“Safety First”… Frank’s Philosophy
Frank Bell’s horse training philosophy is refreshingly unique in that it encompasses a much bigger picture of the horse than most trainers bring to their first meeting. In this day and age of hurrying, seeking immediate gratification, and take, take, take, he has chosen to do nothing but give to his horses—until they are ready to give back to him—willingly, happily, and eagerly.
Bell has made it his personal mission to seek out the most difficult, bothered, and even dangerous horses to work with. Without using force or other common strong-arm tactics, Bell develops a foundation of trust upon which all further development must be built. He transforms the horse’s distrust into trust and the horse’s problems into accomplishments. Soon the horse is giving to Bell exactly what is wanted, and doing so out of a willingness to please. The word “love” would not be inappropriate here.
When making initial contact with a horse, Bell puts the highest importance on making a lasting, unforgettable first impression. Just as with people, that first impression is extremely important with horses. With gentle but studied moves, Bell explores the animal using his remarkable search touching. Soon the horse is caught up in the enjoyment of the experience. The tension vanishes and the bonding begins. Through touch, Bell communicates trust and love, and every moment is spent reinforcing these feelings between horse and trainer. Soon the horse is effusively displaying affection for the human carnivore—the predator—and eons of evolutionary conditioning are being unraveled through caresses and strokes. Once this communion is established, horses will do amazing things for Bell. Horses—wild only minutes before—will permit him to move them in strange ways, move noisy objects over, under, and around them, and even ride them.
The focus of Bell’s training is on the development of a “safe” relationship with the horse. All of the training one puts into a horse is layered on top of the horse’s instinctive nature, which is to explode into flight whenever the biological alarm system activates. Proper training lowers the activation level of the horse’s instinctual behaviors. When a horse is properly trained, the incidence of dangerous instinctive behavior is negligible. A sudden surprise to the horse might prompt a reaction, but it will be moderate and very short-term. The horse and rider share a level of trust that carries them through a plethora of challenging situations. “When the trust is properly developed, the horse can tolerate almost anything. And the horse would do almost anything before it would endanger the rider,” Bell says.
Only when a bond of trust has been established does Bell begin asking anything of the horse. He begins by asking simple responses from the horse, and when the horse delivers, it is rewarded with “the release and lavish praise.” In minutes, he will have previously unmanageable horses performing perfectly, and doing so willingly and with enthusiasm. That the horses enjoy their education is evidenced by their reluctance to quit when the sessions are over.
Each horse has unique problems and phobias. Bell is keenly observant as to where the horse is bothered and addresses that specific issue. Once the problem is addressed, the horse can blossom. Conventional thinking avoids problem areas with somewhat of a “work around” approach. We have all heard, “You can’t do that with my horse. My horse doesn’t like that.” These are red flags to Bell. “Find the problem and fix it. Only then can the horse develop to its potential,” Bell says. Frank Bell’s 7-Step Safety System takes most of the risk out of riding. He confronts the problems on the ground before riding the horse. It’s quite similar to a pilot checking his plane before takeoff. Most importantly, you have reduced risk and have the highest probability for a successful ride. In the event of a surprise, the horse and rider have a definitive place to retreat and regroup.
When this solid foundation is firmly under the horse and rider, the entire world unfolds as confidence begets confidence. Every riding discipline and interest is suddenly accessible as the union truly becomes a partnership.