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PET HAPPENINGS - OCTOBER 2001

“A Horse, A Horse, My Kingdom For A Horse!”
by Carol Nabrotzky Wells

Early last winter, I was invited to go horseback riding. I was excited to go since I hadn’t been on a horse in a long time. During the summers that I was in junior high, I used to go horseback riding almost every weekend. I thought I knew what I was doing. I love horses, and have dreamt about owning one for a long time.

So there I am, paying close attention on how to saddle the horse that I would ride, and I’m a little nervous. We start out on a trail. When we get to the clearing, my horse senses what’s up....that she has the upper hand. She bolts in the exact opposite direction of where we were headed, and I have no control. I’m flailing, flopping around in the saddle, barely keeping my feet in the stirrups. I’ve got a rein in each hand and I’m pulling back on them, my arms way out, up by my ears. I’m yelling “whoa,” but nothing’s happening except that I’m praying I don’t just fall off. Actually, I don’t think I was even in a frame of mind to be praying. My horse finally stopped on the top of a hill, and when my companions had caught up to me, they congratulated me for staying on, and getting the horse to stop. They were being kind. The horse stopped on her own accord, not because I had anything to do with it.

It was an odd experience; kind of like being on a roller coaster ride. As panic stricken as I was, there was also a feeling of exhilaration and sheer joy about moving that fast on the back of an animal. After that little encounter, it was apparent to me how clue-less I was. I decided I needed lessons, and I definitely wanted to lose the fear. But I didn’t want to learn from friends. Friends are well intentioned, but most often they forget to teach you, what for them, has become second nature. Being a rider over 40, I wanted to make sure I’d get someone who could really teach me.

I found an awesome teacher, here in Moab. Her name is Kelsie Backus, of KB Horseman. I remember telling her how little I knew; how I wanted to learn about horses, not just how to ride them. That I had even bought the book “Horses For Dummies,” and could she take me on as a student? Thank God she did. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life.

Part of learning how to ride well, is finding the right teacher. In talking with Kelsie, I found out that her extensive background with horses and her horsemanship is part of what makes her so great.

Kelsie is a “born and raised” Moab gal. Her grandfather was bestowed the Centennial Ranch award and was one of the original ranchers in Moab. Her father farmed most of his father’s land which included the portion where Moab Valley Inn now stands.

Kelsie began riding her grandfather’s pony at four years old, and rode in the rodeo parades. At age ten, she was tired of riding a pony and was ready for a full size horse. Her grandfather had sold all his horses except for two mares which he had bred. One of the offspring, Funny Face was the horse Kelsie rode and used in 4-H. She also took care of her sister’s horse while her sister was away at college. It seemed Kelsie was just one of those girls that was born “horse crazy.” For taking care of her sister’s horse, her sister awarded Kelsie with a horse of her own.

By the age of 18, Kelsie unwittingly began collecting horses. She had always been more interested in caring for them than being on them all the time. Some, she got from people who just wanted her to take them off their hands. Others, she bought cheaply, broke them, and then sold them in hopes of turning a profit. At one point, Kelsie owned eleven horses.

Throughout high school, Kelsie had competed in shows and ridden in the high school rodeo. But it was difficult and challenging with the horses she had when competing against others who owned top quality breeds.

Then, came an opportunity to buy a “cadillac” of horses in terms of conformation and disposition. Kelsie bought a quarter horse by the name of Diamonds. During a horse clinic she attended, Kelsie was offered $3,000 for Diamonds. Unfortunately, Diamonds died abruptly, and an autopsy yielded no clues for his sudden death. Kelsie sold all her horses attempting to regain the capital to replace Diamonds.

For a time, Kelsie and her family lived in Blanding, where she worked at Umetco Minerals. There, she earned money for college and also learned how to weld. This welding know-how later came in handy when she welded her own corrals from pipe to board horses on her Mom and Dad’s property.

