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Dances With Horses Inc. : A Winter Welcome

From Frank Bell & Alexandra Danea

1-800-871-7635 ?

A Happy New Year!

We are in the thick of winter here in Idaho with snow already several feet deep. When the sun shines it’s incredibly beautiful especially when gliding over the top of the snow on skis. In fact I’m just in from a great tour of several miles. At one point from a distance I noticed some fresh tracks of a large animal. I closed in and determined the direction the creature was heading then moved quietly along. Within ten minutes or so I spotted a huge cow moose silently drifting through the trees. They move with such grace and agility it defies imagination. We pretended not to see each other as she settled into a thick grouping of mature aspens and began munching away. I’m delighted to be surrounded by such wildlife and welcome their visits.

With winter come some very distinct precautions regarding our horses. Water is a huge concern. Just as humans seldom feel the need to drink and can easily become dehydrated, so do horses. Drinking freezing water isn’t very palatable so do your best to provide drinkable water by using a heater, removing floating ice, etc. Do what you can to encourage the drinking of water.

If you are not riding much or not at all, remove the shoes and allow the feet to toughen and expand. But watch those feet. In snow they do not wear down. A good trimming can be the healthiest measure for your horse’s feet.

Blanketing or not? I am a minimalist and believe a good winter coat is healthy and just as Mother Nature intended. If you begin blanketing, you have to continue until it warms up in the spring. This requires a high degree of commitment. So be completely fair about it, whatever decision you make.

Winter is a good time to assess your horse gear and make adjustments. Washing your blankets, pads, girths, and assorted equipment makes for a fresh start in the spring. Repair or replace questionable gear. Instead of finding dirty worn-out equipment, you can look forward to having everything ready for the coming season. Your horses will appreciate clean well-functioning tack and accessories as well.


Winter Camp in Montana
We moved our personal horses to ‘winter camp’ in Cameron, Montana in late November. Our new mustang had been getting progressively more standoffish from a lack of handling. It had been difficult to accomplish much in deep snow and slippery conditions over the last month. A bit frustrated with the situation, I did some back-pedaling and decided to start at the beginning with the gentling pole. I cleaned up one of my favorite lodge poles of about 13’ and eased into the area in which our three horses were feeding. Progressing as I do with wild horses, I first showed all three horses the pole from a distance, waving it up and down to get them comfortable. What a riot. Our domestics were quite concerned about it and one wouldn’t have anything to do with the pole anywhere nearby. I did a little touching as our twenty year Arabian ate his breakfast. He tolerated it, but was not too happy about it and would move off after a short while. Then I began the process with Cayenne, our yearling mustang. He dodged out several times, but just couldn’t resist his breakfast and within minutes was completely accepting the pole all over his body as he happily munched away. I eased in closer and closer with my stature as non-threatening as possible. My hand replaced the pole and I was able to give him a good rubbing as he ate contentedly.

Several days later it was time to move all three horses a hundred miles north. After our domestics were caught, I turned my attention to Cayenne who had resisted the halter earlier. A little patient stroking on his neck prepared him for putting his head right into the rope halter. He led up to the hitching rail and watched curiously as I blanketed the other two horses. We then led the three about a half-mile to the road and waiting stock trailer. The road was packed snow and quite slippery; the horses knew it well. The two loaded delicately into the trailer and moved to the front. Once secured I turned my attention to Cayenne. This was a high step-up for any horse, but a huge obstacle for him. For this little guy to rock back onto his haunches and lift his front legs was just too much to ask; so I helped him a little. Standing right in front of the step-up I asked for his front onside foot. He complied and I placed it into the trailer, and then asked him to move forward. It took several attempts, but within a few minutes he was standing on his front feet in the trailer and was completely relaxed about it. A little more encouragement and he was happily loaded. But the floor was a bit slippery and he just wasn’t comfortable about it. I returned with a bucket of dirt and fine gravel and sprinkled it onto the floor. That did the trick. Cayenne completely relaxed and was the perfect horse for the road trip of several hours. He walked out like a champ and tied patiently as the other two’s blankets were removed.

The reason I mention this whole sequence is to point out the importance of foundation work. This yearling up to this point had less than ten hours of handling in his entire life. But with a little patience he trusted the human and behaved in an exemplary manner. Even my friend Bob Reck the owner of winter camp was impressed with Cayenne’s sensibility. I can’t wait to see him in the spring. He’s been growing like a weed and will be a good-sized horse by then.


Stagecoach, NV Clinic Willis Lamb is the chief organizer for the annual Wild Horse Workshops. He and his bride Sharon have moved from their California base to the other side of the mountain and now live with their fourteen horses, 4 cats, and two dogs just east of Carson City about thirty-five miles in Stagecoach, NV. We’d been talking about a clinic for a couple weeks when the weather patterns seemed to clear long enough to make the 650-mile drive. Alex and I arrived at the huge outdoor arena on a warm Friday afternoon prepared for a great weekend. Willis had about fifteen riders ready to go the next morning.

We started about 9:00 the next morning in light winds. Ten of the horses were mustangs. Some had been ridden and some hadn’t. Some we knew absolutely nothing about. Most the owners were middle-aged with little experience. My work was cut out for me. We’d sold the clinic as a good chance to learn solid ground skills on this varied group of horses.

