Horsemanship Clinic At Dark Horse Stables


Saturday, Oct. 1, was a perfect day for a horsemanship clinic. Warm and humid, of course, clouds lingered in a threatening manner, but the rain held off, which was a great relief to everyone who’d gathered at Doug and Sasha Walsh’s Dark Horse Stables in Loxahatchee.

The one-day clinic focused on three major aspects of horsemanship: respect on the ground, sending the horse and partnership/trust games. The clinic offered two separate two-hour sessions, one morning and one afternoon, and auditors were welcome to sign up as well. Each session quickly filled up; only six participants in each.

The clinic was run by Dark Horse’s owners, Doug and Sasha. “In a nutshell, we believe that there’s always a natural way to communicate with horses,” Doug explained. “Horses are prey animals, and we’re predators. We have to change the way we think and behave when we’re around them so they want to become part of our herd and see us as the herd leader. We believe that a solid foundation with your horse on the ground is directly linked to your ride in the saddle. It’s amazing what can be achieved if you fix the core problems rather than just deal with issues.”

Originally from Colorado, Doug met Sasha in Delaware, and they ran a large horse farm in Pennsylvania for a while before moving to South Florida a year ago. As Doug explained, “It’s no fun working horses in freezing weather.” They started Dark Horse Stables at that occasionally freezing farm eight years ago, initially retraining off-track Thoroughbreds and finding them new homes. They have a good blend, as Sasha rides dressage, while Doug does jumpers.

Here at their Florida facility, they offer boarding, training and clinics, and specialize in teaching horses to self-load in trailers. They’re currently in the midst of moving from their current location, a few miles down the road to a larger, 10-acre farm in White Fences, where they plan to offer a variety of clinics monthly, as well as corporate and team-building retreats.

This was their first South Florida clinic, and Doug was pleased. “We had a good response,” he said. “This was all about teaching respect on the ground, sending the horse rather than leading it and respecting boundaries. I wanted people to understand that every time you’re around a horse, everything you do, every time you hold a lead rope, it has an impact on a horse, either positive or negative. You could see people getting it. When they started the clinic, the horses were walking all over them. By the end, they were standing quiet and relaxed at a respectful distance.”

Safety is the number one thing when working around horses, Doug stressed.

“It’s an inherently unsafe situation, and people can get badly hurt very quickly,” he said. “One of our goals is helping people understand how to ensure that each interaction with their horse is safe and positive, for both them and the horse. What we tolerate we will not change. We’re blessed to do what we do every day, training horses and people, and giving them good foundations to build upon.”

Sasha agreed. “Training is not just about riding,” she said. “It’s all about communication, that connection when you see someone riding and it looks effortless. That oneness is a beautiful thing. I love how our clinics bring together people who are passionate about learning from us, their horses and each other. All different riding levels, disciplines, it doesn’t matter. We’re all on a different journey or path, yet horses bring us together.”

The clinic dealt only with groundwork. Each participant worked with his or her horse using a rope halter, long lead, and eventually flags on the end of a stick. They practiced having their horses stand, come and back away by reading the person’s energy and body language, then yield the hind quarters. The flags were used as sending devices, teaching the horses to move and yield to pressure. Finally, everyone headed over to the obstacle course to practice what they learned.

Tom Panico audited the morning session, hoping to learn different methods, philosophies and tactics. “I’m always learning new things,” he said. “It’s great seeing a new way to achieve something. Doug and Sasha are lovely people, very welcoming. I’m glad I came.”

Anne Walker brought Tchuca, her Thoroughbred mare. “I found this very helpful,” she said. “Tchuca really listened and is doing much better staying out of my space. I’m looking forward to bringing my seven-week-old foal here.”

Madison McPoyle brought Star, her Thoroughbred mare. “She’s kinda pushy,” Madison said. “This helped her become much more respectful. Now she knows she has to listen and focus on what I ask her to do. I really enjoyed the clinic and plan to send my other horse here for training. Doug is a phenomenal horseman.”

Danielle Castano and her 2-year-old filly Lilly also enjoyed the clinic. “This is great for her self-confidence,” Danielle said as she worked Lilly through obstacles. “She never saw anything like this before, and she’s fearless. I love Doug and Sasha. I’ve been waiting a long time for people like this to move here.”

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