|[Image: Clinton Depew and Kristine Fricke]|
What do a police officer, an Olympian and a fighter pilot have in common? In this case, they’re all master horsemen. In March 2009, nearly 20 horse enthusiasts, including a National Guard pilot, a local police officer and a former Olympic equestrian gathered at Farr Horse Park in Baton Rouge for a three-hour session – the last of their eight-class course in horse training. Diverse groups like this have been successfully completing the LSU AgCenter’s Master Horseman program since 2001 on a statewide level.
“We had done a number of surveys of our horse industry and found the skill level of our horse people was not as high as it ought to be. So we decided to develop a corps group that were proficient at a higher level,” said Clint Depew, a professor and extension specialist, now retired, in the School of Animal Sciences and the founder of the Master Horseman program.
“As a police officer, we’re always training to upgrade our skills, and I saw this class. I had heard good things about it, and I thought it would be a good way to help me do a better job at what I do,” said Corporal Mary Ann Godawa with the Baton Rouge Police Department and part of the unit that on occasion rides horses to patrol events.
When you take serious horsemen and give them extensive education and training, you get better, more competent horsemen who can become better leaders, while passing on useful information to others. That’s the premise Depew had in mind when he started the Master Horseman program. The courses he and other qualified instructors teach include sections on horse nutrition, health, safety, training, riding skills, basic and advanced maneuvers, and youth development.
“Most of them have told us that they thought they really knew a lot about horses until they took this course. But it has really opened their eyes,” Depew said.
“Since this class started, I have used what I’ve learned in training my horse on a daily basis. It’s all useable material,” Godawa said.
“I found this to be much more helpful than the clinics I’ve been to. In eight weeks you have more time to practice and ask more questions. I found that to be extremely helpful,” said Bob Frazier, a retired Baton Rouge resident who doesn’t own but likes to ride horses.
When it began in 2001, the statewide program was the first of its kind in the United States, as far as Depew knows, and met a clear need in Louisiana. More than 500 participants have completed the program. According to Depew, about half the members of both the Louisiana Equine Council and the Louisiana Stock Association are graduates of the Master Horseman program. These master horsemen voluntarily run horse camps for children each year and teach classes for 4-H horse programs. Many of them also return to teach Master Horseman classes as well.
Depew said the courses have been done in 12 locations and have included participants from from Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. Some riders have chosen to take the course again to brush up on skills.
Since the inception of Louisiana’s Master Horseman program, five states have developed similar courses, modeling them after Louisiana’s regimen, Depew said.
“Ultimately, it translates to a better quality of horses and a better quality of exhibitors and people. I think it’s going to lift our whole horse industry, which is our goal,” Depew said.
The recent Baton Rouge Master Horseman group finished off its course with each participant giving a horse-related presentation on topics like rider safety, horse nutrition and safety. While the group consisted of many lifelong horsemen, including several horse instructors and a former Olympic rider, it also attracted horse enthusiasts like Frazier.
“I started taking riding lessons when I was 61 years old, and I’ve been out here (Farr Park) for seven or eight years now. When I retired, I had this list of things I was going to do, and one of them was horses, learning to ride and care for horses,” Frazier said.
Because of the Master Horseman program, Frazier said he and Boxcar, the horse he regularly rides, are now communicating better. As he petted the horse’s nose, he expressed well the inspiration of those who attend and complete the Master Horseman program.
“I had a longstanding desire not to just ride a horse, but to learn how to properly ride a horse and how to properly care for him,” Frazier said.
Participants are supposed to have high skills and knowledge to enter the program, and LSU AgCenter extension agents select those who have the greatest leadership potential. The cost ranges from $100-$200 to cover course materials. If you’re interested in the Master Horseman program, contact your local LSU AgCenter extension office.
(This article was published in the summer 2009 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)