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August 21, 2008 | | Comments 0

An Interview with Al Dunning – Great American Horseman

Al Dunning Interview

Interviewed and Written by Chenay Jordan:

“There is so much beauty in horses,” Al Dunning says and his new book The Ultimate Level of Horsemanship- Training Through Inspiration conveys just that.

Drawing from a lifetime of personal experience, Dunning teamed up with writer Tammy LeRoy and acclaimed photographer Robert Dawson to bring readers into the majestic world of the cowboy lifestyle.

Far from your average “how-to” book about horses, Dunning’s new book digs deep into the realm of horsemanship providing the average horseman with a more in depth and psychological view of owning and training horses.

I was honored to be able to interview Al about the release of his new book and pick his brain a little regarding his training philosophy.

I asked Al what he wanted readers to come away with after reading his new book.

He told me his goal is to give readers, “Some meat to chew on… when they are out riding their horse some of me is in them…fifty years from now I would like someone to say that the insights I provided are still with them even after all these years.”

Intrigued by the title, I had to ask what the phrase “ultimate level of horsemanship” means to him.

Dunning said it means “thinking like a horse.”

“You can go along, know how to ride and enjoy a horse, but you have to start really thinking about how a horse thinks and how they work,” he said, “You have to ride a lot of horses and be around horses a long time for that to happen. That’s what I’m trying to bring to the table, the things that I take for granted, that the normal horse person doesn’t think of.”

Dunning elaborated, sharing with me the other part of the title: training through inspiration.

“To inspire,” he said, “means to make someone feel that he or she wants to do something and can do it.”

Dunning believes that keeping a positive attitude, thinking like a horse, being relaxed, knowing a horse’s limits, setting realistic goals, and giving positive reinforcement are essential when it comes to finding the best in both horse and rider.

Seeing my chance, I took the opportunity to ask Al what he looks for in order to find the best in horse and rider.

“Bloodlines and confirmation,” he said are the most important when it comes to finding a good horse.

But what I found most enlightening is how he described what it takes to be a successful trainer.

“You’re either all the way in or all the way out,” he said, “You can’t be casual about this and be excellent at it. You have to be involved totally. I try to refine what I do based on how that horse responds to me. You gotta make that horse think it’s his idea… that he is winning.”

I asked Al to expand more on what the thinks are important qualities for a trainer to possess. He summed it up in one word: patience.

“Even people who are inept at things,” he said, “spend the time with that horse and get it done.”

He also told me that the right “match” between a horse and rider can have a great impact on training. If a rider doesn’t have that connection with a horse, Dunning says they are “all the way out” not fully invested in that horse which stymies success. I asked Al if there was any horse that came to mind that he was connected to.

“Pink Pony was one of the first great horses I had,” he said, “It was an oddity because I was a young man at the time… and I ran into this horse that I had a connection with. It was almost like I could think it and she would do it. She was my partner and I enjoyed the relationship we had.”

Al and my conversation eventually led to discussing some very refined points of training like that important yet paradoxically intangible, “feel” for horses.

A term often used by highly successful trainers, a “feel” is something that ironically can’t be taught but is something a horseman may be lucky enough to acquire after years of experience.

Dunning told me that long ago, one of his personal inspirations John Hoyt told him: “Al, you’ve trained that horse real good, but it would be better if you had a feel on him.”

“At the time,” he said, “I didn’t know what he was talking about. But it wasn’t soon thereafter that I got it.”

One example that Al gave me to better explain “feel” was for a rider to be able to feel when a young horse is ready to progress.

“Don’t hold horses back,” he said, “You either have to be patient with them or go forward… that’s a feel.”

After speaking with Al, it is astonishingly obvious that his “feel” and “all the way in” attitude have allowed him to genuinely experience the beauty that he finds in horses. There is no doubt that Al Dunning is a true example of the “ultimate level of horsemanship.”

Al Dunning on Horse

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