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Taking the Lead

Partnership between rider, horse develops through eyes, voice, touch, body language at the Natural Horsemanship Center in Estacada
by: Barbara Adams, Horse whisperer Missy Axton-Wryn, right, works with student Christine Cline of Eagle Creek and Ebony, Cline’s 17-year-old Tennessee Walker horse, at the Natural Horsemanship Center of Oregon.

When Missy Axton-Wryn suffered two concussions in one summer from her mare, she realized something was missing in her relationship with the horse.

She stumbled upon 'Discover the Horse You Never Knew,' a DVD by nationally acclaimed horse whisperer Frank Bell. She applied his Seven Step Safety System and experienced a turnaround in the mare's attitude and behavior.

'Because of the change in my horse, I was on fire to spread the word to help other people and their horses,' Axton-Wryn, 45, said. 'Horses are a powerful animal - 1,000 pounds or more. But they are willing to be partners with us if we provide them the herd leadership they genetically require.'

On Sunday, Dec. 10, Axton-Wryn will hold a Natural Horsemanship Clinic at her Estacada arena, the Natural Horsemanship Center of Oregon at 26011 South Morgan Road, where she will teach Frank Bell's safety system, herd leadership, and address behavior issues, pain and natural hoof care.

She will work with two different horses during the four-hour clinic; one spooks easily and has trust issues and the other is disrespectful and pushy with semi-dangerous behavior.

'I will be establishing the seven steps with each horse while addressing the behavior problems and assessing for pain while discussing natural hoof care,' she said. 'The common thread with these horses is that they are misunderstood and needing a herd leader. By that I mean their owner mistakenly is applying human psychology when the horse is crying out for herd psychology. The horse needs their person to be their herd leader.'

Throughout Axton-Wryn's 20 years of experience working with horses, she has gained knowledge and insight from a number of teachers, including Frank Bell, who presented her with an accreditation award in 2004.

'I'm one of his accredited instructors - that means I can teach his seven-step system, sell his products and do my training and instructing using his method and his name,' she said. She is one of six horse whisperers trained by Bell.

'A horse whisperer is someone who uses herd psychology to communicate and train the horse,' she said.

Axton-Wryn considers the whole horse when training, something she calls her 'wholistic' approach.

'Many times bad behavior is due to pain, such as bucking. Horses don't want to be bad; they are often just trying to tell us something,' she said. 'If we don't listen, they start speaking louder by becoming more and more dangerous.

'Horses are prey animals and live in a herd,' she said. 'There is a pecking order to the herd and each has a position within the herd. There is a lead mare that everyone knows is the 'boss.' She decides where to eat, drink, when and what time. She disciplines the young, and no one messes with her. There is a second in command mare that is compassionate, fair, but firm. Most of the horses want to hang out with this second-in-command mare. We need to be that second-in-command. Compassionate, but the leader nonetheless.'

Horses that are deemed dangerous are Axton-Wryn's specialty.

'Usually I'm the last stop before a horse heads off to the Woodburn auction. I haven't lost one yet,' she said.

When Christine Cline, 32, of Eagle Creek began taking lessons with Axton-Wryn one year ago, her 17-year-old Tennessee walker, Ebony, was 'unruly and barn sour,' Cline said. She came to improve her horsemanship skills and learn to communicate more effectively with Ebony.

During a recent lesson, Ebony came with newly trimmed hoofs from a natural trim farrier (someone who shoes horses) that Axton-Wryn recommended. The hoof is shaped to the horse's foot rather than what is aesthetically pleasing, allowing for better balance.

'Ebony did well today,' Cline said. 'Usually her soreness is during the warm-up. She didn't have as difficult of a time as normal.'

Cline takes two lessons a month with Axton-Wryn.

'She's very in tune with the horse, and she gives lots of praise and encouragement to the rider. It's all about controlling the horse's feet and asking them to move with your body. It's like dancing with the horse, and I really like that.'

The Natural Horsemanship Clinic will be held from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10. The cost is $20 for spectators. Axton-Wryn said it will benefit 'anyone who owns a horse and would like to have a partnership for a safer ride will benefit from this clinic.'

For more information visit www.HorseNatural.com.

If You Go

What: Natural Horsemanship Clinic, a Seven-Step Safety System.

Where: Natural Horsemanship Center of Oregon, 26011 S. Morgan Road, Estacada.

When: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10.

Cost: For spectators, $20 at the door.

For more information: Call 503-630-3744 or 1-866-821-0374

Web site: www.HorseNatural.com.