Top Left: Abel Garcia
Top Right: A.J. Garcia
Botton: Roping with A.J.
Portraits - Ingrid Edisen
Roping Photo - Robbin Cresswell
In the Seguin area we have a treasure trove of trainers, among them—Abel
and his son A. J. Garcia. This newspaper ran a feature about A. J. and his
operation “A. J.’s All Around Horses” three years ago. Since
then, he’s gone on to win even more world titles, now totaling at approximately
15 and his clients have also fared quite well. He just sent home some of the
32 horses he has had in training and is down to a comfortable number of over
25 in his barn. Meanwhile, down the street about five miles away, at the Los
Indios Stables, reside his father, Abel, and stepmother, Roberta, who still
train fulltime as well.
Both men specialize in Western performance events, which include heading, heeling, calf and team roping, reining, working cow horse and the like. A. J. is extremely active on the circuit. He works year round, commands a $700 per month training fee and has to repeatedly turn away horses due to overload. His facility is situated on 13 acres and he has been on his own for the last twelve years after apprenticing with his father until he turned 25. Abel and Roberta’s barn, built and welded by the family itself, contains an indoor arena that is surrounded by stalls. They have ten turn out traps on 25 acres acres. However, Abel has already done it all and during the last several years has refocused. Regarding training, Abel structures it so that a 90-day commitment is required. However, a prospective client may opt to first have a two-hour evaluation done by Abel and the fee for that is later applied to the monthly training fee if the new client decides to sign on. Both father and son also give clinics and private lessons, sometimes traveling out of the country to do so.
Both men have the same stunning good looks of international movie stars. They are tall, lean, long-legged and straight shooters in their manner. But they are unconscious of their looks since their focus is as always on the horses and their work. In fact, as an 11 year old, Abel was chosen by a casting director to be in a movie called Viva Zapata with Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando. There on the wall in a hallway in his home is a large photo of him with the two actors. The shared philosophy between father and son is that if they choose to train professionally, then it is wise to steer clear of personally owning any horses. Abel has relaxed that rule somewhat because he is not showing as intensely as he did for decades. They both spoke of many days and nights spent training until midnight or even sometimes two or three in the morning, breaking only in the afternoon because of the heat and then starting back up in the evenings. A. J. has several students and clients who train with him and cover for him when he goes to Florida every year to compete on the winter circuit for a little over three weeks. Abel spoke of the days of hauling eight or nine horses to various competitions. In both cases, these are men who think with intense focus, compete in multiples and ride lots of hours.
Abel has taken his forty years of experience and forged a new perspective on training. He indicates that the sixty or so bits hung up on display near the top of his tack room represent “forty years of stupidity.” Instead, he concentrates on groundwork first and explains to clients that if one is not balanced in one’s own presentation to the horse from the beginning, then it is unfair to expect the horse to do the same. A horse mirrors who we are, he explains. If you’re not balanced on the ground, then you won’t be on the horse either. He opts to get bending, suppleness and responsiveness first by a unique form of ground driving before even mounting. His goal is to increase the suppleness of all parts of the horse, realizing that the only non-natural thing one has to teach the horse is backing up. Everything else, such as side pass, Abel explains, the horse does in nature while at play. He only uses light aids to get all seven parts of the horse to move up, down, left or right. Those seven parts are the poll, left and right fore, left and right hind legs and both sides of the rib cage. He makes the horse disengage its hindquarters by instructing it with very light touches on the driving reins to move its haunches laterally, using only a halter with the reins running through loops attached at sides of the saddle, near the back cinch. He does not want to be fighting the head, he explains, as that builds resistance. Abel’s philosophy is that one can get the horse to perform increasingly complex tasks not by applying more pressure on the animal but by releasing the pressure.
Case in point: if you have a horse that exhibits a noxious behavior—whether it be pawing at feed time or pulling back while tied or even biting when being girthed—this can be solved even by work in the long lines. Abel presents himself to the horse to represent “the release.” So, Abel even will use feed time as a training opportunity. As his groom might make the rounds feeding, then Abel uses that as a time to ask the horse to disengage the hindquarters, etc. and only once the horse stands quietly, does he release it to its stall to eat. He also has trained the horses to come to him and stand with their heads facing him in the stall doorway if he clucks to them after opening the door. This he demonstrated to me over and over again with different horses who willingly left their dinner and came to him, only to return to their meals after he stroked them on their foreheads and released them with a soft wave of his hand after a friendly pat. Never once did he raise his voice. Although some of his style reminds one of John Lyons, his work is done in a less strenuous way as he does not need to move as much and can get the same results. Some of what he has devised comes from watching old time steer/cattle handlers and how they utilized the moving of the back feet of the animals. “The hindquarters are the motor,” Able said which reminded me of something I hear repeatedly in dressage settings.
Abel has become so accustomed to working with the driving reins that he even does it while mounted on another horse. This saves his legs as he finds it more comfortable to be mounted than walking on the ground. Now 67, Abel relates that he’s always had a horse by his side since he was three. For twenty years he rode the border between the U.S. and Mexico in his work as an agent of the U.S.A.P.H.I.S. (United States Animal Plant Health Inspection Service). Abel assisted the Texas Rangers and U.S. Customs agents on the U. S. -Mexico border. All four of his children—Terri, Sylvia, A.J. and Anna--now grown, are involved with horses either full or part time. He does not care about a horse’s pedigree or even its past history. Rather his focus is on the education of the horse and to have it in synch with its owner. He disdains owners’ claims that a horse may not like a particular arena or that it spooks at certain things since he’s certain that the main problem lies with the handler and lack of focus and consistency on the human’s part. One should take responsibility or the horse will, he said. “Love, patience and understanding” are the hallmarks of his training program. He wants the horse to maintain a clear mind that only comes from the handler being consistent, building up the animal’s education in inches.
“One thing fixes the other,” he insists. Both he and his son believe that a horse should be a responsive athlete that should be able to perform in multiple events. This avoids burn out and since the events require different physical movements, they encourage the horse to exercise different areas of its mind and body. They also eschew using up a horse and prefer to invest their methods into animals so the horses will have long, pain free and safe careers. A. J. explained that he wouldn’t consider taking a young horse out to compete until after it had been steadily trained for at least a year. He won’t accept a youngster into training until an owner can present x-rays to him that demonstrate the knees of the animal have closed, for instance.
Both father and son offer a myriad of champions with which they have been associated. A. J.’s work with The Perfector is one example; Abel’s work with Silent Conclusion is another. On a pamphlet describing Abel’s facility is listed seventeen horses that have all won World and Circuit champion status. A. J.’s home is filled with memorabilia from just as many wins. Yet both men maintain a surprisingly humble demeanor. Abel remarked several times that there is simply so much to learn that the horses can teach us. A deeply spiritual man, Abel also said, “All glory goes to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Should you wish to contact A.J. or Able, you can contact them at: A. J. Garcia, All Around Horses, 230 Warneke Rd., La Vernia, TX 78121, (830) 914-2201. Abel Garcia, Los Indios Stables, 4400 Sweet Home Rd., Seguin, TX 78155, (830) 379-5399.
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