Volunteer/staff expectations and Horse training / handling challenges

Every year we start the season with new Volunteers and Staff at Campbell Hills Guest Ranch.

When we first opened the ranch and started the volunteers and staff program, we did not foresee the impact of ever changing handlers in regards to the consequences for our herd of horses. All our volunteers and staff come from different backgrounds, have different expectations and levels of horse knowledge and/or lack of the philosophy of Natural Horsemanship. The daily handling of new volunteers/staff can easily create undesirable habits in horses and create an unsafe environment for both human and horse.

Volunteers and Staff Program

Safety, Feel, Timing, Consistency and Reason are the pillars in our Volunteer and Staff program. It is our responsibility to preserve the daily routines and safety in our herd and at the same time, allow the volunteers to be safe and immerse in Natural Horsemanship.

Volunteer and staff program

Ranch Internship Program

Billy was born at the ranch

Every foal that was born started as a perfect horse

So called ‘problem’ horses only exist in the Human world!

Horses are social herd animals, evolved for social interaction and the ability to escape predators. The horse has a highly developed communication system practiced primarily through body language. It is possible for humans to learn to use body language to communicate with the horse.

Horses use ear position, head position, speed of movement, threatening gestures, showing of teeth and swinging of hips, and many other gestures to communicate. They are quick to escalate a behaviour if early warnings are not heeded.

happy sleepy herd of horses

Learning better Horsemanship at a Guest Ranch

The domesticated horse lives in our world, which exposes him to many obstacles, thresholds etc. so it is our responsibility to keep the horse safe and see our world through their eyes! The first way is to become a student of the horse; when in Horse Ville you have to act like a horse (observe, remember and compare, wise words from Tom Dorrance).

We must understand their thought process, comprehend their social structure in nature and learn what language they use.

Insights in Human behaviour

When you start learning a non-predatory way of handling horses, you will have to develop the mental self-control that enables you to control a horse and get your message to the feet. Always listen to the horse – We don’t seek awards/levels at the horse’s expense – Always keep the dignity of the Horse intact! “horses are so intuitive they can read your intentions”  Awareness of body language and ourselves will help the horse to understand us, and feel good being in our company.

While learning to connect with a horse, who is a purely intuitive being, we will use not only soft eyes versus hard eyes (bracing or non-bracing), rhythm and relaxation in the present moment, but we will have to be authentic in our communication at the same time! Luckily for us, horses are extremely tolerant of our human clumsiness, which allows us to learn from them along the way if we pay attention to the feedback. The horse has no hidden agenda so it is back to us to take total responsibility.

The language we use is based on Rhythm and Relaxation, whereas the training is based on Pressure and Release=Reward. “It is who we are in life that has a direct impact on how we are with horses”

Herd taking care of the mini donkeys

The horses and happy riders under a perfect sky

ranchurlaub kanada

Life Enrichment

This Human & Horsemanship journey spent at our ranch is part of a unique experiential learning experience.

By altering your perspective and expectations, “looking at things in a different light”

Natural Horsemanship gives anyone a greater understanding of himself or herself.

Volunteer & Staff Challenge

Ultimately the personal challenges for the volunteers and staff will be, which choices they will make so they can work and learn towards their own expectations in the end.

We love to follow the progress some of the volunteers and staff made and the career paths with horses, they chose! For example, Franzi Schmidbauer who stayed at our Ranch for two seasons, initially applied for nursing school, then followed her heart and is now a self employed Holistic Horse Therapist.

Our program has shown us to be on the right track and will allow for discovering our volunteers & staff  ‘who you are and what you want to achieve in your own life’.

Franzi Schmidbauer at Equinus Sanitas

Holistic Horse Thearpist Franzi

4 replies
  1. Lara Akkermans - Wagland
    Lara Akkermans - Wagland says:

