Texas Horseman Uses Natural Techniques to
Create Unparalleled Partnerships Between Horse & Rider

Story by Leann Phenix

You’ve heard the words before: horse whisperer, natural horsemanship, playing communication games with your horse, learning the horse’s language . . . but what does it really mean to the average equestrian? From horseman Aaron England’s perspective, natural training methods mean that horse and rider form a partnership that erases fear from both participants and allows communication to flow.

“There are two ways to train a horse that work. The old style is to use fear and intimidation. This works for some horses but you never gain their trust, respect or a truly willing attitude. The other way is the natural way,” England says. “Natural methods use psychology, communication and respect.”

And how do you communicate with a horse in a way that makes sense to the horse? According to England, you use a series of games that are first taught on the ground and later from the saddle. These games reach into the horse’s mind and allow the animal to respond to his handler without fear. This method works because humans learn to speak the language of horses.

The first and most important game is the Desensitizing Game. The horseman uses either the end of a long lead rope — and horses are always taught wearing a rope halter — or a learning stick, which is a four-foot stick that serves as an extension of the arm. The horseman rubs the horse all over his body with the lead rope or the learning stick. This contact teaches the horse to accept his partner as a friend rather than a predator as well as expose any touchy areas on the horse’s body.

“Many times a horse will hold its tail tightly. You need to loosen that tail before you ever get on your horse because if you have a tight tail you have a tight mind that can’t learn,” England says. He stresses that the games are much like a pre-flight test that lowers the anxiety level in both horse and rider. “Horses are prey animals, and as such, they respond often with the instinctive part of their brain and they bolt, spin, buck or rear to escape a predator. We humans must learn to communicate through the games that we can act more like a partner than a predator.”

The games work effectively, he says, because it is the same language horses use with one another. We’ve all seen horses standing quietly next to each other in a field with each horse rubbing or scratching the back or neck of the other horse. This is a form of communication showing trust and is similar to rubbing the horse with the learning stick. Another game England teaches is the Steady Pressure Game. The action in this game can be seen when a horse moves through a herd of other horses and uses steady pressure to push through the herd with its chest. In some instances a horse will use pressure to push around its owner. When this happens, England stresses, the horse has no trust or respect for its owner.

The Steady Pressure Game teaches the horse to move away from steady pressure. Riders start with the lightest cue possible and then slowly increase pressure until the horse moves either its forehand or hindquarters or moves in any direction that is asked. “If you really sit down and think about it, how does a horse know that when you apply pressure to a certain part of his side with your leg, you expect him to move a certain way? The horse doesn’t speak English, but he does speak in the language of a prey animal – he wants to move away from the pressure. You can teach that by bullying the horse with your spur until he gets your meaning or you can teach it in a way that doesn’t cause harm or fear to the animal, and you will still have his trust in you,” England says.

Other games include the Driving Game and the Circle Game, which are taught in a multitude of ways. These games reinforce moving away from pressure and getting the horse to respond with light cues. If you have ever seen a horse squeal, kick, rear or strike, England says you are witnessing the Driving Game. Horses play these games naturally in their own environment. We are teaching the horse that we, too, know the games and can communicate through those games.
“Throughout your relationship or time together with your horse, there will be some form of desensitization, steady pressure, and/or rhythmic pressure game occurring every time you are with your horse.” England says. This applies to whether you are horseback or working (playing) from the ground. “Horses want three things in life: safety, comfort and play. The games offer the horse those things that are most important to him. Since horses are natural prey animals, horses look for natural leaders. It’s the horseman’s job to become that natural leader.”

England continues, “If you have a barn sour horse that jigs all the way home, or one that wants to slow down at the gate in the arena, or one that won’t trailer load, or one that steps on your foot or crowds you, then you have a horse in search of a leader. Through playing these games, you are proving to the horse that you are indeed the leader in life. Through these games your horse will become, calmer, braver, smarter and more athletic. That’s why our unique, versatile program offers every aspect to the horse world, whether you are on the trail or competing in horse shows. We can take you where you want to go from foundation to finish.” England’s natural methods are not just for Western riders but can be used by English riders as well. To England, it doesn’t matter what uniform you wear or what saddle you have on your horse. It’s about horsemanship through communication.

