An article from the Argus Observer, July 29, 1996, Ontario,
Oregon. (Reprinted with permission.)
When the dew is rising in the mountains of the high country
and the sun is only thinking about rising over the mountain peaks,
Leland Davis, on his day off, is already on his way to train yet
another group of people to understand the links between man
Davis trains people. Not to jump
through hoops, roll over or speak,
but to understand horses.
Davis previously called himself a horse trainer and worked primarily
with the animal. But, time after time, his clients would return a
well trained horse to him, angrily saying nothing had changed.
Davis surmised the problem was not with horses but with people.
So, he set out to change the lives of a few horses and educate
some people on a method of handling that makes old cowboys
cringe. The method assumes the horse is intelligent, willing and
able to perform almost anything his rider asks, so long as the
horse is able to understand the request.
The method requires consistency and timing, and not a rough,
hard-handed attitude of "showing the horse who's boss." The
method requires a lot of the rider. But, when Davis' high-strung
Arabian follows him patiently around the corral, backs up at the
flick of a wrist and goes in whatever direction Davis points,
without Davis even being in the saddle, the effort seems well
Davis builds his seminars around an idea created by
nationally-known animal trainer Ray Hunt. "Have you ever seen a
horse in a pasture, all by itself, back up, turn on a dime, whirl
around on its front legs with the back legs planted or vice-versa?"
Davis asks. "These are all things difficult for riders to accomplish.
People think they need to 'teach' the horse to do these things.
That horse knows how to do it! People just need to know how to
ask that horse to do it in a way that won't frustrate the animal."
Davis assumes the horse is extremely intelligent, and, to start his
seminars, he does a demonstration with humans that usually brings
home the idea to people. He "asks" a person to move a certain
way without using words. Instead, he only uses hand motions.
The person will usually get frustrated, and sometimes will even
give up before understanding what Davis wants.
"That is how a horse feels. He's a smart animal and he wants to
please--he wants his life to be as easy as possible.
But a horse will get frustrated and mad when a rider can't
communicate and it makes it worse when the rider just beats
the horse for not 'understanding' the signal," he said.
Davis also begins his seminar with a trailer
loading demonstration. In a previous seminar,
held in June at Camp Ida-haven in McCall, he
used a 3-year-old colt never before loaded into
a two-horse trailer. The process took about 20
minutes, and afterward, the colt walked into the
trailer with complete ease ready to go home.
Davis, at start of trailer loading demo.
Davis simply made, as he puts it, "the wrong thing hard and the
right thing easy," for the horse. He made any motion to not get
into the trailer uncomfortable for the horse by striking a coiled
lariat against his leg or by flicking the horse with the rope. Once
the colt understood it was safe to get into the trailer and that
was what Davis was asking him to do, the colt walked in and out
Davis also emphasizes consistency. The rider
must continue asking the horse to do what she or
he wants. Constant pressure must be applied
until the horse just begins to concede, and then the
pressure needs to be released and the horse
assured it was correct.
Davis, after dismounting to help with specific problems, often called out,
"That horse did just what you asked it! Now pet him!" something many riders
aren't used to doing. The horses responded to the positive reinforcement
much the way people do. They were happy to please and glad to be rewarded
for doing right, instead of punished for doing wrong.
Davis finished the seminar by catching the "uncatchable" horse. The camp,
which had a lot of older horses primarily for use by children, also had a lot of
horses who were abused or mistreated. Under careful watch by the young people
and counselors staying at the camp, Davis made an impressive demonstration of
"making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy." He made it uncomfortable
for the horses whenever they turned away from him, and one by
one, each horse realized what he wanted, and then let him
approach on foot and slip a halter on the animal.
The last horse, more stubborn than the rest, upon realizing what
Davis wanted, willingly followed him around the corral and waited
for him while he talked to people, and then followed him again
until Davis let him know he could go. The audience was delighted
with the willingness of even stubborn horses, once they realized
what was being asked of them. Davis also emphasized humans are
predators of the animal, and approaching a horse in a crouching or
sneaking way will upset it and set off its predator-prey instincts.
He simply walked up to the horse and began to pet the animal.
Davis feels his greatest accomplishment is the reduction of
suffering to animals and the reduction of risk to humans. "There
was this little girl," he said, "and she was so tiny, she just couldn't
control her horse--or so she thought. But I showed her how to
control her horse this way and now she walks right up to that
horse and that horse obeys her like nothing I've ever seen. She
came back to me and hugged me, saying, 'Princess has never
been the same!' She's only 7 or 8 years old, and it almost scares
me to see her in charge of the huge animal. But it touched my
heart--she was so grateful. It makes it worth it."
Leland says he receives plenty of support from his wife, Louise,
and his two children, Emily 5, and Kelly, 8. "I couldn't do it
without Louise," he said. "She's the backbone of this whole
operation." Davis lives in Cambridge at the Double L Ranch.
This article appeared in The Argus Observer, July 29, 1996.
It is reprinted here with permission.