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Dennis Reis Horsemanship Clinic


By Nancy Brannon

Dennis and Deborah Reis, who founded the Reis Ranch School of Universal Horsemanship in 1988, brought their No Dust Tour to the Show Place Arena, Memphis, TN on June 8-9. The clinic was sparsely attended, but Reis didn’t skimp on what he had to offer. While Dennis was instructing his human and equine “students,” Deborah was taping the clinic for RFD-TV.

Reis believes that traditional training methods often don't work because they fail to address the horse's natural instincts.  Humans often forget that their horses are prey animals and they - humans - are predators.  Right away, the horse-human relationship is poised to be adversarial.

Reis' horsemanship system is based on the horse's natural flight and herd instincts, and that the horse's primary means of communication is through gestures and body language.  For this reason, a vast portion of his teaching involves “ground school” where horse and human can learn to understand each other's gestures. 

This clinic focused on Dennis “helping a local guy who needs help with his horses:” Alex Holliman. Free lungeing in the round pen is where the majority of the training took place. “There are 4 levels of round pen work,” Dennis said.
The gestures and gymnastic exercises Reis teaches on the ground are based on body language--the way horses speak to each other in a herd environment. He explained how people’s body language evokes particular reactions in horses. He spends a great deal of time introducing horses to sensory stimuli.  He encourages students to allow their horses to express their anxiety (safely) and work through it in a structure that will permanently build confidence.

Dennis told and showed Alex how his body language can control the horse’s speed. “Breathe, relax,” Reis told the student, and the horse slows down. To canter, Reis told him to hold the lunge line up, like the Statue of Liberty holds the torch, then strike the horse on the butt. Let the horse to go a few strides in canter, then allow the horse to trot.

Another time, he told the student to slip his hand under the horse’s jaw to bring the horse toward him. “Don’t move your feet!” Reis said. “The one who moves his feet first loses!” This meant the horse should be the first to move his feet.

On transitions – “It’s the preparation” that makes the difference. “You want a smooth, balanced transition,” Reis said, whether it be from walk to trot to canter to trot to walk. The horse should be able to do all within just a few feet and stay balanced. “The horse should not lose balance.”

When there are lots of distractions, for example, horses running around, “The horse should choose you over the herd,” Reis said.

Universal Horsemanship workshops are based on the Mentor Series Home Study Course, a structured four course series with four classes included in each course.  Each of the courses has a Round Pen class, a Ground School class, a Mounted class, and a Mounted Refined class. Workshops always begin in the round pen where Reis evaluates the horses and students. 

Reis welcomes students of all levels and disciplines, and horses of all breed to his workshops.  To participate Reis asks only that horse owners be able to lead their horse into the arena and that the horses be sound. The only criteria a student needs to participate is a love for horses and willingness to learn.

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