Post Show season

Now that many show riders have wrapped up their show season it might be a good time to reflect upon our time in the show ring. Do you feel that you progressed during the season, meaning did your performances improve as the year went on? How did your horse handle the shows? Did you and your horse enjoy it and have fun? Are you going to set some goals to improve and continue on next year? How do you improve?

I would recommend compiling the judge’s comments and pick the top three that showed up the most on your cards. These might be a good set of priorities to work on. I would also make a list of three minor things to work on as a way to break it up for you and your horse, especially if you are seeing real progress in the top three. Usually, a second or third set of eyes will help you make these corrections part of your skill set. This may involve spending a couple of training and riding sessions with a trainer or clinician you know and trust. Schedule up a few hours with them, then practice and ask for their opinion when you are either stuck or feel that you have it down pat. It will cost you a few dollars and some time, but it will be money and time well spent and you will more than likely learn something new about your riding or your horse and that is always valuable.

If the judge is in your hometown and you have the option of getting with them (or any dressage judge) for feedback, this would also be an excellent option. If your horse had some anxiety being at a show in a new place, go practice where you show.

While I encourage riders to continually assess their horsemanship, set goals and work on things, don’t wear it out. Now is the time to do something a bit different to give your horse and yourself a mental break. Go for a trail ride, offer to help the neighbor move their cows or go participate in a poker ride. Anything you can do to break the monotony of working in and on the show ring will go a long ways to ensuring a good work ethic and enjoyment of the task you ask of your horse. You could also take this time to work on other issues not necessarily related to the show ring, but you didn’t have time to deal with during the show season. Maybe your horse balks a bit when you ask him to enter the trailer, or he gets uncomfortable when you work on his right side. Work on plugging the holes and filling the gaps of your relationship with your horse. The only limit is your imagination. It is those little things that can help you get a change clear through.

Polish up what you do well in order to keep it good, but train the hardest to your weakness.

Thanks for reading.

Tom Kelner


Horseback Archery Competition

After a lot of preparation and hard work on everyone’s part, we had our last horseback archery event of the season this past week. Hosted by Steve and Janie Vogt at their beautiful ranch in Hamilton, Montana, it was a success for all. While we didn’t have our full complement of Torzs members from Canada, those that were able to make it had a wonderful and successful time. A Torzs is a Hungarian term for tribe or group. We all belong to Borsos Torzs which is centered in Mt. Currie, British Columbia. Robert Borsos is our Torzsfo or chieftan.

This focus of the weekend was completion of several exams for some of our members. In the Kassai school, there are a series of exams that are required for competitors to pass in order to compete in Kassai sanctioned events. They include archery shooting form, a basic dressage type of test ridden bareback, some speed shooting and then putting it all together for the horseback archers exam. These exams are intended to ensure the highest standards for our members and it is no small thing to be considered a Kassai trained horseback archer. As our ranks of qualified horseback archers swell, look for more competitions at our Southern Command center (The Vogt Ranch) in Hamilton, Montana.

One other thing I would like to remind you about is our upcoming Western Dressage clinic coming up on the 13th-14th of September at the Dunrovin Guest Ranch in Lolo, Montana. This will be the last clinic in our Dressage series for this year. I hope you all can make it.

Thanks for reading

Tom Kelner

Photo by J Lynn Burdette Photography

Photo by J Lynn Burdette Photography

Zoltan and Boti Photo by J Lynn Burdette Photography

Zoltan and Boti
Photo by J Lynn Burdette Photography

Sheila Mealey Photo by J Lynn Burdette Photography

Sheila Mealey
Photo by J Lynn Burdette Photography

Robert Borsos, Torzsfo Photo by J Lynn Burdette Photography

Robert Borsos, Torzsfo
Photo by J Lynn Burdette Photography

Western Dressage Clinic, part 2

The Dunrovin ranch in Lolo, Montana will again be hosting the second clinic of our Western Dressage clinics this summer. Western Dressage is the latest discipline recognized by the USEF and is defined as using classical dressage concepts and principles to train and develop the western rider and horse.

Dressage training, with its focus on relaxation, rhythm, balance, connection, suppleness and finally collection, is an excellent avenue for riders to improve communication and develop a more symbiotic relationship with their horses. No matter what you do with your horse, from working with cows to riding the trails, Western Dressage training will improve performance!

I will be teaching private sessions on Saturday, July 26th and then teaching two small group sessions morning and afternoon on Sunday, July 27th.

For more info or to sign up contact: Sheila Mealey at 406-210-4307 or

Thanks for reading

Tom Kelner

Horseback Archery




One of my favorite things to do with my horse is the little known sport of horseback archery. Let me introduce you to one of the most thrilling activities on horseback.

