Reflections on Tommy Turvey
Many people have heard of Tommie Turvey before, usually with the reference of being a trick rider/trainer. There is a tongue twister for you; Tommie Turvey Trick Trainer (say it 4 times fast). Yes, Tommie is a trick rider, but he is so much more than that because in order to be a trick rider or trainer (he is both) you have to be a horseman first. I have been fortunate to have seen him at different events and horse shows and have always thought what he does is incredible. How does he get his horse to focus solely on him in an arena with a crowd numbering in the thousands? A few months back we had the opportunity for him to come to our farm. My mom was adamant that he was coming because it had always been a dream of hers to learn from him. Like many horse show people, I was a bit skeptical about his visit at first. Scheduled to only come for a short visit, I said to my mom, “Mom, he is only going to be here for two days what could he possibly teach us in that short amount of time?” Boy was I naïve in my thinking and completely wrong because Tommie taught me so much. I have to amend this by saying that I think you can learn something from anyone in a matter of moments. I suppose what I meant is that how could he teach us and our horses how to lay down or sit in 2 short days; I thought this would be a much larger process and it is something that takes time to become good at but he put us on the path to being able to accomplish these fun things.
He asked me what we would like to learn and I said I would love to learn how to lay down a horse without throwing or pulling them down. I wanted to learn how to ask the horse to lay down and have them do it willingly and without struggle. For this learning experience, I chose one of my 3-year-old mares. She was such a trooper, so brave and willing as well as being impressively smart. We went through about 5 different steps to determine whether she was ready to lay down or not. Through every step Tommie taught me something about how to do it better. I found it interesting that each of these steps could also be related to other aspects of horse handling. By the end of the second day, my mare was laying down for me easily and agreeably, it was an amazing feeling.
I have worked with other “natural horsemen” and in my opinion; Tommie is the tops, the best of the best! Being so often in the public eye, he has sometimes been criticized by those who do not understand his approach to his work . After observing his methods, I found him to be both professional and considerate of the horses that he worked with. I was able to view Tommie not only with my own horses who I am highly protective of, but also with his own and found him to be fair and protective of any horse he worked with; completely in tune with the horse’s boundaries and abilities. Compared to good parenting, Tommie does set boundaries for his “children” but that is to keep both him and them safe as well as make them feel safe. Don’t we all feel safer when we know what is and is not allowed? When his horses make mistakes or step over their boundaries he gently but firmly makes them go back within the boundaries or simply makes them repeat what he is asking of them; teaching them confidence and respect.
Tommie and his wife Chantal explained to me that the tricks are “fantasies,”. What is real are the steps in asking/teaching the horse to do the tricks, that is where the real training comes in. A good trainer will tell you that until you can easily do step 1 you should not move on, and this is exactly Tommie’s theory. We can relate this to jumping in that you should never overface your horse or even the rider.
A few months back I had a young stallion that needed to be started. While I usually start my own I had just experienced a significant back injury which left me barely able to walk for a month, forcing me to take it easy for awhile. Unfortunately, I was also aware that this accident had left me and my confidence a little shaken. This colt due to start training was phenomenally bred and showed promise of great talent. However, I knew that this colt was going to need someone with more experience and confidence than I had at that point to get him started right. It was a perfect opportunity for both the horse and I to learn more together. This is when I called Tommie and asked for his help. He agreed to take this 3-year-old stallion for a minimum of 3 months and see what he could do with him. He took him home and started with the basics; teaching our colt improved manners and respect following his principles for training a horse. These may be seemingly simple but yet they are so important for success in any ring, particularly the show ring. We often times don’t realize that if we let our horse push us around on the ground or ignore us on the ground they will do the same thing under saddle. We need and want our horses to be agreeable, brave, willing, and respectful when they walk in the ring.
It was not long before our colt was standing on the podium, and sitting on hay bales. If you look at the under lying concept these “tricks” were teaching this horse body control and all about how to move the different parts of his body. Tommie really knew how much he could push him or how much he needed to wait with him before moving onto the next stage. Tommie‘s experience enabled him to identify exactly what this horse needed. Of course, when we received the phone call that Tommie and Chantal both absolutely loved this horse and wished he could keep him as their trick horse we all laughed. That being said, we really couldn’t wait for him to come home to see what he had learned.
It was a very difficult decision to send our colt to Tommie as we have had bad experiences letting our horses go to other trainers in the past. Because of my back, it was one we had to make and it could not have turned out better. Tommie and Chantal took care of him exceptionally well, like he was their own. Thankfully, he returned in just as good of condition as we sent him there; except with more training that made him into a happier horse. They really take the time to learn their horses and understand them; for instance, they realized this horse did not handle pressure very well and needed to be slowly brought along. Some horses can handle difficult or challenging situations beautifully, but this horse was more sensitive and nervous. They never allow emotion or aggression to come into their training even when the horse is being difficult. Instead, they work patiently and firmly to teach the horse what is right and what is wrong.
Tommie is very smart in that he recognizes that while he may be able to train a good horse, that if the horses’ training is not continued and followed it will revert back to bad habits. This is why he had asked me to come down there before our horse was sent back; however, as all riders and trainers can relate to, there is never enough time so they sent him home with the promise they would come up to help me soon. In the meantime I feel like a kid that just got a corvette and doesn’t know how to use all the buttons, I’m itching to learn all of the cues to show off his tricks.
Side Note: Tommie recently came up to our farm to work with me and our horses and he again reinforced my beliefs that he is one of the best horseman I have been able to work with. There are no shortcuts and he is always willing to teach. While he may not be an Olympic Rider, I fully believe that he will be very helpful in my education as I have a barn full of stallions, and that he will help me in my quest to produce an Olympic Horse.