    I don’t even know where to start… My 2 seasons at the ranch with Bernie and the herd has changed my life with horses for good. Never Ever did I expect to leave with so much more knowledge and insight into the horse world and the philosophy around it.
    Before I came to the ranch in summer 2014 I had no experience whatsoever with Natural Horsemanship. I had been around horses all my life but was “schooled” the English way. Bernie knew this and was happy to teach me the NHS ways. Sooooo much love, patience, time, care and energy she put into teaching me – and the other volunteers. It opened up a whole new world; it made me realize I had been blind for so many things that the horses in my life had always wanted to tell/show me. Because of Bernie I have now developed a way to communicate WITH the horse and understand why he or she is acting in a certain way. I realized it is not about me. And what I want from a horse. It’s about creating that relationship to develop a connection in which you can be partners with your horse and do things together. That journey is sooo much more fun! And rewarding.
    And the journey never ends…. like Bernie has always told me; the learning is never over. Each and every day and each and every situation is different, so there’s always more to learn with the horses.
    So when I had to leave the ranch after two seasons I needed to continue this journey.
    My husband (I met him at the ranch! haha it was meant to be) and I now live in Australia and together with our friend Sarah (yes, also another volunteer from the ranch – every thing was life changing that year) we decided to rescue 3 ex-race horses that were supposed to be put down.
    The horses live with us now and will stay with us forever, giving them the best life they can have and deserve.
    Everything we do is Natural Horsemanship based and in the best interest for the horses. All 3 of them have had traumatic life experiences and working with them – on the ground and in the saddle – can be challenging sometimes. But we won’t give up on them and in the last 2,5 years they’ve been with us we have been able to make so much improvements. .
    Our horses are barefoot and we do most of the trimming ourselves now. When I’m unsure or just need some advice I can still always call or message Bernie with photos and questions and she ALWAYS helps – even from such a distance.
    We ride bitless and most of the time bareback. When we go on longer rides we use our barefoot and treeless western saddle.
    When it comes to feeding we also still take advise from Bernie – to make sure our horses are in the best shape possible.
    Not a day goes by that I don’t think of the ranch, Bernie and the herd.
    I feel very blessed that I was able to be part of their life because now they’ll always be a part of my life.
    For now I just enjoy the journey with our 3 horses and keep learning every day.
    My ultimate dream would be to rescue more horses and create a Therapeutic Horse Farm for peoples from all walks of life that would benefit from being around horses. I am a care worker for peoples with a brain injury and it is just heartwarming to see how my clients light up when they are interacting with horses. So hopefully one day I will be able to combine the two; Help horses to have a better life so they can help peoples to have a better life 🙂

  2. Rose
    Rose says:

    Thanks for this informative text. My readings on natural horsemanship made me realize how little practice I’ve had at acting like a horse around horses. As someone who agrees with the belief that “all horses are born perfect” — or at least, with all it takes to become a balanced member of the herd who feels safe & knows where it stands — I think NH is the most ethical and rewarding way of life we can offer to a horse with whom we share our land. As a soon-to-become volunteer, I can’t wait to test myself out in the new, challenging environment that your ranch will be!

    See you soon!

  3. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    This is so well written!
    I’m so greatful for the two seasons I worked here. If you open your self up for learning and new ways of thinking you will get so much back for it!! It was not always easy especially in the beginning but slowly on I felt more confident (with natural horsemanship) and I was able to read horses better, that created a safer place for me, the guests and for the horses.
    Not only did I learn a lot about natural horsemanship I also developed my personal skills.
    Back home I noticed how much I have changed especially around horses. I’ll try to look at everything from a horses perspective , try to listen to what they want to tell me and I constantly ask myself the question “why”, why are you doing something? When you’re going to work at this place be prepared for this question;)
    But I also noticed changes in my daily life, at my work or with friends or things I would never do before I came here.
    This place can change your life in a positive way!

  4. Franzi Schmidbauer
    Franzi Schmidbauer says:

    My time working at Campbell Hills was through and through very special. I had close to no experience with horses or working the ranch lifestyle, so Bernie, Martin and all the volunteers took their time and patience to teach and guide me. There were fun times, adventures, animal sightings, challenges and peaceful times. So the whole package with many moments that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. After all the trail rides, cleaning horse boots, cleaning dirty horses, looking for horses that were nowhere to be found and chats with lovely guests and volunteers I can remember so many details, I can still see it like it was yesterday. It brought us close together and with most volunteers I am still in touch, we have a special connection after spending so many days so close together.

    The horses shared their wisdom with us, each and every one in their own way and they all have a special place in my heart. Not only did they do an incredible job on the trails with the guests (and us) but the connection in between was so magical.

    All in all it was a brilliant experience that I wouldn´t trade for a thing!
    Thank you for everyone I got to meet through Campbell Hills!


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