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Couple finds resistance-free path to horses

Only a few years ago, Al and Lydia Miller were living in Castle Rock, facing an empty nest. When their youngest child graduated from high school, Lydia decided that she needed a new interest. Her choice to get involved with horses seemed innocent enough.Now five years later, they own a small ranch in Falcon, are boarding horses there and have adopted several mustangs. And on a recent weekend at Latigo Trails, Al completed his accreditation program with Richard Shrake, an internationally known horseman and clinician.Although the Millers had both been around horses as children, Al’s career in the Air Force and family responsibilities left little time for other interests. When Al retired in 1990, they movedfirst to Virginia and then to Colorado, where Al is corporate safety director for G.E. Johnson, a local construction company. A coworker of Al’s kept a horse in Falcon and gave Lydia permission to ride the gelding.Although Al’s interest was motorcycles, he started visiting the horse, too. “I found myself spending more time with these horses than I was with my Harley,” Al says. After struggling for years withpost-traumatic stress syndrome from his service in Vietnam, he felt calm and relaxed around the horses. “I found that I was a lot more at ease around horses,” he says. “I ended up selling the motorcycle.”The Millers bought the gelding and soon bought a second horse. They scoured the library for books and videos on riding and training, and it was there that they discovered Richard Shrake’s videos.”It seemed like this guy had a lot of common sense,” Al says. “Richard teaches you how to understand the horse through horse psychology and herd dynamics.” After meeting Shrake at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo in Denver, Al attended one of Shrake’s four-day clinics and soondecided to enter his accreditation program.Shrake calls his training methods “resistance free.” Starting with work on the ground, he teaches a student to be sensitive to a horse’s state of mind and to anticipate when the horse may start to resist. Before the horse becomes nervous or tense, the student can back up a step ortwo, returning to a point in the horse’s training that will reassure and calm him.As Shrake explained at his August clinic at Latigo Trails, resistance free training focuses on precision and timing of cues and establishing a rhythm with the horse’s feet. For instance, if you want your horse to turn left, you can set him up for success by asking at the precise moment he is starting to reach out with his left fore foot. “If you understand how your horse moves,” Shrake says, “you can put him together in balanced movement and create an energy that makes each movement easier.”Shrake recognized that Al’s degree in education and experience teaching in the Air Force would help him understand the importance of learning through both doing and watching. “The easiest way to learn anything is to watch someone else being taught,” says Shrake. In his work with Shrake, Al was able to observe Shrake teaching other riders, apply those methods to his horse and eventually show others the same techniques.After that first clinic in Colorado, Al completed three additional four-day clinics, including one near Shrake’s ranch in Sun River, Ore. In the last clinic, Al assisted Shrake with teaching the otherriders, and his “final exam” was the August clinic in Falcon.The Millers bought a small ranch off Curtis Road and named it Lonesome Dove Arena and Stables. Their plans now include training other people’s horses and giving lessons. They have adopted two mustangs from their next-door neighbor, Rocky Mountain Foal Rescue. Lydia has found her niche as barn manager and caretaker of Lonesome Dove. “I want to keep a calm, serene dynamic here,” she says.The Miller’s desire to understand horses by learning about their nature and psychology led them to Richard Shrake. Now Shrake’s teaching has given them a clear focus, and they look forward to helping other horse owners develop a “resistance-free” relationship with their equine partners.

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