALES FROM THE TRAILS
I had watched Joe Mangravito, a certified John Lyons instructor, work with horses, and each time I found myself saying the same thing: “I want to learn how to do that.” So when he offered me the chance to sit in on a two-week training clinic, I was ecstatic. We met from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday last fall at Joe’s A Perfect Horse Ranch in Loxahatchee.
The other three participants were Linda Sabol, Valerie Shields and Tom Panico. I’ve known Linda for more than 30 years. She rides for pleasure and would like to do local shows. Her goal was to learn how to train her horses to be safe and enjoyable, and to be able to trailer-load them quickly and quietly.
Valerie wanted to have stronger communication with her two jumpers, which she shows at the Winter Equestrian Festival. “I heard great things about Joe,” she said. “I want my horses to go forward willingly, and to have better ground manners. I like Joe’s method, because he can modify unwelcome behaviors without whips or spurs.”
Tom was perhaps the most interesting student because he doesn’t ride. His two teenage daughters ride and jump his Thoroughbred mare. “She has tremendous potential, but she’s out of control a lot, especially at shows. What I want is a perfect horse.”
Which is the name of Joe’s ranch and business. “A perfect horse is one that never says ‘no,’” he explained. “You get that by never asking the horse to do something unreasonable or something he doesn’t understand or can’t achieve.”
We spent a bunch of time sitting in a large, comfortable screened-in pavilion overlooking the pastures. Joe’s two young zebras frequently strolled by. Joe had his John Lyons manual in front of him and referred to it, but mostly he talked.
This was the only part of the clinic that I found a bit frustrating. I’m not much for small talk, but Joe is a serious talker. His stories filled hours. But still we learned, starting with concepts and theories.
“There are no rules, except for the big three: Don’t do something that might hurt you, don’t do something that might hurt the horse, and the horse should be calmer when you finish than he was when you started,” he said. “If the horse makes a mistake, it’s always your fault. The horse always does what he thinks is right. They’re conditioned-response animals, so they learn what we teach them. Their reward is releasing pressure. Whatever the horse is doing, when the pressure is released, that’s what he thinks is right. This clinic will give you the tools to connect with your horse physically, mentally and emotionally. How you use them is up to you.”
Joe stressed that his training isn’t magic but common sense. And, he warned us, it would change not just how we related to our horses, but how we dealt with all sorts of other aspects of our lives. “You’ll learn how to focus,” he said. “You’ll understand yourself better. You’ll view personal relationships differently.”
The basis of the training is something called the WESN lesson, so-called because you’re asking the horse to move in all four directions (west, east, south and north). “If you ask a horse to do something and don’t get an immediate response, have patience, wait, keep asking, and reward even the smallest try,” Joe said.
We practiced the WESN lesson with Joe’s horses, mostly in-hand, and later, mounted. Basically, you get the horse’s feet moving, then moving consistently, then moving in the
direction you want. We learned the head-down cue, which teaches horses to tuck their heads every time you pick up a contact on the reins, and to disengage their hindquarters. I went home each night and practiced the WESN lesson with one of my mares.
We lounged and round-penned Joe’s horses, paying attention to the four Cs: yours and the horse’s concentration and consistency. We round-penned the zebras, for a change of pace, and learned how to trailer-load horses. Joe gave us copies of John Lyons’ book, Lyons on Horses, for future reference.
One day we met at Ponies & Palms Show Stables, where Tom and Valerie board their horses. Joe’s partner Brittany Beaupied rode Valerie’s horses while we watched Tom round-pen his mare. Later, we took turns doing the WESN lesson with her. “She has completely changed,” he said. “Look how calm and responsive she is; a totally different horse.”
We also rode a little, applying the WESN lesson under saddle, moving the hips over, applying the head-down cue, then trying it ourselves.
“You have to go at the horse’s speed, not yours,” Joe coached. “You can’t ask more of him than he knows. Be the active partner; don’t wait for him to do something and then react. The horse has to move. The lesson’s always the same, apply and release pressure; reward the behavior you want. I hope everyone learned a better way to communicate.”
The participants enjoyed the clinic.
“I felt like a kid at summer camp,” Linda said. “I learned more than I know right now. I feel confident that I’ll be able to apply it to all kinds of problems. I’d recommend this to anyone, whether they have horses or not. It helps you with many things in life.”
“I feel like I can handle any situation, on the ground or under saddle,” Valerie said. “I don’t have to use the calming medication on the horses anymore. I’ll keep working with Joe. It’s the most beneficial horse training method I’ve ever seen.”
Tom had come the furthest of all, even overcoming his fear of riding.
“The best thing I learned was life doesn’t have to be a battle of wills between you and the horse,” he said. “I feel confident with horses, on the ground and even in the saddle. I don’t know where this will take me. This has been a fantastic clinic. I learned much more than I ever thought I would.”
And as for me, after working with my mare each evening for a short time on the ground, I finally rode her. And I found myself on a completely different horse. In that short time, I went from owning a Ford to piloting a Ferrari. There was nothing I couldn’t ask of her, including perfect side passes in both directions at all three gaits.
The best news is that Joe is offering another one of these clinics from May 30 to June 10. If you sign up, be prepared to learn more about his life than you ever wanted to know, but also be prepared to throw out all your old training methods. His clinic will change your life. No, better than that — it’ll change your horse’s life.
For more information, call Joe at (954) 599-7272 or visit www.aperfecthorse.com.