Craig Cameron - Revisited
Story by Marilyn Short

There’s no clock on his round pen and he doesn’t profess to have a horse broke in 30 minutes. Craig Cameron’s message is simple; it’s all about awareness. Awareness is the beginning of all learning – the heart of a “true horseman.”

Cameron puts a lot of himself into his clinics with entertaining stories, explanations of when and why he’s moving on to each new level, keeping the crowd on their toes with his sharp wit and sense of humor.

Cameron doesn’t break a horse; he earns their trust by allowing the horse to build trust and confidence in him slowly. He didn’t gain national and international respect as a horseman by breaking a horse’s spirit, he earned that respect by educating horse people how to allow horses to learn at their own pace, and to understand that each and every horse is different.

You won’t get any gimmicks or fancy definitions of horse behavior for the 20 years of knowledge Cameron passes to his audience at each clinic. There’s no doubt that what his audience sees is real. His clinics are not staged and his audience can see each and every step. Cameron stresses introducing each step in the training or re-training slowly, and is prepared to take a step back if the horse doesn’t understand what he’s asking for.

There are no “set in stone” steps to take in training or retraining your horse, although most problems such as bad ground manners and loading difficulties stem from the horse not understanding the basics. The basics are leading and getting the horse to move in all directions willingly, without fear.

“If he horse doesn’t understand what you’re asking it may become scared, aggressive or just plain stubborn,” said Cameron. “Don’t get angry and heavy-handed. If the horse you’re working gets worse rather than better, you’d better change your ways. If you scare, hurry or push a horse too hard, that’s where you will get into trouble.”

“A confident horse is a cooperative horse,” said Cameron, “you don’t want to intimidate the horse. I’ve seen some cowboys riding scared and problem horses. These cowboys aren’t listening to their horses, they are encouraging fear by spurring, yanking, or grabbing a harsher bit. If you fight with your horse, you’ll get a fight in return.”

The last thing Cameron wants to do is scare a horse, so he’s learned over the years what behaviors are natural to the horse. He believes that by scaring a horse, such as sacking them out incorrectly, snubbing, or tying a scary object to the saddle to where the horse has no means of escape will lead to a nervous or spooky horse. The horse can experience a total loss of confidence in himself and will be wary of humans from then on.

Many people don’t realize a horse can think, feel, and make decisions. Cameron demonstrates how the horse’s mind controls his body, legs, and feet. He patiently teaches the horse to do exactly what he asks, by allowing the horse to make the decision. Cameron allows the horse to make the “right” decisions without pain or anger, and can then control the horse’s body, legs, and feet with confidence. By controlling the horse’s mind, it is much easier to control the rest of the body.

“Horses won’t lie to you,” said Cameron, “but they sure can surprise you! The key is to watch their eyes, ears, the tilt of their head, and don’t forget the position of the hindquarters!”

Cameron tells his audience not to think that horses can’t kick you because they can, and if you’re dealing with a mule you can be standing in Oklahoma and he can still kick you! A mule is a lot like a horse, only more so because they’re smarter. A mule will learn what not to do before he’ll learn what to do.

“I always say if you want to get yourself a challenge then get yourself a mule,” said Cameron, “because he’s gonna make you work. He’s gonna make you think, he’s gonna make you be consistent and he’s going to make you learn the word patience. A mule will teach you a lot and they’ll take care of you. They won’t get you into trouble, where a horse might panic. A horse will walk backwards and will walk off a cliff. I’ve been in that position – I’ve been off a cliff. A mule isn’t gonna do that because for the most part, there’s some truth in the old saying that a mule won’t do anything to hurt himself.”

Cameron will tailor a specialized clinic for specific breeds, but when it’s all said and done, a horse is a horse. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with an Arabian, Quarter Horse, Paint, Mustang, or Hanovarian…the bottom line is that they’re all horses. If you can work with the horse mentally, they’re all pretty much the same; it’s a matter of continuing to work through understanding the horse’s behavior.

“The more you understand what’s natural to the horse,” said Cameron, “he more you’ll be able to teach your horse.”

Always aware of his horse, Cameron watches for signs to see if the message he’s trying to communicate to the horse is being received. He’s always trying to present tasks to a horse in a way the horse can understand and allows the horse the time to comprehend each new request.

Cameron breaks the horse into three sections; the horse drives from behind, turns on his center, and pulls with his front. By understanding the nature and mechanics of the horse, the more horseowners will understand how to position themselves to get a good stop, spin, sidepass, or whatever is needed.

Start at the beginning with the fundamentals or go back to the fundamentals when working out a problem. Cameron believes most horses are lacking in their knowledge of the simple things, such as to give and yield to pressure from the head all the way back to their tail.

“It’s not that I know any more than the next guy,” said Cameron, “but I have a lot of experience that I can pass on to others. People don’t want to be taught by someone who makes them feel like they’re stupid or dumb for not knowing. Shoot, none of us came into this world knowing how to handle a horse, no more than the horse knows how to get along with humans.”

