Labor of love, legacy of horses
Just off U.S. Highway 26, near the Jefferson-Crook county line, sit several large barns, a couple arenas and lots of horses.
Lauman Training, operated by Kitty Lauman, with the help of her husband and two children, is a labor of love. While it may not be your average 9-to-5, it's what Lauman has wanted to do since she was young.
"My mom used to tell me 'horse training is not a job' and what she meant was it's not a go to work, clock in, get a paycheck that is consistent, or gets insurance," Lauman said. "You know, all the things that as a self-employed horse trainer you don't get."
"I do it because I love it," she said. "Yes, I work my rear end off. I am nonstop and I work from my home, so whether it's a Saturday, whether it's a holiday, people kinda just drop in, call, ask questions, want to come see. So it's definitely harder than a normal job, but I can, within reason, pick my hours. I can do the things I love. We can go up camping and take all my trainers, so I go camping on a paid vacation because I have all these horses to take up there and enjoy," she said, adding that she loves the part of her job where she gets to work with kids, as well.
"Definitely, you don't do it because you are going to get rich; you do it because of the love you have for it," Lauman said. "There are days that it gets hard, but at the end of the day, there are people sitting in a room that never get to see the sunshine, but I get to live in it."
Lauman's operation encompasses many different aspects of working with a horse. She does everything from training, using pieces of what she learned from her grandfather, John Sharp, growing up, to riding lessons through the Crook County Parks and Recreation District, to mounted shooting. She is also a 4-H leader and oversees a program in which she teaches kids to break wild foals over time and train them.
"I'm a horse trainer and student instructor. I do lessons, and I do clinics. The claim to fame was my granddad developed a bamboo pole technique of gentling wild horses and so I continue with that," she said.
"My passion is I love horses and I love teaching people about horses. I think there are so many people out there trying to rip people off with horses or, you know, want to get rich off of it. Unfortunately, I knew that long ago I would never get rich off of it."
Communication is key
Right now, Lauman said they have about 40 to 50 horses on the property, including those that are there for training and others being boarded there.
One horse Lauman is currently working with was brought to the ranch because he started bucking. "He is getting better, but we have done a bunch of what you could call physical therapy," she said.
A problem like that is not good, but in order to fix it, she tries to figure out what the horse is trying to communicate.
"A lot of it is finding out the cause. Just like a person, if they are real moody or different things, there is usually an imbalance," she said. "Horses can't talk. They can't say 'gee I hurt.' They buck, they kick, they pin their ears. It's up to us to realize that's what they're trying to say."
"So when a horse is bucking, the first thing I think is, OK, they have got to be hurting,'" she said.
Much of the work Lauman does while training involves communication from her to the animal.
"One of our fun things that we play with is just getting them to do something you ask," she said, as she prompted one of the horses to step both of her front legs onto a pedestal box near the arena. It took a few minutes and multiple tries before she finally coaxed the horse to do what she was asking.
Lauman explained that the horse had done that before, but not for quite a while and never with a saddle on, so if felt strange to her to try it that way. As Lauman worked with the horse, she would gently get after her when she would try to step back from the box, but Lauman would reward her heavily when she finally completed the task.
Lauman said all she is looking for is that the horse continues to try.
"Really, what is comes down to is you ask her to do something and even if she doesn't understand what you want, that she tries," she said.
Beyond the idea of trying, she said the horse needs to not only acknowlege what she is asking her to do, but have an understanding of the task. "If they understand it, they will never forget it," Lauman said, adding that it is similar to the concept of a child memorizing specific spelling words, but not understanding how they work and not being able to spell. The horse needs to know how to actually spell, so to speak.
Turning back to the horse, Lauman urged the animal off the box, allowing the horse to take her time.
"I don't pull her off, I just ask her to come with me," she said. Lauman wants the horse to be able to find her best way out of a situation and think for herself. That way, if she ever gets herself in a bad situation, the horse will be able to stop and think about the best way to get out of it instead of panicking.
Riding the horse into the arena, Lauman pointed out that she was a bit antsy and mentioned that it probably had something to do with the fact that the horse had been out there just to play the previous day and wanted to do the same today.
But, Lauman said, the way to correct that was to put her to work.
Staying in one small section of the arena, Lauman continuously asked the horse to make turns and respond to her cues. "Instead of getting after her, I'm going to talk her out of it," Lauman said.
Many of the horses Lauman trains are trail horses instead of arena hoses, though she can train both. However, the trainer learned at a young age from her grandfather about training wild horses, and now she continues many of his methods and helps to pass knowledge on to the kids she works with in 4-H and through her wild foal mentoring program.
"My mom had to work and so I spent my time, any time I could, with granddad," Lauman said. "I trained my first horse with grandad's help when I was 9."
John Sharp, Lauman's grandfather, was known for the method he used to gentle wild horses and Lauman is still successful using what he began.
"He would raise about a dozen babies a year," she said. "We played with them in the field, but he never halter broke them until they were weened."
"He used to always say, which still holds true and I still do it, 'When you ween them, they are lost; they don't have a mom,'" she said. "That's the best time to gentle them, because they are looking for a new leader."
The method Sharp developed involves the use of a bamboo pole as an extension of your arm. Normally, despite the fact that most people prefer a round pen, Lauman said, they work in a square pen, and have a pole half the width of the pen.
She said you begin to use the pole like you would your arm to reach out to the foal, and as they get more used to it touching them, you work your way up the pole until you can get close enough to the horse to use your hand. Over time, the method allows the horse to slowly get used to you, whereas if you were to try right off the bat to get that close to the horse, you are close enough it could kick you.
A few years back, Lauman had a conversation with a friend of hers who was trying to find homes for several foals off the Warm Springs Reservation and she had an idea. Lauman told her friend that if she brought her the foals and provided feed for them, she would find kids to teach how to train the young horses, halter break them and ultimately show them.
Now, that first batch of horses is about 2 1/2 years old and is beginning to go under saddle. Lauman said the idea is to put them under saddle for about a month now, and then in the spring, continue to train them that way for fair.
All five of the kids in the first year of the program ended up adopting their horses.
The next year, another batch of foals came off the reservation for the program. However, in the last cycle, Lauman was unable to get reservation horses and they ended up getting a batch of foals from BLM.
When it comes to her love of teaching people about horses, Lauman very much enjoys the time she gets to spend working with kids and really wants to see kids continue working with animals.
She serves as a horse 4-H leader for both Crook and Jefferson county kids.
"Horse 4-H is really dying," Lauman said, mentioning that she really wants to change that. She wants to get kids and families interested again. She does a lot to help keep the program going, leasing several horses to 4-H'ers. Since the two counties have merged programs, she has three Jefferson County kids in her club, along with about 13 members from Crook County.
Lauman said that getting interest in Jefferson County again would be great. When it got down to only a few kids showing at fair, it became hard to justify getting a judge and setting up everything needed to show, so now those kids show in Crook County.
While it's great they still get to continue with what they enjoy and continue to learn through the program, it's hard for other kids to know that horse 4-H is an option in Jefferson County when it's not as visible.
On any given day, Lauman said, from about 3 p.m. until 6 or even 7 p.m. she will have anywhere from two to 12 kids and parents at her place doing different things.
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