On the Road to America- Catching up with trainer Ronnie Ford
Ronnie Ford is all about helping horses to have a better life with humans. By teaching their human family how to have an ongoing "conversation" with them, his training just happens to help us in all phases of our life when it comes to communicating. You just have to watch and listen.
by Karen Prell
I thought it was about time to check in with our "traveling trainer" and a man who is quite possibly one of the best trainers in the country. My original article here on Equitrekking introduced a whole lot of folks to Ronnie Ford.
After the huge response I got from the interview I did back in June 2013, The Best Horse Trainer You’ve Never Heard of… Yet!, I decided to catch up with Ronnie on in his travels and bring you all an update.
When last we heard from “the best trainer you’ve never heard of,” Ronnie Ford was leaving his home state of Florida and heading out on the road to bring his unique, compassionate horse training talents out to the rest of the country.
Equine trainer Ronnie Ford often hosts special clinics that are open to the public.
Ronnie Ford's Life on the Road
We’ve kept in touch since speaking last year and I can tell you for a fact, this man is on his way in a big way. Since starting out last year about this time, Ronnie’s travels have taken him from Florida to Texas and to Arkansas and Georgia, among other places Along the way, he’s done what he’s always done, which is to help people to understand just what it is their horses are trying to tell them and to teach us all to take the time to listen!
In Texas, Ronnie was asked to get involved with the retraining of some horses rescued from auctions. The idea behind Second Chance Performance Horses, was to save horses of whatever breed and aptitude and retrain them for new careers in the show ring, with the eventual goal of getting these horses into the hands of happy new owners for a better life.
Along with training and advising, all of this was being filmed for potential new television show being pitched by the producers to some interested network and cable folks.
While nothing's been finalized as of this writing, this is an idea that could do nothing but good for these formerly unwanted horses and prospective new owners. Quite frankly, it's an idea that is long overdue. Just look at the exploding success of some of the Thoroughbred rescues such as Canter and New Vocations, to name just a couple. Stay tuned on this one!
Making his way into Arkansas, Ronnie's next stop was a place called the J Bark Ranch. He spent sometime helping out with some of the horses owned by the proprietors of the place, Jack & Kay Carmody. With it's spacious acreage and large indoor arena, not only is this an authentic “functional” ranch, it is a beautiful, picturesque place that has been chosen as the location for weddings and special events on a few occasions. All in all a beautiful place to attend a riding clinic and stay for awhile.
Owner Jack Carmody, who is in his 80's and still riding, got his horse a “Ronnie Ford tune up” along with his wife, Kay's horse. Once they saw what he could do with their horses in a short little span of time, it was suggested that perhaps they could keep Ronnie in Arkansas for awhile.
In the meantime, more than a few folks here in the Florida/Georgia area kept asking “when is Ronnie comin' back”?
Life on the road is not all a basket of cherries and while he was still in Arkansas, Ronnie came down with a real bad case of pneumonia. It seems one day he decided to put some waterproofing on his boots and they sat in his RV. With the A/C running and recirculating that air inside, the fumes from the stuff he put on his boots combined with a long time smoking habit gave Ronnie a nasty case of what the Doc said was chemical pneumonia. While it knocked him down for awhile, there is a silver lining to this incident–– Ronnie told me it finally got him to quit smoking for good–– but it was a heck of a way to do it!
A month or so ago, Ronnie blew back into Florida and we got together to do some catching up. Little did I know that I would be working one of my horses under the watchful eyes of “the master”, and getting a little “refresher” course of my own.
Ronnie Works with My Horse!!!
Ronnie and I had breakfast one Sunday and he naturally asked how my horses were doing. I had recently moved to a new boarding facility that was not too far from the local Cracker Barrel where we were having breakfast, so we decided to mosey over to the barn after breakfast.
Ronnie has been a student of both the equine and the human, studying the "cause & effect" relationships of the actions of the human and the reactions of the horse.
Long before I ever had a chance to interview him, I had attended one of Ronnie's clinics as an observer but had never had the opportunity to actually participate in one.
I ride and train my own horses and a lot of times there is no one else even at the barn when I'm there, so it's usually a pretty solitary endeavor. Everyone knows horse people like to be with other horse people even if we don't all agree on the same methods and styles of training. Basically we're all the same. For us, it's all about the horse!
The only problem with working so much by yourself is you don't have another set of eyes to see if what you're doing is working for you. And sometimes you fall into bad habits like letting your horse get away with something “just this once” because your either short on time or just tired. Well just don't let this man catch you doing that because if you are very lucky, he will help you to see the better way to do the everyday stuff that ends up making your horse a treat to work with.
