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The horse coach

Mon, Jun 12th, 2000
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Monday, June 12, 2000

Ever since Dan Solberg was a small boy he wanted to be a horseman. As a lad he spent time with Clint Peterson, a rural Lanesboro neighbor who was in the horse business.

Recently, Dan stood in the corral at Dap-Oh Quarter Horse Stable just outside of Preston, and recalled something that Clint once told him: "Clint said that if I wanted to be a horseman Id have to get on a lot of horses and some Id have to get back on. He said it was my job to try to learn something from each horse.

Dan Solberg of Dap-Oh Quarter Horse Stabel near Preston, thinks of himself as a horse coach, teaching the fundamentals and the knowledge for rider and animal to become a team. Photo by Mary T. Bell.

At age four Dan got Flash, his first pony, then came Silver, Princess, Misty, Lady and King. At age 14, Dan bought his first registered quarter horse, Skipper Jim for $330. After riding Skipper Jim for two seasons Dan sold him for a profit. It was then that Dan realized he could make money by training horses.

All through Dans high school years, after the farm work was done, there was an endless supply of horses to get ready to show and sell. "I spent all my spare time riding and as I got a little older it was hard to resist the urge to try my skills in rodeo competition," Dan said,

Thats when Dan decided to go to (as he called it) Stupid School. It was a couple years after high school, in 1980 when Dan and his buddy Doug Harrington went to Sankey Rodeo School in Rosehill, Kansas. "Can you imagine," Dan said. "I paid money to learn how to ride an animal whose sole purpose was to get me off his back and had no qualms about stepping on me in the process." Dan knew there was no question if he was going to get hurt, the only question was when. But at the time, his short-term goal was to stay on a bull eight seconds, then get his hand loose and escape alive. "I spent a lot more time coming home sore than rich," Dan confessed.

Dan now credits the time he spent riding bulls, saddle broncs and bareback horses to having helped him in his work with horses. "I learned to keep my focus on the animal and not on what was going on around me. I learned timing, balance and feel," he said. And most importantly, Dan learned his limits. "I had to admit," Dan said, shaking his head, "bull riding was something I was never going to be great at."

For five years, Dan built silos and sold feed during the week and then on the weekends he was a rodeo cowboy. But the rodeo life slowed down when he married Penny Hegg and they bought their first farm. Then in the fall of 1985 Dan went into the welding business with his brother Dennis in Harmony. In 1991 he sold his share of the business to his brother so that he could focus on training and breeding quarter horses and raising foals.

Now Dan is living his dream of being a horseman. When I asked Dan for his definition of a horse person, he thought for awhile, then carefully answered. "Its a person who has the ability to get their horse to do what they want and the horse thinks it was his idea." He gave me a few minutes to try to understand this, then continued. "For example, in working with a horse you have to create a situation where something positive can happen, then you reward the horse when it does happen. Usually the reward is simply the opportunity for it to relax for a little while."

Dans style of horsemanship is a combination of common sense and an understanding of horses. Ask Dan what to do when a horse bites you and he might reply, "Get a bandage and dont let it happen again."

Principles Dan learned from his parents serve as the foundation of his work with horses. "Mutual respect and trust are the cornerstones," Dan said. "To work with horses, you must develop these two things."

Dan looked down at the floor and when his eyes came up he had a big smile on his face. "My parents always drove the speed limit," he paused. "If the sign said 55, thats what they drove, not 56 or 57. It had nothing to do with getting caught. They drove 55 because it was the law."

Dan believes humans set boundaries in order to promote respect and trust. Horses and humans have to understand and obey the rules that define their relationship. "It is up to the human to communicate this with the horse and to always reward the correct response." Dan said. "This non-verbal relationship requires both the horse and the rider to pay attention to one another. Its simple, both have to pay attention to all the cues."

Dan had been to several horse clinics over the years and watched other horse people. "Professional horse people can show and tell you things, but they cant change you," Dan said. "You are the only one that can do that."

Thats when Dan started thinking of himself as a horse coach, like in basketball and football. "Why not a horse coach?" Dan asked. "A coach is someone who provides the fundamentals and the knowledge, then helps fast-forward the learning process. To become a team, both the horse and rider need to have the physical ability, the intelligence to improve and enough humility to be a player," Dan said.

Now Dan coaches both horses and their riders. Last month while I participated in one of Dans Horse Clinics I witnessed each participant receive personal attention and as a result each person improved their relationship with their horse. Each day participants picked one thing they wanted to work on. Dan video-taped each rider and at the end of the day everyone viewed the tapes and made comments and suggestions.

After Bill Meyer from Caledonia saw himself, he was able to see how his posture was affecting his riding. Alice Ernster of Chatfield, gained confidence in working with her 5-year old mustang. Curt Andersen from Spring Valley said, "Theres a big difference between a trainer and a coach. A coach watches you ride and catches things you cant see or feel on your own, and Dan, he has a keen eye."

"Its up to you to decide what type of relationship you want with your horse," Dan said. "Then you have to make a commitment to make it happen." Dan looked me square in the eye and asked, "Do you want a quick fix or a long-term relationship with your horse."

"Im in it for the long haul," I replied quickly, knowing that my horse is not just another thing to own. "Im after a long-term relationship.

Later, I walked with Dan over to the barn to look at a new filly that was only a few hours old. Dan leaned against the stall and smiled. "This is what its all about," he said. "New born colts are just like kids. Theyre a blank slate and we have the power to influence what they become."

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