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Fixing broke horses with natural horsemanship

As a child, her only wish was to wake up one morning with a mane and tail, so that she could spend her life out in the fields with her friends, the horses. To see her work a horse today, you might swear that that is just what the horse sees when he looks at her, another horse.
   From the moment Dianne Mortenson enters the corral the eyes of the horse are locked on her, ears extending forward as though the animal is engaging all its senses in anticipation of what the next move will be.
   Talking only in conversational tones and using slight hand signals, Mortenson `asks' the animal to walk towards her, back up away from her or follow a myriad of other commands. The horse responds with ease expressing no fear or stress, and he does it all without receiving a treat or any other visible bribe.
   Granted the animal she is working with is her own horse `Shorty' whom she has had for many years. However the horse in the adjacent corral is equally compliant, and this one was rescued from a trip to the canned pet food factory only a few months prior because its owners were afraid to go near it.
   Mortenson is a horse trainer who uses a unique style of natural horsemanship, and judging by her very busy schedule, folks around central Oregon are eager to embrace these new training strategies with their own animals.
   "I train my horses much like a person would a dog," she explained. "I like them to behave like a dog. I don't work using whips or chains. I use only positive reinforcement and conditioned response to get a horse to do what I what it to."
   Mortenson explained that the style of horsemanship she employs came from her early experiences on horseback, encouraged by her father. "I was ranch raised myself, and my dad would always say, "Why do you try to use weight? You weigh 120 pounds against a thousand pounds. You're going to loose." But I didn't believe him, because it always worked. So I taught my horse to rear and dance around - and all I wanted to do was ride and feel the wind in my hair. That is until I started getting rubbed off on branches and the horse started to run away with me. Then I knew there had to be a better way."
   Mortenson attended her first natural horsemanship clinic almost 20 years ago, and that was her formal introduction to this gentler training style. What she found is, that even with natural horsemanship, men use strength against the animal. Because of that, they are able to get a horse to do what they want simply by using force.
   Following this clue Mortenson has been able to develop an even simpler style that works well with women and children who don't necessarily have the strength men do, and the horses just love it.
   "You've always got to make sure that you have another way to train, another way to communicate," she said. "So all of my training is done without halters, without lead ropes." This type of strategy might be surprising to the average horse owner, but once a person starts to use Mortenson's style of training, it becomes natural, making sense to both the trainer and the horse.
   Natural horsemanship actually appears to be a heart-centered activity, recalling to the owner their real reasons for wanting to own a horse in the first place.
   Mortenson explained that people typically buy a horse because of a love for horses _ and they are drawn to a particular animal. However, as with many romances, once the new wears off - the owner forgets the affection they felt for the animal, but still expects that animal to perform on command. And, when the horse doesn't respond as expected, that behavior is typically met with force, which only serves to create an even greater gulf between the two.
   Much of Mortenson's work is with animals that no longer respond to their owners or have taken on `bad' behaviors. She says these types of problems are overcome by utilizing a little horse sense and looking at the world from the horse's perspective.
   Although anyone can learn Mortenson's techniques, it's really quite amazing to see her work with an animal, using only her physical presence to get a horse to adopt a new behavior. The respect between the animal and the human is quite evident.
   Rather than insist that a behavior happen, the trainer actually asks the horse to do something, and inevitably meets with success.
   "It's really interesting this form of training," she said, "and it's interesting that people are catching on to it more and more."
   Mortenson will be conducting a natural horsemanship training through COCC in Prineville starting in May.
   The class is called Hold Your Horses and will give students an opportunity to learn Mortenson's techniques using natural and modern techniques and skills. During this class simple tools and techniques for starting a line of communication with the horse will be presented in a wise and gentle way.
   In addition, students will learn about how health, nutrition and conditioning can help change the results people get with their horses. These classes are for those who love horses and dream of having a true partnership with that animal.
   The first class will take place at the COCC Center, followed by a weekend at Broken Rim Ranch. This class can be taken with or without a horse.
   To register, call 447-4418.