Horseback archery has its origins in antiquity, dating back to the time before ancient Greece. The Greek writer Herodotus has given us numerous descriptions of an Asian tribe of horseback archers known as the Scythians; these Scythians are thought to be the inspiration behind the mythical character Centaur. Out of the steppes of Asia came subsequent invasions of the Parthians, Sarmatians, Huns, Magyars, Avars and perhaps the most terrible, the Mongols. Their primary weapon was the composite horn bow which they used with great efficiency from the back of their galloping steppe ponies.

The modern sport of horseback archery was partially developed and promoted by Hungarian Lajos Kassai. Kassai is credited with creating the Hungarian style of this sport. The Turks, Japanese and Koreans all have their own versions as well. In the Kassai Hungarian style (of which I am a member and practitioner) the competitions consist of a series of 9 gallops along a 99 meter track while shooting arrows at a target that is half way down the track and 9 meters from the track. This stationary target actually spins with the rider to present the target face the entire run. These runs are timed, the participant must enter the track at a gallop, never breaking gait and has 20 seconds to get to the other end of the course. Any time left over is added to the score assuming at least one scoring arrow has hit the target. Arrows are held in the bow hand and there is no limit to how many shots can be taken, the only limit is skill level.

When I first started this sport ten years ago I was looking for something new and interesting to do with my horses. I had done clinics, lots of trail riding, penning and whatever else I could find. None of it really appealed to me or captured my imagination. Horseback archery changed all of that. It is much more difficult to do than one might imagine, at least to do it well. With my slightly type A personality, I wanted to make sure that I could do it well. That is when a lot of things changed for me, my horses and our relationship.

Pick up a canter…start your horse down the track…nock an arrow on your bowstring…feel the rhythm of your horse…focus on the target…time the draw of the bow and release the arrow at the height of the stride when all four feet of your horse are in the air…then reload and do it again. Needless to say there are a lot of things going on in one run down the track. Generally one starts on the ground, learning the proper archery form (which is quite different from modern hunting archery) and then progress to the horse. Kassai has developed a wonderful series of exams that encourage mastery of the shooting form on the ground, riding ability, and then combining them.

I came to this sport with a good deal of horse experience, but I had much more to learn. I threw myself whole hog into learning the ground shooting and also into improving my horsemanship and my riding skill. I even renewed my study and practice of Dressage. The practice of horseback archery forged a new level of trust between me and my horses. I also learned to pay much greater attention to what my horse was feeling/thinking and with much more than my eyes since they were usually focused on a target, not the back of his ears. The subtlety of these wonderful creatures expanded my perception and awareness of their thinking but it continually shows me that I have so much more to learn.

I spent more and more time working with my horses and this had a spillover effect. Not only did my horseback archery skill improve, but my overall horsemanship and riding continue to improve. The relationship with my horses has improved as well. I am not sure where the journey is leading, but the trip has been enlightening so far.



Thanks for reading

Tom Kelner



Hit the trails

It is hard to believe that it has been a month since the Western Dressage clinic at the Dunrovin ranch in Lolo, Montana. It has been a busy month which is why my new posts have been put on the back burner. Our clinic went well and I am anxious to hear from those participants who also participated in the Western Dressage show in early May. The clinic was a wonderful success and I am very much looking forward to the next Dressage clinic in late July.

There is a ‘Horsemanship for the trails’ clinic scheduled for June 29th at Dunrovin. The focus of this clinic will be horsemanship principles applied to trail riding, obstacles and staying safe while on the trail with our horses. I will have a variety of obstacles to test horsemanship and communication skills with horse and rider in a safe and fun environment.

Now that our riding season is in full swing, I hope that you are enjoying time with your horse.

Thanks for reading

Tom Kelner

Getting the most out of a clinic

As we are approaching our favorite time of year, riding season, I thought I would share with you some of my observations on horse clinics. I have had the fortunate opportunity to experience some of the best horseman and horsewomen teach in a clinic setting. I have watched clinics, ridden in clinics, sponsored clinics and taught clinics, so I have multiple perspectives to draw upon.

Most clinics can run anywhere from a single day to multiple days and the formats can vary as well. Generally they can include group sessions and/or individual sessions or some combination of both. One isn’t any better than another, they are just different. The differences allow you to learn things in a little different light; you may find one style suits your learning style better than others. If you focus on the positives you can learn something from most clinics. If auditing, bring a notepad to take notes as most clinicians will not let you video and some may not let you take pictures.

An overwhelming majority of clinic instructors that I have watched are very knowledgeable and have a genuine passion for what they teach. They generally relay a lot of information in a short period of time and it generally tends to overload people, especially if it is your first clinic. You might want to audit (just watch) a clinic before you ride in one to learn more about the clinician and his/her teaching style. Whether sitting on your horse or in a lawn chair on the side of the arena, you will do a fair bit of watching other riders work with their horses. The benefit of being on your horse is that you get to try what you just saw immediately with feedback from the clinician. That always helps me cement an idea or newly learned skill.

