A Dan Sumerel Workshop

Dan Sumerel's Behavior Modification and Training Workshops teach just that - behavior modification - but by using a unique approach. Those who participate usually sign up thinking that they will be working on their horses' behaviors, but they all go away knowing that the problems originated, or were perpetuated, by their own behaviors. There are many little things that go on daily in our interactions with our horses in which we are communicating things to the horse. We may be aware of these, but most of the time we are not.

There are also many preconceived notions that people have about round pens and round pen trainers. You've probably seen round pen training and may have tried some yourself. Perhaps you have had great results with it, and perhaps not. The results will vary, as every person is different and every horse is different. And in spite of what you may hear, a round pen experience is not the end to all problems. In fact, it may make problems worse. Are round pens useful? You bet. But how a person behaves in the round pen determines how the horse will behave, and ultimately the usefulness of the round pen.

Dan explains that a round pen can be a useful tool, IF used properly. In fact, throughout the workshop he will point out, "Now this is where the typical round pen training would advise X, but if you try this other approach, watch what happens." And watch you will, and you will see the response. The methods he uses are more complementary to the horse, and bring about a response without a lot of running, without a lot of pressure, and with a lot more understanding and patience.

One thing Dan stresses is that less is more. Gee, that sounds just like homeopathy, and some other friendly alternatives to conventional ways. Just like a complementary therapy that appropriately and gently stimulates the body to respond and then lets it do its own healing, Dan's approach stimulates the horse then allows him to respond, without force and excessive pressure.

Dan uses knowledge of the horse and horse behavior to teach understanding of the horse, thus opening communication between people and their horses. Dan then teaches a system of steps, simple and easy to duplicate by anyone, that will influence the behavior of any horse. He enhances the owners' and handlers' understanding of their horses and their ability to communicate with them - regardless of breed and discipline.

Unlike most of us, Dan did not grow up around horses, but got his first horse as a middle-aged adult. A handful of horses then changed his life, which is described in humorous detail in Dan's sell-out book, "Finding the Magic". When one decides to buy a horse for a loved one and thinks that it is nothing more than buying a puppy, one is in for some interesting times. His first few years with horses involved a lot of struggles, especially when he bought an extremely challenging Arabian stallion early in his experiences. After eight months of death-defying runaways (tolerated only because Dan had formerly raced cars and motorcycles!) with no improvement from conventional methods, Dan sought a better way. He was fortunate to study and apply the work of many of the best-known clinicians and trainers around, and what he discovered was that he really needed to learn more about the horse.

Dan's first horses had a profound effect on him by simply being the horses they were. And it was by simply being horses that they opened his eyes to their world as well as gave him insights into his own. For that gift he will always be grateful. Knowledge is power, and it was knowledge of understanding the horse that helped Dan change his relationship with his 'problem horse'. That knowledge of understanding the horse is now the basis of Dan's work and what he teaches in his classes.

Dan says, "To work with horses considering only what is logical to us and never trying to understand their point of view is not only less effective, but unfair. Most of us do this, applying human logic, and doing what makes sense to us. But what makes sense to us may not make sense to him, because a horse's thinking is not the same as ours. If we acknowledge our differences, take that into account, stop making the horse 'wrong' or 'bad' for his differences, and allow our understanding of those differences to guide our actions, we become more effective in our horse-human relationships.

"By first understanding the horse," he says, "we can then develop techniques or tools to best influence his behavior. Learning 'technique' without the understanding of why something works or what it actually does is simply not effective. We want our horses to understand what we want them to do, but we continually talk, yell, push, pull, jerk, tug, beat and bribe them into the actions we want. As the saying goes, 'Seek first to understand, and only then seek to be understood.'"

Dan says, "As you begin to interact with your horse, truly trying to understand him, try to remember that what he does is far less important than what you do in response to what he did." A little knowledge goes a long way, and knowledge is what Dan provides. Herd behavior is what the horse lives and understands, and to communicate with him effectively, we need to know herd behavior. Are you the alpha, or is your horse?

Do you know if your horse's nudge is affection, or is it testing your leadership? Do you know if that hoof bumping your heel was an accident or disrespecting your space? Was that collision of your head and your horse's jaw a result of disrespecting your space? Was that a happy buck or a 'horsey finger'? And more importantly, are these things preventable?

When one gets in an arena with the horse at liberty, does the horse pay attention to the person or the surrounding distractions? When the horse is turned loose, there's nothing left but the truth. Either you matter more to him or you don't.

To become a horse's chosen leader, one needs to display leadership abilities to him. If one is inconsistent or unfair, the horse will not choose to follow. If one demonstrates leadership abilities while also understanding the horse, the horse will more likely follow. If one can appropriately use pressure that the horse understands, and then can remove that pressure appropriately, one demonstrates leadership abilities and can earn an appropriate response from the horse. Once the horse respects you and submits to you, you are in control.

Dan says, "There are more 'people problems' than 'horse problems'. But the horse needs understanding people to solve those problems. Be one of those people. Your horse will thank you. So will I."

Working on the behavior of the person thereby affects the behavior of the horse. Dan has helped many people and their horses overcome problems from simple to complex, and has helped people improve the performance of their horses, both to win in competition and to just have a lot more fun. You too can understand the reality of that incredible, magnificent creature known as the horse, and enjoy the beauty and responsiveness of a horse working naturally with a person, without struggle or force or unnecessary equipment.

For more information:
Sumerel Training Systems
24 Mulberry Circle
Lynchburg, VA 24502
Dan also hosts a new radio talk show, "The Horse Advocate", every Tuesday, in Phoenix and New England. It runs 10 AM Mountain Time and 12 Noon Eastern Time. The shows are also accessible online at www.sumereltraining.com.