When horses are born they often wobble on new legs, building enough strength to trot and canter within a matter of hours. "Their mother doesn't whisper in their ear, 'You're an English horse'," says Dave Konefal, owner of Lone Star Horsemanship, Inc. He trains horses for Western- and English-style riding with a process that he says requires time, patience, and a sense of humor.
Dave often spends weeks with his horses, using conditioned-response training methods to keep them calm and ready for unexpected situations. He excites them gradually and calms them down so that they don't throw riders when scared by something like a backfiring engine or a fluctuating 401(k). He likens the process to pumping a car's brakes on an icy surface, adding, "You have to practice in hazardous situations so you don't wreck." Safety is definitely a priority for the trainer, and it is something that he carries through into riding lessons with his students.
Dave takes on pupils of all ages, and many of them, like the newborn horses, gain confidence rapidly. One rider brought in her great-grandfather, who grew up on a farm but hadn't ridden in decades. The man rode as though he'd never stopped,his wife following close behind andfretting happily at him. The trainer works to keep each lesson within the rider's abilities. "The hardest part about riding is the ground," he says, but he focuses on minimizing the risk of injury by knowing his steeds. Proof of his bond with the equines can be seen on occasions when he is found on his 20-acre ranch, dozing under the stars with a half-ton horse offering its shoulder as a pillow.