It’s a learning process for Cameron; he’s just like the next horseperson, trying to figure out how to make better horses. He self-taught himself by watching and riding horse after horse, after horse. Any horse someone would bring to him, he’d give it his best to help the horse understand.

Cameron also learned with the help of Ray Hunt. Hunt taught him to work with a horse through understanding the horse. Working through understanding isn’t anything new; it’s been around for a long, long time. Although it may have been to the point of extinction at one time, many of the better horse people are going back to working with the horse instead of using force to break the horse’s spirit.

“Before I worked with Ray Hunt,” said Cameron; “I was trying to make things happen with a horse instead of working to let things happen with the horse. I don’t take the flight instinct away from the horse. The horse might need to use that instinct to realize he doesn’t need to be scared.”

Cameron respects Bob Loomis, Al Dunning, Buster Welch, Mark Chestnut, and Bobby Ingersol – the horsemen who consistently make good horses. A lot of the better horsemen today seem to be going back to the fundamentals when working with the horse because these horses are worth a lot of money and they don’t want anything to hurt or trouble the horse. These wise horsemen know it doesn’t mean you don’t use firmness with the horse, but at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way, so the horse learns instead of withdrawing.

What are the fundamentals or basics? Many horseowners don’t know where to start, so besides holding clinics nationally and internationally, Cameron also holds clinics at Double Horn Ranches in Bluff Dale, Texas and Lincoln, New Mexico.

“If one person will show up, I’ll be happy to work,” said Cameron, “my clinics are for the people and horses. Once I started making them pay though, they really started listening!”

Being on the road the majority of the year, Cameron really enjoys the clinics he hosts as his Double Horn Ranch. Things are set up just right for his clinics with 5 round pens and corrals, a lighted arena, the challenge trails, fresh cattle for penning, sorting, and cutting, fully restored 100-150 year old cabins, and an extremely talented and award-winning chuck wagon cook, Dennis Dodson.

Cameron’s Double Horn Ranch working clinics teach the basics up to the advanced maneuvers of horsemanship. The clinics are small and personal with only 10 riders at a time. Each participant works to perfect working with a horse on the ground as Cameron believes if you don’t have the respect or understanding from the ground, it’s almost impossible to get it from the horse’s back. Participants work on their hands, seat, turning loose of the horse, and working to control the horse all of the time.

“Control is the name of the game,” said Cameron, “if you’re working your horse and he’s out of control, then you’re teaching him one thing…to be out of control.”

The Challenge Trails are just that…a challenge. Participants go out on the trials where they back their horses up…and down, hills, slides, and slopes! There are jumps, water crossings – all those obstacles to make for an entertaining, if not a harrowing ride.

Cameron’s clinics are called working clinics and cowboy boot camp, because the participants work all day, one-on-one with Cameron. Learning how to deal with the horse’s mind and personality. Working to control the whole horse, the neck, head, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters individually. Cameron breaks it down in a way that is easy for each rider to understand how and why control is important.

“I teach how to control the whole horse,” said Cameron, “if you’re not controlling the whole horse, you’re just running on luck.”

Cameron states one of the best things about his clinics is the food. He swears by it, stating the food at the ranch gives the riders an incentive to get up and start the day all over again…to try to burn off those calories! He tells the riders to diet before coming to the Double Horn Ranch.

“It’s hard work, right up until dark every day,” said Cameron, “but no one wants to leave on Sunday!”

Cameron works hard all year, dedicated to helping horesowners and horses. He has 5 videos, with a couple more in the making. He’s even got a book in the works, which will be available in the near future. His book will cover catching a horse, haltering, picking up his feet, breaking, ground driving, picking out a horse, imprinting, problem solving, trailer loading, developing the handle, and a wealth of other useful information for the eager-to-learn horse owner.

As long as the rider has a willing attitude and open mine, his horse will have a willing attitude. There’s nobody that knows it all and the more you learn, the more you realize the more you need to learn.

“The only person I can’t teach is the person that knows it all,” said Cameron. “I’ve never really met anyone who truly knew it all so you can learn something from anybody, whether it’s what to do or what not to do.”

“If you look into a horse’s eye you’ll see a reflection of yourself, remember that,” said Cameron. “A horse’s life is straight ahead, no clocks on fences and you won’t see a horse wearing a watch. What the horse learns is a reflection of your communication skills. Take your time, go slow, when teaching your horses and they’ll in turn teach you a thing or two, if you’ll listen.”

Don’t miss Craig at the Texas Equestrian Expo at the Bell County Expo Center just outside of Belton, Texas on June 20-22, 2003. If you’d like to schedule a Craig Cameron Horsemanship Clinic or attend one of Cameron’s Clinics at the Double Horse Ranch in Bluff Dale, TX or Lincoln, NM, you can call the Texas ranch at 254-728-3082 or visit: www.craigcameron.com.

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