University of Vermont AAHS

Navajo Project Continues

Better Performance Promised

by Jan Dawson  

[reprinted from Caution: Horses (Summer 1998, Vol. 3, No. 2)]

Better performance, longer useful life, and more [prize] money were the benefits promised at four workshops held at four locations on the Navajo Nation in June. Reduced injuries just happened to be a sideline.

1998 marked the third season in the Navajo project. In conjunction with the Native American Association for Horsemanship Safety (NAAHS) and the Indian Health Service, Navajo Division (IHS), we put on four workshops, one each in Window Rock, Chinle, Kayenta, and Tuba City. The traveling presenters included Jan Dawson, JD, president of AAHS, Harry Begaye, president of NAAHS, James "JP" Paddock, vice-president of NAAHS, Betsy Creene, Ph.D., AAHS board member, and Calvin Bahe, a "natural" horseshoer. Technical support was provided by Harry's wife, Kit, and son, Kelsey.  The group traveled to each place with four demonstration horses.

Each workshop was four hours long and included sessions on horse psychology, the origin of the "Secure Seat" (sm.) method of riding and teaching originated by AAHS, how the "Secure Seat" (sm.) works for the horse trainer and how it helps the novice rider and the rodeo rider prevent falls. Dr. Greene taught the segment on equine wellness. Calvin Bahe did horseshoeing demonstrations.

The attendance was greater than expected. Several of the audience members in each place were leading school programs in horsemanship at the Navajo boarding schools. Many were particularly interested in Rodeo star, JP Paddock's discussion of how the principles that AAHS is teaching to riders are the same ones that keep him from falling off the Bulls. In fact the "Secure Seat" (sm.) was developed from watching Bull riders and dressage riders, a way to combine the best parts of both.

Harry Begaye, a horse trainer whose motto is, "Keep it natural." explained how the "Secure Seat"(sm) aids him in making his horses comfortable and enables him to give clear instructions to his horses.

Dr. Greene emphasized the importance of understanding the horse's gastrointestinal tract to avoid the dangers of colic, especially sand colic, She also concentrated on the presentation of problems resulting from hot weather riding including the prevention of azoturia and tying-up syndrome.

The workshops also included ways to improve performance in speed events.  Next year's strategy includes a more detailed method of reporting horse-related accidents and the circumstances surrounding them on the Navajo Nation, some hands-on programs at the primary schools, and the production of fun educational material to be distributed to students.

The AAHS staff stayed on the Nation for the entire ten days and were treated to a fabulous trail ride down Canyon de Chelly. They also found time to do considerable sightseeing although all swear that sightseeing was not a factor in picking the workshop sites.

Although a "hands-on" clinic was offered after each workshop, most participants wanted to see what was going to happen before committing to bringing a horse.

The AAHS personnel reported being overwhelmed by the experience of working close to the mouth of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley. "The land is very powerful and one feels the old traditions in all aspects of life out there", says Dawson. Greene, who worked a lot of rodeos while preparing for her masters degree in Tucson stated that she was delighted to get to see, "the real personality of Arizona."

All of the presenters were emphatic in their favorable statements regarding the wonderful hospitality they experienced during their travels. One more workshop is planned for next year at a yet-to-be disclosed location.

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