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Photo by Desire Aguirre Photo by Desire Aguirre

Montana cowboy Pat Wyse teaches a local riding clinic

On the first day of the Pat Wyse Riding Clinic, I jumped out of bed, ate a quick breakfast, and went outside to load my horse. The truck, however, refused to start. After waiting for two years to get into the clinic, I wasn’t about to let a little problem like the truck not starting stop me. So I drug my son out of bed to help me jump-start the truck. Halfway to the clinic, the radio shut off. The rest of the way I watched in horror as the voltage gauge on the dash went down, down, down. Just as I pulled into the Norton Ranch, the truck died.

Jim and Carol Norton have graciously hosted the Pat Wyse Clinic for ten years, and their daughter, Annette, re-jumped my truck so I could make way for the other trailers coming to the event. I quickly saddled up my pony and made it to the arena just in time for Pat’s first demo.

Pat Wyse, a tall Montana cowboy with a bright smile and keen sense of humor, has worked with horses for over 40 years and has coached 30,000 students. He conducts community-riding clinics from Montana to Florida, and holds summer seminars at the Horse Wyse Ranch in Montana.

"My goal," Wyse said, "is to teach people how to really train horses."

Wyse grinned, and added, "Horses build character. And I’ve met a lot of characters along the way."

Riders of varying riding abilities, age and gender, trotted around the indoor arena after Pat’s demo. Savannah Pitts, 12, rode Lacey, a white 14-year-old thoroughbred. Savannah said her goal was to become a better barrel racer and win a belt-buckle. Her sister, Sammy, turned 16 during the clinic.

"You have to be a role model, now, Sammy," said Wyse. "Savannah might not listen to what you say, but she’s watching you."

Lenora Norton, 17, and one of the most experienced riders, has ridden in 14 or 15 Pat Wyse Clinics. Her grandmother, Carol Norton, said that Lenora has worked as a ranch hand since she was four.

"I used to tell people," said Carol Norton, "we’re not short on help, we just have short helpers."

Erin Bradetich, 17, said she’s pretty much ridden all her life and that this was her third Pat Wyse clinic. Haley Roberts said she had ridden in one other Pat Wyse clinic, and that her goal was too improve her and her horses riding skills.

Talea Morgan, 31, rode Smarty, a 6-year-old Appaloosa stallion. Last week, Morgan and Smarty participated in a cowboy ranch-trail competition in Lacrosse. Morgan, a professional trainer, plans on using Smarty as a reining horse.

Wyse broke the riders into three groups. He placed me into group one, the beginners. After trotting and cantering our horses, he changed his mind and told me to stay in the arena with group two, the intermediate riders. After not riding all winter, my legs were already tired, so I was happy when he decided to put me back in the beginners’ group.

Suzanne Quevedo rode next to me on Curly, a Western Pleasure Guest Ranch horse. Suzanne said that she lives in Brooklyn, New York, and for the past 6 years has spent her vacation time at the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch. She traveled all the way from New York for the Pat Wyse clinic.

"I’m having a wonderful time at Western Pleasure," Quevedo said. "My goal for the clinic is to ride the canter around the ring without stopping. Pat is a wonderful teacher and I would recommend him to everyone. It must be very gratifying for him to be able to teach people with major stumbling blocks and help push them along so they can get past that."

Western Pleasure had 10 horses in the clinic. Janice and Roley Schoonover and their children, Isaac and Danielle, all incredible riders, train the horses on the ranch. Janice was riding an ex-stallion.

"My specific goal," said Janice Schoonover, "is to get this ex-stallion usable, so he can go out on the trail and be a decent, safe mount. We brought some young horses too, and they’re all coming along nicely."

After a long day in the saddle, I still had my truck to deal with. Jim Norton helped me charge my battery so I could get home safely, and that evening my friend Dale installed a new alternator.

On the second day of the Pat Wyse clinic, I crawled out of bed, ate a quick breakfast, and limped outside to warm up the truck. It started right up, but when I went to load Splash, I had a flat tire. Not wanting to miss out on any of the fun, I used my air compressor to repair the tire, and drove back to the Norton’s ranch. At lunch, the tire still had air, but by the end of the day, it was as flat as I felt. Jim Norton lent me his jack, and I changed the tire so I could get home safely.

On the third day of the clinic, I fell out of bed. It had snowed during the night, so I donned long johns and wool socks. I dragged myself outside after eating a quick breakfast. Splash tried to hide behind some trees, but I coaxed her out with an apple, loaded her, and drove to the Norton’s ranch without any mishap.

Splash, the horse that I had considered selling a couple of years ago because she misbehaved, looked, and acted, like a show pony in the arena. Her natural athletic ability covered for my lack of style and grace. We broke into a posting trot, and jumped into the left lead without missing a beat. We performed drop-to-trot lead changes and rollbacks with power and punch. Best of all, when Pat asked me which lead I was on, I closed my eyes and could feel the beat.

"Left," I shouted.

"That’s correct," Wyse said.

The other riders cheered us on as we finished up with a perfect balanced stop.

Quevedo achieved her goal, and by day three, she had Curly doing drop-to-trot lead changes and rollbacks like a pro. She made it around the arena several times in the correct lead without ever touching the saddle horn.

The sign up sheet for next year’s clinic was already full when I got to it, but I’m first on the waiting list. Next time, weather permitting, I’ll be in better shape, and my goal will be to ride the entire time in group two. And to skip the truck troubles.

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Desire Aguirre Desire Aguirre lives in Sandpoint with her daughter, DaNae, and numerous pets. An LCSC student, she plans on graduating May, 2009, with a bachelors in communication. Her favorite sport is riding her horse, Splash-of-Paint, into the wilderness with Cholo, her son's faithful dog.

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