Tippy has come a long way from where she was when she arrived at Longmeadow Rescue Ranch in Union just a year ago — underweight with skin infections, overgrown hooves and fearful of people.
“She was very difficult to catch, and you could barely touch her,” recalled Amanda Mullen, Longmeadow’s director.
Last week, standing over a strip of corrugated tubing in the arena of the Learning Center Barn, Tippy stepped sideways down the length of the tube, some might think rather slowly, but Longmeadow’s trainer Scott Jaycox is proud of her progress. He can see her improvement.
“Every step that she takes that I ask and we don’t pull or prod or get too hard of a time, if I recognize that as an effort and I release the pressure, she kind of gains confidence, thinks, ‘Oh, I did that right.’ It makes her feel better on the inside,” said Jaycox.
That’s the goal here at Longmeadow, to build up the confidence in horses like Tippy that have been rescued from neglect or abusive situations so they are ready to be adopted into a “forever home.”
Rehabilitating a horse — first physically and then psychologically — is a time consuming process, though, one that requires hours and hours of hands-on work over the course of one to two years, maybe longer.
That’s why back in 2011 Longmeadow established an apprenticeship program to train others in “relational horsemanship” to learn from Jaycox and work alongside of him.
Relational horsemanship, or developing a relationship of safety and trust between horse and handler, is the most important aspect of Longmeadow’s apprentice program, which was opened to the public in November 2011.
“And it’s been going great guns ever since,” remarked Kay Tomlinson, a Longmeadow volunteer from Affton who was Jaycox’s first unofficial apprentice before the program began.
“I was Scott’s guinea pig,” said Tomlinson with a laugh.
The apprenticeship program offers a series of eight-week classes (blocks) for a beginning fee of $250 for the first block and $125 for each consecutive block.
“In block one, you learn the very basics,” said Tomlinson. “In block two, you put those basics to use, really polish your skills, and that’s where you gain the most confidence because you are teaching the newcomers.
“There’s really no better way to learn it than to have to teach somebody else.”
Over the course of the program, apprentices learn how to communicate clearly and effectively with horses, using “language” that the horses understand, said Tomlinson. Apprentices teach the rescue horses basic manners, groundwork, and assist in training them for riding.
The apprenticeship program is open to anyone ages 21 and older. There is an application process, but Tomlinson said if a person shows willingness to learn and can meet basic physical requirements, he or she is allowed in block one.
People don’t need to have any prior knowledge or experience with horses to join, said Tomlinson. In fact ideal candidates are people who are a little uncomfortable around horses, yet have always thought they wanted to know more.
“They may never own a horse, and that’s not necessarily the goal,” said Tomlinson. “It’s just to get comfortable around them, understand them more.”
The apprentices are receiving a valuable service from Longmeadow, said Mullen, who believes there is no more affordable program of equal quality in the country. At least one apprentice who graduated the program has already gone on to establish a career in horse training, she noted.
Yet Longmeadow offers the program at such an affordable rate, because the apprentices are just as valuable to the rescue work.
“The more horses we can rehabilitate and get adopted, that’s more horses we can take in,” said Mullen.
Tomlinson agreed, noting the program is a win for everyone involved — Longmeadow, the apprentices, but especially the horses.
“Scott can only get to so many a day, so this makes an enormous difference to the horses,” she commented, “makes them a lot more adoptable because they’ve been worked with so much more.”
Yet Tomlinson said the difference the program makes in the apprentices is noticeable as well.
“Just being around a horse for any length of time changes a person,” she said. “Take me for a really good example. I was pretty shy, didn’t know much about anything. I wasn’t willing to stand up and say what I did know.
“Having a horse, learning how to handle him and watching him grow up and learning with him . . . it teaches you to stand up straight and be yourself, to not be afraid to say what you want, and to expect to be listened to.
“It’s a huge boost of self-esteem, and it spills over into your everyday life, because when you feel better and feel stronger in yourself and more capable, that affects everything in your life.”
Other apprentices have experienced the same thing. When Tomlinson asked them what keeps them coming back to class block after block, “every one said ‘the change it’s made in my self-confidence.’ Horses just do that.”
The apprenticeship program has been so successful already that there currently is a waiting list to be accepted. Apprentices are not just Franklin County residents, but horse lovers from all over the St. Louis metro area.
Class size is kept small, 10-12 people, in large part because all of the work is hands-on and there’s a lot of information to cover.
“We have to give you enough information to be safe,” said Jaycox. “It takes a while to pick up all of the vocabulary and then to apply it.
