If Richard Winters, the nationally ranked equestrian clinician headlining the Clark County Event Center’s 11th annual Washington State Horse Expo, March 4-6, could only share one piece of wisdom gleaned from his almost four decades of experience, both as a horseman and a teacher it would be . . . “Enjoy the journey,” said Winters.
“Developing the skills to be a true ‘horseman/woman,’ not just a passenger, takes a lifetime. Don’t get so caught up in the destination you forget to enjoy each step along the way.” According to Winters, you have to love and find joy in all the little things that come with spending your life around horses. “For example, I love their smell. I have loved it ever since I was a small boy, using my earned chore money to pay to ride horses at a local rental stable.”
With a record that speaks for itself: the National Reined Cow Horse Association World Championship in 2005; top honors at the Road to the Horse Colt Starting Championship in 2009; top-five finalist at the Cowboy Dressage World Finals and author of “From Rider to Horseman,” published in 2016 by Western Horseman Magazine; nationally ranked clinician at Horse expos across the country, there is no doubt that Winters’ journey has been a successful one. “And yes—forty years and counting—and I still love how horses smell,” said Winters with a laugh.
Along with his passion for horses, he is equally passionate about teaching others. Winters has dedicated himself to honing his horsemanship skills and to passing his knowledge on to others. A highly sought after horse trainer and horsemanship clinician, known as the “The Masterful Communicator,” he has traveled both nationally and internationally to help educate people and to improve their communication with their horses
“Horses are no different than us,” explained Winters. “They have their own emotions. And just like us, they have good days. Bad days. It is our job to be in tune with their emotions—in other words, to be a good partner.
“It is very much like dancing.” Winters explained, “In every successful dance partnership, it is one person’s job to be the leader. Riding horses is no different. As a good partner it is your job to provide clear and consistent leadership.”
And just like as in dance, finding the right partner is just as important as the talent and skill you bring to the dance. According to Winters, he all too often encounters people who are not matched with the right horse—a partnership that is doomed from the start or at least challenged. Maybe the horse is too forward for a timid rider or the horse prefers a whisper and a soft suggestion, but the rider is a little heavier in their communication—both would do much better with new dance partners. Sometimes easier said than done.
“We all have a connection with our horses, that although heartfelt, is based in emotion rather than practicality,” said Winters, “It is important to realize that it is not a failure on your part or that you love your horse any less.”
Winters suggests finding someone you trust to help you evaluate your current “dance” partner or any potential new partners. This could be a trainer, other experienced horse people, or even someone you commission to help you. For people new to the horses, Winters suggests they take small steps before jumping right into the deep end. “Maybe start with some lessons at a local barn—great exposure to horses and a chance to meet horsey people.” The next step—maybe lease a horse. A lease provides a lot of exposure to horses without the long-term financial commitment. This slow induction into the world of horses gives you the chance to find out “if you love their smell,” and according to Winters to meet and make connections with people who can help you on your journey.
“My own journey has been one of constant learning,” said Winters. “I am always looking for people who know more than me and reach out to learn from them. I am constantly, learning and challenging myself. The day I think I have nothing left to learn is the day it is time to put up my saddle.”
According to Winters, he has had many mentors and people he has learned a lot from over the years, but the most surprising and gratifying horsewoman who is teaching an ‘old dog’ new tricks is his daughter. “Sarah followed me everywhere around horses starting when she was just a toddler. She never wanted to do anything but ride horses,” said Winters. “But the roles are reversed now and she has become my greatest teacher.”
Sarah along with her husband Chris are both top 10 riders in the national Reined Cow Horse Association. Sarah was also crowned champion in the 2020 world championship Snaffle Bit Futurity. Winters said, “In my ongoing quest to learn from the best, my new goal is to become as good a horseman as my daughter.”
Sarah is not the only one of Winters’ kids to make their dad proud. “Joseph, my eldest, is my own personal superhero.” According to Winters, Joseph is a Rescue Swimmer in the United States Coast Guard. “He’s the guy that jumps out of the orange and white helicopter to save you when you’re drowning. The tattoo on Joseph’s arm says it all. ‘So others may live.’”
His own kids are not the only youth Winters is proud of. He loves working with young riders and helping them make the transition from passenger to partner and to become true horsemen and women. However he is concerned about the lack of participation by young people in horse activities of all types, 4-H, Reining, Showing, etc. He doesn’t know exactly what is causing it and according to Winters he does not have all the answers on how to stop the declining youth participation in horse activities, but he says. “We need to bring our kids back into the horse world. They are our future.
Whether it is their smell, or more likely the sense of freedom, adventure . . . beauty they offer—Horses sell themselves. If we expose horses to the younger generation I know they will fall in love with them. Just like I did as a young boy so many years ago.”
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