Dan Sumerel - A Different Way of Thinking
by Marilyn Short

Do you think you’ve seen, read, or watched just about everything when it comes to training, breaking, gentling, or horse whispering? Do you have a tack room full of various bits, halters, lead ropes, lunge whips, lunge lines, and other training equipment or behavior modifiers?

Most horse owners have gone through getting rid of items that were supposed to miraculously stop an unwanted behavior in their horse…even experienced horse people such as Dan Sumerel went through that phase of his horse life.

Sumerel wasn’t always tuned in to horse behavior. He wasn’t raised on a ranch, and never dreamed of a career in the horse industry; in fact, he never even rode a horse until he was 40 years old. He spent his time racing cars and motorcycles and working as a corporate trainer and motivational speaker.

Through a twist to fate Sumerel, a green horse owner, purchased an Arabian stallion named Sunny. During the first eight months Sunny ran away with Sumerel 43 times. Sumerel knew he needed help with Sunny, so he studied various trainers, their methods and philosophies by attending clinics, reading their books, listening to tapes, and wearing out their videos. He studied masters such as Monte Foreman, Ray Hunt, Pat Parelli, John Lyons, and the world famous animal trainer and behaviorist, Gunther Gable-Williams.

“I needed to get control of my horse Sunny, so I gathered as much information about training horses as I could from these ‘natural’ type trainers,” said Sumerel. “What I found was a lot of conflicting information. And too often I was told I needed to buy this product or gadget to correct a problem, but I questioned that if the product was so good and was endorsed by one trainer, why weren’t all of the trainers using the same product?”

Attending clinics and watching videos showed Sumerel many different ways to get a horse to respond but it was all a bit confusing and often only worked with certain horses.

Later on when Sumerel was able to work with Gunther Gable-Williams’, Sumerel had many of his own ideas of training horses confirmed by the world-renowned trainer. Williams was best known for his career with the Ringling Brothers Circus training all kinds of animals including horses. His training focused on the individual animal as well as the type of animal. He not only studied the behavior characteristics of the breed of animal, but studied the personality of each individual animal as well.

Those behavior concepts are the foundation for Sumerel’s unique approach in dealing with horses. He believes the Sumerel Training System (STS) doesn’t contradict any other valid method of training, but goes a step beyond most with more focus on the individual needs of each horse due to its personality, which makes the training more effective.

“Horse owners need to relate to each individual horse,” said Sumerel, “not force or pressure each horse to adapt to a set training method.”

It is understood that for an equitable relationship with your horse you need the horse’s respect first. Too many training methods place too much emphasis on what kind of tack or equipment to use with the trainer conveniently selling that equipment. Sumerel’s approach that, “What you have in your head is more important than what you have in your hand” is indicative of his beliefs about handling horses. Sumerel has seen that when you devote more effort to getting the horse’s respect, you find the equipment to be less important. Also, it has become very in vogue to promote learning the horses’ language in order to begin training. Sumerel say’s “forget the whispering…listen to the horse – there’s more to it than just ear movement, licking, and chewing!” We are too quick to talk or even yell at the horse, we should be spending more time listening.

Many times when horse owners return from a clinic, seminar or symposium they don’t remember everything taught or can’t read their hastily scribbled notes. And since they’re not actually working with the horse, they don’t retain as much information. Sumerel experienced the same difficulties when he attended training sessions so he tailored STS to focus on educating the horse owner - not training the horse.

“At Expos I do work the horse while I lecture,” said Sumerel, “but at the workshops I’m a coach. I’ve found that people learn and retain more when they can do the work themselves. Even those who don’t bring a horse, learn more watching people like themselves learn while making mistakes rather than some expert making it look too easy.”

The STS Horse Course Workshops are limited to 7-10 participants with their horses and 30-40 participants without horses. Sumerel provides printed notes so the participants can concentrate on the work versus taking notes. One by one each participant goes in the round pen with his/her horse. This is where Sumerel starts to convey how each and every one of the participants will get their horse to be attentive, submissive, and relaxed. It’s not about running the horse around the pen – most horses in his workshops do very few laps around the pen and most never even break a sweat.

“STS is about using understanding and tolerance to become more effective with your horses,” said Sumerel. “Some horses take longer than others, but this process always works…regardless of the breed or gender of the horse, and it works with every horse. The purpose of STS is to help people learn what they don’t know they don’t know about horses.”
Sumerel believes that we as humans must adapt our thinking to the way the horse thinks. Two common myths are that horse people believe to be fact are: 1) “You can’t control a loose horse. 2) Once you get the halter on the horse, you do have control. Both attitudes create problems for people and horses, and are invalid. “The only control you have of the horse,” said Sumerel, “is the control the horse gives you.” In his liberty demonstrations, Sumerel shows how quickly and specifically he CAN control a loose horse. Then, when he puts a halter on the horse, he quickly points out to the crowd that if the horse really takes off, any control would be lost in an instant!

To find out more about this “different way of thinking” you can purchase Sumerel’s book, “Finding the Magic,” which has sold out on its first 2 printings and is into the 3rd printing. He is currently working on his second book, “Enjoying the Reality” which is due for release in 2004. Sumerel also has 2 widely sold video series, “Less is More.”

For those of you interested in Sumerel’s unique method of training the trainer rather than the horse, you can see him in person June 20-22, 2003 at the Texas Equestrian Expo at the Bell County Expo Center just outside of Belton, Texas. To find out more about Sumerel you can visit his web site at: www.sumereltraining.com or if you just can’t wait to hold your own workshop, you can call Dan at (434) 237-2012.

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