Kelsie finally bought a three-year-old palomino that would take her to Rodeo Queen status. To bring in a flag at the rodeo, you have to compete in try-outs and Kelsie never missed bringing in a flag at the rodeo with this horse. His name is Sundown, and he would also become my first riding horse as a student.
Sundown went to college with Kelsie during her sophomore year at Utah State University. Though he stayed in a field while she attended class, Sundown was there throughout her college years and tryouts for Rodeo Queen. In 1993, the first year she showed on Sundown, she won the novice all around division for the open horse show.

Kelsie majored in animal science at Utah State, with a minor in horsemanship. She was head of the animal science club, attended rodeo queen clinics, tutored students and taught classes. She even made a beginner’s riding training video for the college. She had also put together a training manual for Rodeo Queening. Just a few classes away from a degree, and a bit “burned out,” Kelsie decided her major was of the type that is often categorized as a “basket weaving major.” In other words, what does one do with such a degree? And so, she decided to change her major to nursing.

On her own, Kelsie had taken a truck and horse trailer with Sundown to Salina for the Rodeo Queen tryouts. She wanted to go to state, but had already been accepted into the nursing program through the College of Eastern Utah in Price. Because of that, she fully committed herself to the program, and after working a few years as an L.P.N. for Allen Memorial Hospital, she decided to go back to school and graduate from the R.N. program.

But in the back of her mind was always the dream of teaching horseback riding and being around horses.

In 2000, with a full time nursing career, and a family of her own, she and her husband, Brian along with their two little girls, moved to their current home in Spanish Valley. Being supportive of Kelsie’s dream, Brian is probably the backbone of the operation. Brian finally gave Kelsie the Nike challenge...to stop talking about her dream and “just do it.” Lucky for me, she did. KB Horseman’s ad was what I noticed and called on.

I wasn’t on a horse for the first lesson. Kelsie is all about safety. Knowing how to approach a horse, where to stand, where not to stand and why, is part of learning what horses are about. Just learning how to walk with a horse and keeping them out of your space, for safety reasons, helped me gain confidence in riding. With the help of Kelsie’s handouts, I learned the basics of horse anatomy, so that I’d know what she meant if she referred to, among others, the ‘cannon,’ ‘withers,’ or ‘fetlock,’ on a horse.

I remember the first time we used the lunge line. A lunge line is a cotton or nylon rope ranging anywhere from 15 to 30 feet in length. One end attaches to the horse’s halter or bridle. The other end was in Kelsie’s hands. This was awkward for me at first because I had no reins to hold on to, and that was the point. I gained a sense of balance, and a feel for the horse’s movements. She had me close my eyes and stretch out my arms, and little by little, I became less stiff, and less afraid. One of my lessons even included how to anticipate the horse’s gait for stepping over something like a fallen tree trunk.

Kelsie alternated my riding between Sundown and another horse named Rio. She explained that every horse is a little different. Riding different horses keeps you on your toes. When you’re learning to ride and you become familiar with just one horse, there’s the tendency to become complacent.

I don’t pretend to be an expert now, but at least I don’t look at the horse’s neck anymore when I ride, I look straight ahead. I still need to work on my mounting up, but I know how to ask the horse to back up and turn and stop with enough follow through to make it happen.

I don’t have room to recount everything I’ve learned or all the great experiences I’ve had taking these lessons, nor is that my purpose. I would however, highly recommend to anyone thinking about acquiring a horse or even just wanting to lose your fear about riding horses, to educate yourself. Find a good teacher, like Kelsie Backus. It’s worth more than the money you’ll spend.

Do I still want a horse? YES! But I’m considering it more carefully. Right now I’m content to learn about equine health, behavior, and working on getting galloping down, from Kelsie.

Kelsie is a tremendous teacher not only because she has the skill to impart the knowledge she has acquired, but also because she has patience, and instills a sense of confidence and trust.

Kelsie Backus teaches children and adults beginning at four years old on up, and every level from beginning to advanced, as well as rodeo queening. She also boards horses, as well as offering weanling and yearling ground training, plus equine education. If you’re thinking about learning how to ride or even just tuning up your riding ability, you should consider giving her a call at KB Horseman: 259-2558.

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