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Horse Transformation


By Nancy Brannon

Two riders with two very different horses, yet similar performance problems, found that working cattle can be quite enjoyable for both horses and riders. Attendees at the Zach Johnson Horse Training Clinic, October 4-5, 2014, watched and learned as Zach helped them turn their fidgety, pushy, non-responsive horses into soft, supple, and willing mounts.
One young rider brought a Palomino Tennessee Walking Horse mare to the clinic for help with improving her horse’s control and responsiveness. “The horse was anxious, fidgety, and not much in the rider’s control,” Zach evaluated. “The horse was not mean or dangerous, so we worked first on getting her calm.”

The other horse Zach described as a “half Mustang” who was “pushy, always forward and fast. He had two speeds: walk and gallop.” But he was not mean either and both horses needed some basic discipline and training.

Zach begins his clinics with lots of ground work. He demonstrates on his own horse the techniques he wants his students to learn, and then lets the students try them out. They work with their own horses for a while, then swap horses with Zach, so he can work with their horse while they practice the techniques on a trained horse. He wants the riders to learn how to control the horse’s hindquarters, the horse’s forehand, and to get the horses soft and responsive. “We do bending, flexing, stopping, backing, roll backs – all preparing the horses for the ridden work in the afternoon.”

After the morning’s ground work session and a lunch break, when the riders started the mounted portion of the clinic, they already found improvements in their horses from when they first arrived. “The half Mustang horse started loosening up and the Tennessee Walking Horse started to mellow,” Zach said. The riders continued to work on the suppling exercises and getting the horses more responsive to the rider’s cues. One thing that worked well on the Tennessee Walking Horse mare was to change her bit. “We changed her bit to a loose ring snaffle bit and she just loved it,” Zach apprised.

Then came the cattle! All the ground work and then suppling riding work had been preparing the horses to work with the cattle. Although not exactly cutting, the horses pull one cow from the herd and try to keep her away from the rest of the herd. “The little Walking Horse mare really took to the cattle!” Zach said. “The fidgety horse got quiet and gentle” and seemed to like her new “job.”

“When the little half-Mustang horse saw the cattle, he got really quiet around them and focused his attention on the cows” Zach observed. It wasn’t long before both horses were tracking the cattle around the arena. “The horses really got into it,” Zach said.

The students enjoyed working the cattle so much, and particularly their now supple and responsive horses, that they didn’t want to leave. “But the cattle had to go home at 6:00 pm,” Zach said.

Alisa Howard was pleased with the transformation of her 9-year-old Arab/Mustang, Little Joe. “He’s nine years old, but he acts like a 2-year-old,” she said. “He did fairly well at the clinic. Zach gave him and me both something to concentrate on besides ourselves. Before, he had no collection; he threw his head; and he always tried to go his own way. Now, we have beautiful collection and he waits to respond to the rider.” Alisa plans to attend Zach’s next clinic in November to follow up on the progress she’s already made.

Interested in transforming your disobedient horse into a willing partner? Zach is hosting another Horse Training clinic at his Hernando, MS facility on November 15-16, 2014. To sign up for the clinic, contact Zach Johnson at 901-826-2916 or e-mail:

Zach recently hosted an Open Horse and Ribbon Cutting at his new training facility at 5527 Crawford Road, Hernando, MS on October 16.

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