SPRUCEGROVEEXAMINER.COM — A local western horse coach with extensive experience in the field, says there is a need for more such qualified coaches in Parkland County.
Ruth Wagner, a Parkland County resident has been working in the Western equine field for 25 years but noted she isn’t seeing any peers with equal time in the activity.
Wagner grew up on a mixed farming operation in Grande Prairie and began riding horses at age four.
“I had to ride to go to school,” she explained. “Horses have been a part of my life all along.”
Ever since she could remember, she wanted to teach others how to ride but back in her younger days, Wagner recalled, a career as a riding coach was not common nor easily attainable.
She moved to Edmonton and taught ballroom dancing for four years but the call of country life soon began tugging at her heartstrings.
It was when she met and married her husband, a cattle farmer from the Keephills area, and she received a horse as a wedding present that the journey to attaining her goal began.
“I always wanted to share everything I knew. That was my way of showing how much joy and satisfaction I got out of the horse and I wanted people to know and to have that too,” Wagner said.
For 10 years, and while raising a family, Wagner researched, studied and learned all she could about horses and western riding.
She then applied for certification and became an Equine Canada Western Horse Coach.
“It turned the world around for me once I became certified.”
Over the years Wagner mostly taught children and never had to advertise staying busy through word-of-mouth referrals.
Because she had a farm and several suitable horses, Wagner taught from her own outdoor riding arena.
“The majority of people don’t have horses. I had lots of lesson horses. A lot of coaches didn’t have horses to supply.”
In the winter when the weather was overly cold, Wagner would haul the horses to nearby indoor arenas and sometimes traveled to clients’ homes to teach.
Seeing a need for a new generation of certified Western coaches, Wagner took a mentor course six years ago.
“I’m only talking from the Western aspect. From the English (riding) end there’s lots of English coaches. In Western riding there’s not enough. Everybody seems to have that old idea that Western riding is easy to do and there’s nothing but just get on the horse and ride. They have to understand there is skill involved and there is etiquette and there is a format.”
To date Wagner has mentored five other coaches in becoming Certified Western coaches but none are from Parkland County.
“There is a need and demand for good local horse coaches. There are probably three or four certified equine Canada coaches in between Onoway and Parkland County. We are all busy, very busy,” she said.
Wagner is busy and life has drastically changed for her since taking over the farm following the death of her husband two years ago.
Throughout the year she averages six lessons a week and the summer months tend to be busier.
She recommends anyone who is determined and committed to seek a career as a horse coach.
“It isn’t easy. You’ve got to be very knowledgeable. It takes time. This is a job I’m talking about. People think it’s just a hobby. No. This is a big commitment and you’ve got to know your stuff.”
According to Wagner, being a horse coach involves a multitude of skill. Besides requiring an understanding of horsemanship, she said a coach must be continuously willing to learn.
“You have to be open-minded and understanding. You need to understand that horse very well and you have to be out there working with them actively.”
She added that being able to connect with people and a sincere interest in connecting them with the horses is important.
“You need to be able to explain things that may be difficult – explain clearly and simply and make them feel that they have gained something from a lesson. To be able to gain insight into people and to understand their emotions and things like that, as a coach you have to have that insight.”
She also said that most horse coaches juggle multiple trades such as Ferrier services and horse massage in order to ride the tide of a fluctuating economy.
Despite the economy, Wagner said the local horse industry seems to be thriving.
“The horse culture is increasing. For the volume of people in Parkland County there are a lot of horses. I’m totally amazed at the amount of arenas that are operating. That has something to say. We have so many arenas that are operating in such a small community and they all seem to be surviving. They’re not going under.”
That may be due in part to the many benefits enjoyed by those who become involved with horses, especially for the younger generation.
“Over the last few years young people have gotten so much into all the digital stuff. The horses are teaching people common sense. You have to think about what you’re doing, just because you get on that thing and you think he’s supposed to do whatever you want without asking him. You have to work together. You have to think it through and have to be able to tell the horse. He’s not a machine. “
She said the horses teach patience and compassion and that horseback riding promotes physical activity.
“You have to be athletic and active. You can’t get on that horse if you don’t stay fit because otherwise you’re going to get hurt. You have to have strength.”
It takes a very patient horse to be a good lesson horse, said Wagner. And you have to have several of different riding levels and a variety of personalities.
“You need ones that are very slow and easy and are confidence builders. They won’t go any faster then you ask. As you get better you need something that’s got a little more get-up-and-go and a little more of a challenge.”
Wagner finds her vocation rewarding and one that services all walks of life.
“You get all kinds of people. You get rich people, poor people, people that don’t know anything and people that know lots.”
In recent years Wagner has seen an increase in adults seeking lessons, including a woman in her 70’s that always had a desire to learn to ride.
For the average person with limited knowledge, Wagner recommends a minimum of two years of weekly lessons to establish basic horsemanship and riding skills. From there, they can choose to move forward and specialize in an area of their choice such as barrel racing, cutting, or reining competitions.
In closing, Wagner said she’d like to continue to pass on her knowledge about horses and Western riding in particular for as long as she is able.
“I find it gives some drive and it gives me a purpose.”
To enquire about riding lessons with Wagner call 780-731-2250 or e-mail [email protected]