Learning to speak the language of a horse | TheFencePost.com

Learning to speak the language of a horse

Story by Robyn Scherer, M.Agr.

Emily, a participant in one of Knodel's clinic, learns to feel from the ground. She is acting as the horse's mouth, to learn what it feels like to the horse. Photo courtesy of Terry Lyle.

Across the country, there are thousands of people who call themselves horsemen. However, it takes a special kind of person to really understand and be able to work with a horse, and Ron Knodel is that type of person.

Knodel grew up around livestock, and has been around horses his entire life. “Just like everybody else, I think there is a little bit of cowboy in everybody. Growing up around it, all I just ever wanted to be was a cowboy and be around livestock and horses. It’s a big stress release for me,” he said.

He continued, “My compassion runs pretty deep with the horse, and whenever I get bothered or nervous or uncomfortable if I just hang onto a horse I can feed off of that.”

Knodel believes that people need to work with horses, and not against them. “I suppose when you get a horse to work with you and not out of spite, you really become one. Having something that works with you, the self-fulfillment of having that horse underneath you, working with you and giving 150-200 percent is amazing,” he said.

He currently splits his time between his home in Grand Island, a ranch North of Morrill, and the highway in between. He currently works as a manager for Colby Company L.C.C, a stocker cattle operation. They raise top quality grass cattle, and pride themselves on land stewardship.

Horses help him to get his job done every day. “Working on ranches, I’ve had to rely on a horse to get my job done and it’s been a big help and a blessing for me,” he said.

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Working with horses is what Knodel loves to do, and he believes that the start that a horse gets will determine a lot of that horse’s life.

“I firmly believe it’s the start that they get. From one day to 10 days is the biggest influence in that horses life. I do a lot with halter breaking, and a lot of that is getting the horse to accept the human first. A lot of people try to put their underwear on over their blue jeans, they are trying to get on and ride and they are moving too fast in that relationship in getting that horse to accept them first,” he said.

He continued, “There is still work that needs to be done with people in the industry. They try to give these horses college knowledge when they haven’t been through grade-school. Let’s not get carried away and go so fast that we overwhelm the horse.”

Knodel gives demonstrations around the country, including Husker Harvest Days and the Nebraska State Fair. Most of his demonstrations are on halter breaking horses and getting a horse to accept a human, and believes there is no better horse suited for this than the American mustang.

“Mustangs are pure. What you see is what you get. I’m not saying that what’s on TV is phony, but anyone who has attended one of my demonstrations knows what I do is pure. They can see how I go about getting that trust,” Knodel said.

He added, “The horses are trying to tell us something all that time, and we don’t pick up on the body language of the horse. If we can learn to read their body language, we can learn when to put pressure on the horses and when to back off.”

One of the demonstrations that Knodel does is the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Day, which was held on March 27th for fourth grade students.

“I wanted to show them that we are doing a good job of animal husbandry and we are taking care of these horses. It’s not the old rough and tough way. The big thing that I stressed is the procedures like halter breaking and how I start the horses and how they work with me and don’t want to leave me. It removes some of the phobia of the rough tough cowboy way,” he said.

He added, “In general, there are a lot of misconceptions about handling of livestock. I’ve had some people who have been associated with animal rights groups and I show them I have higher standards than they have.”

Teaching people how to handle and train horses is what he really loves to do, and feels that there are several important things that people need to know when working with horses.

“I look back and there are so many important things for people to know and understand. The biggest thing is that a horse knows what you know, and knows what you don’t know. That’s important so that if people don’t know something, they need to find someone who does who can fill in the gaps. If you don’t, there will be some horses out there who will fill them in, and it won’t always be positive. It’s important to really understand the horse as much as possible,” he said.

The second thing he said was important to know was how to work a horse. “You need to know the techniques of the exercises we give horses. For example, on a mustang, I work the horse from the inside out. If he’s striking or kicking, that doesn’t concern me at first because that’s what mother-nature tells him to do to survive. A lot of people only work them on the outside, and I don’t think that works,” Knodel said.

He added, “These horses should not be bucking with these people. I haven’t had one buck with me in 25 years. If a horse is bucking out of fear it’s one thing, but usually it’s because they feel good. If they do it on their own it’s only for 10 or 15 seconds. They don’t do it for hours on end.”

However, the most important thing he believes is teaching people when to release. “The timing of the your release physically and mentally is where the horse learns to be. That’s where the relief is and where they learn,” he said.

Even though Knodel has worked with horses his entire life, he still sees value in learning from other people. “There are a lot of unknown people out there who are really good, and sometimes the best things I have learned have been from these people,” he said.

Teaching people how to work with horses is what is important to him. “I have people who come to the ranch on a private basis from all over the U.S. and they bring their horses and learn. I like being able to help people,” he said.

Being around horses is something that Knodel finds comfort in. “The best thing for the inside of a person is the outside of a horse,” he said.

To contact Ron Knodel, please call (308) 382-1231.