I'll be the first to admit that I had fallen into a certain habit when lunging my Arab stallion, Payback Nick Atnite. I had gotten into the habit of sort of following Nick around as he went in a circle around me on the lunge line.
Now this doesn’t sound bad, until you realize we were no longer working in a circle. It was more like an oval–– with me having to back up a little as Nick made the turns–– and since he had learned that being close to me meant that he could slow down or stop, this was something that could have the potential for one of us getting hurt–– most likely me. The idea of being hurt while you are alone working a horse is something I prefer not to contemplate. But like I said, little did I know I was about to be graced with a lesson from the Master.
While Ronnie and I were visiting, I went and got Nick out just to lunge him a bit and spend some time chatting while I worked. While we were talking and I was lunging, Ronnie was studying and video taping me. He let me do my thing for about 15 -20 minutes and then said to me, ”Can I have your horse for a minute?” Yessir! You certainly can! I had no idea what Ronnie was going to do, but having seen him at clinics and what he can do with pretty much any horse, I figured I was getting something pretty special.
Personality-wise, Nick is like a big overgrown kid. He'd much rather play and goof around than do much “serious” work. He has a very active mind and I have to stay three steps ahead of him to keep him from getting bored with whatever we're doing. He hates to be drilled, doing the same thing over and over. Once he gets bored, he quickly finds ways to amuse himself and it always makes things interesting. You could say he's a Dennis the Menace type of horse, with a sense of humor.
But with nothing more than the lunge line attached to Nick, a short whip with a plastic bag on the end of it and Ronnie's talent, my horse went from trying to cut corners and looking at everything but me to learning how to dance with Ronnie!
Ronnie also works with mules. Here is is evaluating Lola, who has been "overly desensitized" and needs to re-learn the concept of "move". So, out comes that expensive piece of trainer's equipment... the plastic bag.
Now if you were passing by while Ronnie was working with Nick, you might not think anything special was going on, but watching him work my horse for the next 20 minutes and seeing the transformation in that short span of time was pretty impressive. By the time this man was done, Nick was staying out on the circle, changing speed and direction, stopping, backing up and side passing with no more direction from Ronnie than pointing his finger or moving his foot.
The entire time he was working with him, Nick's attention was glued to Ronnie. In case you think this was all work, let me say there was plenty of rewarding pats and “good boy” being handed out from Ronnie to the student on the end of the line.
I’ve seen Ronnie's videos and watched him working with other people's horses, but to have it done with my own horse on a one on one basis and see it up close was just truly amazing. The thing that came across while watching him work my horse was that this was not just all about a trainer giving the horse commands and expecting obedience–– I could see Ronnie listening to Nick just as much if not more than asking him to do something. You could see the respect build between the two individuals as they worked, and that's just not something you see everyday in any discipline.
Just as quickly as he had worked with Nick, he then handed the line back over to me and asked me to do the same things I had just seen. Just like that–– I had a new horse! Being able to get my horse to change direction every time I asked, stop him, start him all with no resistance or goofing off was an absolute delight. We've continued on this path with no regressions.
The Real Deal- A True Trainer of Horses and People
I have to admit, years ago when I first heard about Ronnie Ford, I was skeptical that anyone could be that good without some side gimmick. The people I spoke to who had experience with his training kept telling me “You have to see him work with a horse in person” and “He's different!”
I have seen most of the currently popular trainers with their cult like followings and was always disappointed when I went to see them in person because more often than not it turned into one big marketing/merchandising opportunity. These clinics were less about the improving the horse and rider relationship and more about how much equipment they could sell you.
Ronnie says the best treat for any horse is at the end of your arm in the form of an affectionate pat for a job well done, and no one has yet figured out how to “sell” you that!
After interviewing the man a little over a year ago and then seeing what he did with my own horse, I can honestly say this quiet, unassuming gentleman is the real deal.
If wealth could be measured by life experiences, then Ronnie Ford is wealthier than most–– and his students both equine and human are the happy beneficiaries of it all!
Go to Ronnie Ford’s website for more stories, information or to contact him about a clinic. Your horse will thank you for it.
About the Author: Karen Prell, aka "Triple Crown Karen," came from a very non-horsey, working class New Jersey family and started riding at age three. With over 30 years experience as a riding instructor, Karen is passionate about developing beginners into confident riders and compassionate horse owners. A favorite expression heard often by her students is "It's ALL about the horse!" A lover of all things "horse," she is especially passionate about promoting the retraining of retired Thoroughbreds and adoption and rehoming of unwanted horses. Her ultimate dream would be to see the US Equestrian Team mounted on these great reclaimed athletes. Her career in media focuses on the everyday equestrian adventure and how a horse lover of modest means CAN make a difference for even ONE horse.