I began by demonstrating my techniques on several of the domestics and then the participants got right to work on their own horses. As we progressed I had them switching horses to get a sense of the different feels and reactions a variety of horses can present. The wind began to pick up noticeably, but the students persevered. These people had a strong drive and desire to absorb and learn and keep going. By late morning the wind was howling and dirt and grit were blowing out of the southwest right into the arena. But this gang of fifteen was not to be defeated. They continued to work through the steps and keep their horses under control. It was truly amazing. I was so busy helping different people I hardly had time to focus on the wind. But by early afternoon it just became too much. Willis and I huddled up and decided to call it a day. To everyone’s relief we took care of the horses and headed into a protected garage for lunch.

Now I’ve seen some tough people, but this was one hearty group who kept smiles on their faces as the wind whipped outside at close to 50 mph. Our eyes, ears, nose, and faces were covered with fine dirt, as was lunch. By mid-afternoon we agreed to regroup the next morning and finish the clinic.

It was an early night for all of us as we were all pretty exhausted from the events of the day. The next morning was cool and crisp and promising and the hardcore were again ready for more. We reviewed the accomplishments of the previous day and added more to the equation with the goal of creating solid mounts. By late morning the horses and people were dancing away performing Ballet on the Ground like seasoned waltzers. Time for lunch. The horses were watered and tended to as we filled our tanks in the cozy garage. Everyone seemed happy with the morning lesson and we all relaxed into a restful lunch. But the moment of truth was upon us . . . saddling.


Saddle 'Em Up
Everyone spread out in the respective direction of their equipment and that whole show started. New saddle here, bad bridle there, wrong pad, etc. It was quite a scramble for the next forty-five minutes getting all the equipment figured out. Once saddled I had everyone driving their horses in a circle while slapping the end of the lead hard on the place they might be sitting in a few minutes. This took some doing, as some of the horses weren’t too happy about this exercise, which is exactly why we do it. Listen to me now loud and clear. When you can calmly drive a horse around you in a circle and slap the saddle with the end of your lead, and slap it hard, I mean hard. AND if the horse can stay cool, rational, then you’ve got a pretty good chance of riding that horse successfully. From my experience this is one of the best exercises I know of in preparation for the ride.


That Accomplished, Let’s Let 'Em Run
Just to add a little more insurance to the formula, I thought it a good idea to let these horses cut loose a bit before riding them. We separated out the 3 domestics and turned the saddled mustangs all out. What a show? These fifteen minutes was the best part of the clinic. These guys had a ball roaring around and around the arena just being horses. We all watched this spectacular show in total awe. But clearly the most impressive aspect of this show was this: Not one horse bucked! Please understand that turning a bunch of wild horses out with saddles on a cold day is an equation for some bucking, almost without fail. The fact that not one horse did buck attests to the power of the exercises that the clinic participants performed on each of these mounts. Needless to say, the experienced horsemen and women completely understood the magnitude of what had taken place.

From there we mounted up and proceeded with the riding part of the clinic. We concentrated on perfecting the one-rein-stop first and foremost. That accomplished we moved onto more exacting ride maneuvers that culminated in our group riding absolute perfect figures of eight side by side.

Needless to say I was delighted with the progress and proud of the participants accomplishments. We look forward to returning to the Bob and Betty Retzer’s Camel Farm in the near future.


John Sharp- Celebrity
John Sharp’s fame continues to grow by leaps and bounds as evidenced by the most recent article in the Oregonian on December 7, 2003. You can access this wonderful and deserving article at: Carol McGraw wrote the article.

John is one of the greatest horsemen alive today. His career has spanned generations and his techniques have enlightened thousands. John’s innovative use of the pole to gentle wild horses is rapidly becoming legendary. Horsemen from all walks of life are using this technique with a degree of success that is nothing short of amazing.

Last month Willis Lamb and I witnessed inmates in Carson City using this technique almost as deftly as the master himself does it! John will celebrate his ninetieth birthday on April 19th.


Wild Horses of Abaco Mimi Rehor has accomplished the amazing feat of fencing off 600 acres of reserve granted by the Bahamian government for the herd of what is now only 14 horses. We’ve lost two horses in the last couple of months. She has pushed the bulk of the herd back into the pristine forest where they belong. They are already moving better and slimming down to look like the horses they did at the end of the last century. Mimi committed her life to saving this valuable herd of Spanish barbs that were likely from a shipwreck hundreds of years ago. She leaned on the slow-moving Bahamanian government like a friendly elephant and they finally acquiesced granting a whopping 4000 acres of crown land to this incredible project. The major celebration will take place when the first foal hits the ground. Mimi’s website:


Upcoming Events and Clinics News We’ll be traveling through the country conducting demonstrations, clinics, and privates in January and April of ’04. If you have a request for one of these venues, we encourage you to contact us ASAP. We are presently looking at clinics in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. Our demo/expo schedule is filling quickly with shows in VA, CO, IA, WA, and possibly Toronto and Costa Rica.

We have two new Frank Bell 7-Step Accredited Instructors, both in Virginia. Sylvia Scott of Blacksburg and Bob Claymier of Hume have exhibited the ability to handle a variety of difficult horses while teaching ‘the system.’ We’re overjoyed to have them join our growing team of instructors and encourage you to peruse their websites as listed at our accredited instructor link.


Video of the Month Club Speaking of videos and DVD's, our video of the month program is being well received. Since we have twelve videos and an audio book, it’s quite convenient for many people to start this way. Each month a new video arrives allowing the student to totally focus on that one for the month. Sometimes starting with the whole set is a bit overwhelming. If you already have one or more videos, you can sign up for the remaining titles. Log onto our site for more information on this handy way to get started.


Happy New Year from all of us at Dances With Horses


Happy Trails and Safe Riding,

Frank R. Bell & Alex Danea


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