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home : business : business June 24, 2016

1/28/2014 1:09:00 PM
Local riders get expert instruction in cow work
Clinic participant successfully moving a cow. Cow work improves horse-rider communication. photo by Kathryn Godsiff
+ click to enlarge
Clinic participant successfully moving a cow. Cow work improves horse-rider communication. photo by Kathryn Godsiff

By Kathryn Godsiff

Standing in the afternoon sunshine, the cows loafing at one end of the pen looked up as seven riders walked their horses through the gate. The horses, ears forward, watched as the cattle waved their horns around and shuffled a bit closer to the fence. One rider separated from the group and walked her horse toward the cattle. As they approached, those pricked ears flattened onto his head. He clearly was not looking forward to getting amongst those horns.

Quietly, ears still pinned as the rider focused on the cow she wanted to separate, the horse walked toward the cow's shoulder and the animal moved off. Gently guiding, stopping when the cow stopped, turning quickly to block her if she turned back, the horse and rider gradually got her away and into the next pen. All at a walk.

Welcome to the second day of horseman and clinician Charley Snell's cow-working clinic, held recently at Weston Equine Services, a few miles east of Sisters on Hwy. 126.

Those horse-and-rider pairs hadn't just wandered into the pen and started working the cows. They'd spent the previous day and the morning working on some basic horsemanship exercises, and the horses had been introduced to the cattle. According to Charley, things weren't too calm on that occasion. But the point of the clinic was to raise the horses' and riders' confidence to a level where they could work the cattle with quiet purpose.

By the end of the day on Sunday, it appeared that the goal had been achieved. Not with the finesse that will come to those who are able to practice the lessons, but most of the horses had unpinned their ears and were watching the cattle with interest. And their riders were proceeding with confidence toward whichever cow they wanted to move around.

Charley, in the meantime, was sparing with his words, watching carefully and commenting when necessary. His training philosophy is summed up in a few words: "Your horse and the heart of the matter. Bringing wholeness to both horse and rider."

He seeks to dignify the training experience for both.

"There's something that comes out of a (person) and something that comes out of a horse, and the two connect," he said about his training methods.

Charley and his wife, Barby, recently relocated from Spray, Oregon, to the Weston's property. Charley is Alison Weston's mentor in horse training and has held several horsemanship clinics at the property over the last couple of years.

He is one of the few natural horsemanship clinicians who can lay verifiable claim to having worked closely with the late, great Ray Hunt. In the late '70s their paths crossed and Charley spent several years working with him. Hunt sent him to California in the early '80s to start 35 young racehorses, using the natural horsemanship methods that were just coming to public perception.

"It completely changed things for when those horses come off the track," he said.

He also worked with some severely "behavior-challenged" horses someone had imported from Europe. Once those horses and their owner were straightened out Charley took a break from training for others for several years. He met, then married, Barby, combined their families, and focused on raising their children and working on ranches.

Gradually, because he felt sorry for horses with owners who lacked any horsemanship skills, he began to take in other people's horses and work with them and their owners. One of those owners insisted that he share his formidable skillset with others and sponsored a small clinic.

A few months after that, a chance encounter via a horse trailer that Alison Weston had for sale led to her invitation to run clinics at the Sisters property.

Now that Charley's there full-time, local clients are happily lining up to participate in the clinics, group and private lessons he offers. And while most of the participants in that cow-working clinic aren't going to see cattle in their everyday riding lives, the experience is one of the building blocks Charley seeks to establish for his clients; building blocks that eventually establish a solid and safe foundation for all.

For more information on Charley's clinics, visit or call Alison Weston at 541-728-7004.

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