“We want you to apply it, make it usable to you, not just something you know.”
The apprenticeship program offers spring and fall sessions, much like a college. In the spring, it offers two block one classes, as well as two of the advanced block classes. This fall, it may offer one or two block one classes.
No classes are offered in the summer.
When classes are in session, Jaycox said he offers each class three times a week and apprentices can pick which day and time works best for them week by week. In fact, they are welcome, if not encouraged, to repeat a class if they feel they need it.
“They can come in all three times in one week,” said Jaycox. “This can take a lot of redundancy.”
In addition to class time, apprentices are required to put in a certain number of practice hours with the horses at Longmeadow.
At the end of each block, apprentices receive a certificate of completion. Apprentices choose how far they want to go in the program.
“Our goal is two-fold:,” said Jaycox. “We want people to apply this knowledge. Just because they can do something with one horse, doesn’t mean they can with another horse, so we want them to experience all of the different kinds of horses, so they can apply the knowledge.
The same goes for the horse. Prior to the apprenticeship program, the horses were exposed only to Jaycox and some had a difficult time adjusting after they had been adopted to their new owners.
“Now with apprenticeship, horses get used to a vocabulary from my body frame, Amanda’s body frame . . . .a variety of riders, it gets better acclimated to everyone and allows for more people to get on it and ride it safely. That’s what we’re after.”
Pressure and Timing
Jaycox said the secret to training a horse to do what you want is pressure and timing — applying it at the right time and releasing it at the right time. And he’s not referring to how hard a handler pulls on the lead rope.
“The pressure is us,” said Jaycox. “The pressure is life. The existence of us being around the horse is pressure.”
So where he stands in relation to the horse or whether or not he’s touching her can be an application or release of pressure.
“That confuses most horse owners . . . owners don’t recognize they release at inopportune moments, end up rewarding something they don’t want to,” said Jaycox
“Horses are programmable.
“Not only can I help her emotionally feel better about herself, but I do it through a process of programming, by recognizing slightest efforts, smallest tries, building her confidence up and realizing that through release of pressure, it programs certain behavior. And I can either release pressure at bad times and teach her bad behaviors, or release at good times and teach her good behaviors.”
One basic concept people need to keep in mind when working with horses, Jaycox noted, is that humans are predators and horses are prey.
“That relationship exists,” he said.
Climbing up a two-step stool next to Tippy, Jaycox explained how that gesture can intimidate her.
“Just me standing above her can be extremely frightening,” he said. “I now turn into an 8-foot-tall predator versus a 6-foot-tall predator.
“So I like to encourage her to invite me to be in this position. You see her step kind of over. Not a lot of pressure. Lots of requests. We ask them to join us. We don’t make them join us.
“Even just the simple act of leading a horse . . . I’m asking her . . . I suggest that she come my way. Now I’m going to have to support her, applied pressure.
“As soon as she tries, I release that pressure, just the tension on the lead rope. That’s the programming side.”
These horses, who are in the arena working on the psychological side of their rehab, often behave in certain ways because they’ve been taught to do so, said Jaycox.
The therapy techniques he and the apprentices employ are designed to reverse that.
The equipment is simple: a corrugated tube, a rumpled tarp laying on the ground, an oversized red ball, a curtain of blue plastic . . . They all simulate real-world situations the horse can find itself in.
And while the act of side stepping a large plastic tube might seem simple, the belly area of a horse can be vulnerable, especially if a horse has been abused or neglected, said Jaycox.
“Every time she comes on the tube or off the tube . . . those are scary moments. So we want to slow down, give her a second to digest what we’re asking her to do. And then ask her again. As long as we don’t rush her too bad, she gets faster,” he explained.
“Through practice, repetition, she gets better and better, faster and faster, more and more confident,” he said.
“But we’ve got to be repetitious about it. That’s where the apprentices come in really handy as well. Because now there are five of me here today, and we all take the opportunity to spend time with the horses, pet on them, love on them, move ’em around, suggest to them that they do particular exercises to build up their confidence, and they become partners, trusting animals for someone to adopt some day.”
The hanging blue curtain, which could simulate a hanging vine, is especially frightening for the horses, Jaycox noted.
“They don’t understand there is space on other side of that solid object,” he explained. “They’ve got to go through that based on our suggestions. They’re willingness to say, ‘OK, I don’t see where I’m stepping, but you’re telling me it’s OK, so I’m going to go ahead and take that step.’
“Can you imagine someone taking you up on a high dive blindfolded and then telling you its OK to take a step? That’s the fear factor these horses live in on a consistent, every day basis. And yet we want to build in the confidence to tell them, no, really, it’s OK.”