England adds a one-two punch to his training methods with the help of his wife, Riva, a fine horsewoman in her own right. She has loved and ridden Thoroughbreds all her life, and has been competing in the English world most of her career, including dressage and jumping events. “I love to use natural training methods on these sometimes high-strung athletes like the Thoroughbreds and I love to see how quickly we can calm them down and get their attention by speaking their own language,” she says. Riva began her career as an exercise rider for a Thoroughbred racetrack in Arizona where her mother was a racehorse trainer. Riva has also caught the Cutting bug from Aaron and is an avid competitor. She competed in the 2004 World Championship Futurity.

When searching for their own facility, the England’s thought it was important to find a property that had mixed uses for all types of events, including the Western disciplines of cutting and reining as well as the English three-day eventing. When Riva and Aaron first saw what is now their ranch in Goldthwaite, they both knew it was the ideal place for them. It not only features many barns and a covered arena, it has a United States Equestrian Association (USEA) approved jumping course. The England’s host two USEA approved three-day eventing shows a year in Goldthwaite. They will also have two schooling shows a year and the facility is open for schooling three-day eventing horses.

The Center also provides many other services for horse and rider, including weekend or weeklong clinics, colt starting, problem horse training, as well as training in jumping. cutting, reining and working cow. (For clinic dates, visit www.aaronengland.com.)

So, you may be wondering, how did England learn the language of the horse and how does he know how to teach that language so effectively to human riders? He has spent more than 20 years fine-tuning his training abilities by studying with such master trainers as world champion cutter, Leon Harrel, and with world-renowned natural horsemanship expert, Pat Parelli.

England’s quest to understand how a horse thinks began first as a young boy competing in 4-H. He values his 4-H experience so much that today he invites any member of a youth group to audit his clinics for free, as well as extending them a discount to ride in his clinics. He earned a rodeo scholarship from Cochise College in Arizona where he earned an Associate’s of Science Degree in Equine Science and Management. England’s thirst for more knowledge led him into many areas of horse-related activities.  He was president of several horse clubs and was a junior rodeo all around champion in his youth.  He supported his horse activities and furthered his education by working for horseman Bud Eipper on the C-E Cutting Horse Ranch. Bud continues to serve as a mentor to England to this day.  After college, England gained further experience as the assistant farm manager and stallion handler at Dan Dar Farm, a racehorse training and breeding facility in Washington.

Returning to Arizona, England teamed up with his father and began a boarding, training and breeding program on their ranch near Tombstone.  Standing a well-bred cutting horse stallion, Docs True Grit, owned by Bud Eipper, England continued his formal education and attended many programs in Equine Science from the University of Arizona, In 1996, he attended a Pat Parelli Natural Horsemanship demonstration and there saw the level of communication, trust and understanding with horses for which he had been searching. Putting all else aside, England began his four-year journey in developing his skills in Parelli’s program. Working with countless horses and under Parelli’s tutoring, England achieved his goals in Natural Horsemanship becoming a Three Star Instructor and Certified Colt Starter and receiving Difficult Horse Training Certification.

With the Natural Horsemanship certifications completed, England chose to branch off and become independent.  As a result, he has developed a new program England’s Versatile Horsemanship, which focuses on helping students achieve an accelerated rate of learning finesse with their horses. England is exclusive in his training philosophies in that he is using natural training techniques to develop horses for competition at the highest levels of many different disciplines.
With the dedicated support and assistance of Riva, and the expert cutting horse guidance of Leon Harrel, England fulfilled a long-term dream of competing in the NCHA Futurity in Forth Worth in 2003 and 2004. England says that from Leon Harrel he learned how to get the maximum out of the horse by the rider doing the minimum. England believes that cutting is the epitome of the horse doing the maximum and the rider doing the minimum. His future goal is to win the World Championship in cutting using natural training methods on his competition horses. “Like Leon says, there are no greater kept secrets than between a horse and his rider,” England says.

He adds, “Life is about dreams and goals and my lifelong dream has been to win the World in cutting. My goal has been to accomplish my dream using the principles of natural horsemanship. Working with Leon Harrel and Pat Parelli has brought me closer to my dream. My goal in teaching people is to share this knowledge so you can achieve your dreams. If you want to make your dreams come true, help someone achieve his.”

England, who teaches his natural method to riders and horses at clinics across the country and at and at his new 150-acre training facility in Goldthwaite, England’s International Learning Center, will be in Boerne on Saturday, March 12 at Spring Fling hosted by Barkley’s Home and Ranch. England will do two demonstrations, the first at 10:00 a.m. and the second at 1:00 p.m. To learn more about Aaron England, visit his web site at www.AaronEngland.com or call at 512.963.6775.
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