Bridging the Gap
by Wil and Beverly Howe
Equestrian Connection Magazine, 1988
Wil Howe, all-around horseman, having specialized in snaffle bit and cutting horses, and his wife, Beverly, well-known clinicians in the northwest since the early 80's noted for their well-broke, high-selling performance geldings, have two new instructional training videos coming out this spring. These new tapes follow their highly-acclaimed training video series, From Foundation to Finished which was produced in 1996 and sold world-wide. These first tapes cover “Establishing Leadership From the Ground Up” providing eye-opening information about horses, their instincts, how to “read” your horse's behavior, and how to effectively use the round pen to get your horse's attention and win its trust. The first video is followed by the “Ten Step Program” which they call the formula for success: ten building-block steps that a horse must learn in a snaffle bit. This prepares the horse for the third and final tape in the series, “Beyond the Snaffle Bit”, which culminates with Wil's specialty--the art of finishing a horse out in a full bridle.
This series was designed for bringing along and advancing young horses as well as retraining and tuning older horses. The first new tape, however, is strictly dedicated to a colt's first ride, entitled “The Start with Control & Trust”. Focusing on the reality of starting young horses, this tape includes bitting-up techniques that soften a horse both mentally and physically in preparation for their first ride. Three colts, three days, three first rides!
“Anyone can start a colt. People do it every day, and there are many ways to skin a cat. It’s critical to me that the horse gets off on the right foot, that their standards are in the 'Proper Perspective'. A horse’s relationship with humans and their education must be built on a solid foundation of mutual trust and respect in order to get a reliable, confidant, well-mannered, responsive saddle horse.”
Wil is one who believes in total control, but this control is achieved through conditioning a horse’s attitude to be receptive, cooperative, and willing, teaching the horse to find that easy way out when restrictions, limitations, and boundaries are given. "The way I train horses is the same way I live my life, according to unwavering, universal, just laws. We respect gravity; horses need to respect some forms of restraint if they are to be safe and reliable.”
Their second new tape to be out in 1999 is entitled “The Little Things That Count", and it includes more of the Howes' characteristic practical, common-sense information. It is a guide for the everyday handling of horses--simple tips and corrections often overlooked that make for a big difference in a horse's overall attitude and performance.
Wil’s whole program compliments a lot of many of today's new horsemanship clinicians, but his straightforward approach to getting things done and not beating around the bush (which bores both horses and people) makes his down-to-earth program different. Wil is a strong believer in using the understanding of equine behavior and psychology which makes for easier communication between horse and trainer. In addition, he also knows that to get this simple-minded creature to perform at the response level of our top performance horses in the competitive arenas takes teaching and building a horse to accept and endure certain levels of pressure. Pressure comes in all forms, and what is pressure to one horse may not affect the next one. This is when learning to be aware of your horse's limitations and knowing your horse’s potential comes into play.
Today, many people have the notion that they can develop a highly-responsive tuned horse by soft-pedaling it, talking to them and petting them into doing what they want them to do.
There is a big gap in the process here, a gap that no other clinician but Wil seems able to address. “We see people who have started their colts, done all the repetitious ground work and suppling exercises with their horses, got ‘em doing everything from counting, laying down, and jumping over logs off a lunge line to an assortment of other feats that have taken them two to four years to achieve. But after awhile, what the owners discover is that what they really want is a horse that rides and that handles with power steering--light, responsive, and collected, yet explosive when asked."
Wil Howe holds the missing link for those who are ready to step up. Their goals have changed and they want to put to the test their gained knowledge of horsemanship, but from where they are to having a finished reining horse feels like light years away. What Wil and Beverly have done in their From Foundation to Finished program is to break down the premier fundamentals of training today's performance horses into a logical sequence for both horse and rider to learn step-by-step. Through Wil’s program, one can prepare a horse to smoothly accept pressure and the rigors of training for these more intense and demanding maneuvers. By understanding these principles, how each move or “dance step” as Wil calls it, fits into the puzzle, and building the all-around well broke horse, one can branch off yet always return to these foundation steps. This allows one to expand their horsemanship horizons. No matter what the event, “broke is broke, performance is performance.” Wil Howe’s well-instructed formula for success will prepare a person to pursue other talented show trainers who offer the finite tips, training tactics, and honing exercises they use to achieve their championship goals in the performance arena. “Bridging that gap has been our niche, and we’re proud to help people pursue their dreams of being good hands.”
Not far from the Snake River at the edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area, Wil and Beverly run their small rustic horse operation. There they train and market Wil’s well-known, quality performance geldings, specializing in all-around performance horses and seasoned pleasure trail horses. In 1994, they started their School of Fine Horse Training at their ranch. Specializing in the art of finishing horses, these schools offer a rare opportunity for the serious horseman to bring their horse or rent one of Wil’s geldings and immerse themselves in a week of intensive instruction in progressive horsemanship, reinsman, and cow working courses.
Wil and Beverly will be contributing horsemanship and training articles, bringing their 30-plus years of experience to their upcoming "Horses, Howe & Why" column here at Horse Central beginning next month. They take these 4 or 5 year old colts and go to World Champion Reining Horse trainers’ clinics to learn how to put a handle on their horse. The problem is they have completely missed all the fundamentals of building a highly-trained horse. The training fundamentals of today's highly- responsive performance horses contradict some of the gentle or natural training methods used today. Usually we see these people unprepared for the vital information that sophisticated reining trainers have to offer. In other words, they are in way over their heads and the students leave those clinics feeling a bit overwhelmed and their specific goals not addressed because they were unable to apply what was being shown to them.