Watching Tippy play around with the oversized red ball — something she used to be afraid of because, as Jaycox explains, “She doesn’t recognize that as a ball as we do. To her it’s a large scary object that could potentially hurt her” — is heartwarming.
“It’s neat to watch the horse realize that this is no longer a scary place. It’s a fun place to be,” said Jaycox.
“In some cases there is enthusiasm on her behalf to check out these new things. See her look at me, she’s asking is that what you want, is that a good thing? It’s a whole lot better than her running with fear, or kicking me to get away. Some of these guys start out that way.
“She’s struggling, not sure what to do. As she puts effort, I reward that effort. She’s looking to figure out, why did you release the pressure — because she tried. We found her effort.”
In between each of the therapy areas of the arena, Jaycox gives Tippy short breaks.
“What’s most important is that horses, by nature, like to eat the grass, take a few bites and stop. Eat the grass, take a few bites, and stop. Kind of like what we do here, we’re going to eat a few bites and stop. Let her know it’s OK just to be a horse and relaxed. And while we’re there, try to program her to relax.
“Our job . . . is to be the horse’s rock, her steady, someone she can rely and count on, but at the same time help her to relax, to feel good, to feel confident about herself, and every time I touch her, it is to help her become more and more relaxed, so eventually my touch or contact becomes relaxing.
“Every time she’s dropping her head, I quit petting her. So I’ve got continuous contact. When she gives me a sign that she may be relaxing — that’s eyes blinking, licking and chewing, head dropping— I quit . . . and over time, that becomes the state that she stays in, this relaxed state.
“But unfortunately . . . we can do the reverse as well. Horse gets excited, we go, ‘What happened?’ It creates a release of pressure, and we educate the horse to get spooked.”
Longmeadow’s apprenticeship class consists of helping people understand that difference and how they’re responsible for helping the horse stay in a calm, relaxed, quiet place.
“You don’t touch without a purpose,” said Jaycox. “The purpose is to relax the horse, to make them feel better.
“Even a blink of the eye, a twitch of the ear, even the eye and which direction its looking depends on when we might let go of our contact or touch, or how we might make a request or how we might handle her if she spooks.
“Let’s say she alerts to something, she focuses on something very intently, I don’t want to let her focus on that item, because fear is going to grow inside of her. So I want to start moving her feet, and she’s going to concentrate on moving her feet and forget about that scary item.
“But we want to program them to trust because I’m here, it’s not a scary item,” said Jaycox. “Once they learn to trust us, read our energy, it makes them a safer animal to be around.”
That’s what Longmeadow’s apprenticeship program does best, he stressed,
“We give you knowledge and help you apply the knowledge.
“We have horses that lie down, horses that sit, we have a mule that you can ask to lie down while you’re riding him . . . ”
Jaycox said seeing these kind of changes happens in each of the horses at Longmeadow is his greatest joy.
“It’s not a minimal change,” he said. “We’re talking huge, huge personality change, from danger horses to kid horses. ”
Phantom is one of those.
“He was considered downright dangerous when he arrived,” recalled Mullen, noting he was very thin, had a lot of skin infections, parasites and other problems.
He was very difficult for vets to handle, said Mullen. He kicked a couple of vets, used to rear all of the time. But that was then. Today he’s a completely different horse.
“He’s completely benefited from the program,” Mullen remarked. “Now he’s much more relaxed. It’s taken him awhile to come around, but that’s what we’re here for.”
Spring Fling Open House
Longmeadow will hold an open house event Saturday, April 20, to showcase its apprenticeship program and other activities at the ranch.
This Spring Fling will feature riding demonstrations by Longmeadow’s riding instructor. Apprentices also will be giving demonstrations and even some of the ranch’s past adoptees will come home for a visit.
There will be vendors, food and a wagon ride tour of the ranch. The Barn Buddies animals will be out for visitors to interact with, and Missourian columnist and book editor Chris Stuckenschneider will read her children’s book “Twist of Fate.”
Cost will be $5 per person.
Longmeadow also is open to visitors every Friday from noon to 3 p.m. and Saturday from 11 to 3 p.m.
If You Go . . .
From the intersection of Highway 47 and Highway 50 in Union, take Highway 50 West through Union.
Turn left onto Highway UU. Follow until you come to a stop sign. Turn right at the stop sign onto Neier Road.
Go approximately 1.5 miles to Josephs Road (gravel) and turn left.
Stay left at every split in the road until you reach Longmeadow.
There are signs along the way.