Which horse to bring? You may have multiple issues in different horses but I would encourage a careful assessment to try and bring the horse that is going to allow you the opportunity to get the most out of the clinic. Fit the horse to the setting; don’t bring an un-started colt to an advanced horsemanship clinic. If you are bringing a problem horse, let the clinician or sponsor know in advance, make sure you can get the horse to the clinic with a minimum of difficulty. Is it going to take you three hours to get them into the trailer the morning of the clinic? How does your horse behave in the company of other horses? Can you be safe? You will be in proximity of numerous horses of various temperaments so pay attention to your surroundings. Is there a mare in heat? Is somebody riding a stallion? If your horse is a kicker make sure and put a red ribbon in the tail, stallions should have a yellow ribbon placed in their tails. You are responsible for the safety of you and your horse, it is very important to be aware of your situation and surroundings.

What are your goals? Most clinicians are going to ask you what you want to accomplish during the clinic. A good clinician will tailor instruction to help you meet those goals. Give it some thought prior to the morning of the clinic to avoid the ‘deer in the headlights’ look during the initial discussion in front of the crowd. If you are like me, you want to get the most out of these clinics so a little mental preparation will go a long way. Keep in mind that you will have the opportunity to learn a great deal from watching others work with their horses so I would encourage you to pay attention to the other participant’s sessions with the clinician. Don’t just take your turn and disappear when you are done with yours. If you need a break, be respectful of others and quietly excuse yourself.

Bring the tack that you always use when working with your horse. This is not the time to try out the new saddle or new bit. If you have questions on saddle fit, this is something you can ask the clinician about. You should also wear comfortable clothing. If you and your horse are both comfortable, learning can be optimized.

Some clinicians will also offer the opportunity to re-cap the day and discuss at the end of the session or day, or both. Take the time to participate in these discussions, learn from watching others and ask questions. Don’t be too hard on yourself, you are there to learn and if you struggle with something keep asking for clarification. Don’t assume that everyone else understands it, more than likely they are struggling with it as well. Be prepared for the clinician to point out areas of opportunity for you to work on, you may be aware of these, or it might be a blind spot for you. Every horseman or horsewoman has areas to improve upon, this is why we go to these events, to learn.

The benefits of gathering at horse clinics are numerous; I have met a lot of wonderful people and made many lifelong friends. Most of all you should enjoy yourself, cherish the time spent with your horse, we don’t get enough of that.

Thanks for reading

Tom Kelner



Greetings to all, thank you for logging on and reading my blog. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to a member of my herd, his name is Brego. Brego is an eight year old gelding that I have owned since he was a weanling. He came to me from a dear friend in Billings, Montana, Howard Zankner who used to be a Morgan breeder (as was I).

I had purchased a black mare, gelding duo from some local people here in the Flathead Valley who described them as a brother-sister pair of Spanish Barbs about 16-18 years of age. I was more interested in the gelding for my father-in-law to ride but they weren’t really willing to split the pair up, so I made them an offer they could refuse…..only they didn’t. It turns out that the mare made an excellent trail horse for my wife. ‘Kit’ as we called her was a very gentle soul and gaited to boot. This mare also proved to be an excellent herd manager; she gave the most subtle corrections to other horses and they gave her the utmost respect. After a couple of years Kit seemed to be slowing down and not feeling well so we had the vet check her out, x-ray the feet and do some blood work. His report came back that she was actually in excellent condition for her age which he placed at about 29-30 years. I know I should have had a pre-purchase exam and this wouldn’t have been such a surprise.

Howard and his wife Jean stopped by for a visit a few months later and while I was showing Howard this mare and how she moved, Jean grabbed the reins from me, mounted up and cantered away. I thought Howard was going to faint as Jean had not been on a horse in 15 years. I knew right then what I had to do. I told Howard to go home and get his trailer because I was giving this mare to his wife. They were both retired and I knew that they wouldn’t be putting any hard rides on her. Well, this is where the story gets better. Howard was still breeding a few Morgan mares and later that fall he purchased a yearling Lippitt Morgan stallion which he promptly turned out with his entire herd. In spite of my admonitions about the risk of such an arrangement, Howard would not be deterred. The following spring he had foals dropping, including one out of the 30 year old mare.

This little dark colt hit the ground and promptly unfolded and started running, picking up speed with each lap. He proved to be such a rambunctious colt that Howard had him gelded quite early. Howard returned the favor and told me to come get this colt as he had limited space and still had mares and fillies. I named him Brego. I started ground work right away, saddled him at two but didn’t climb on until three. He proved to be a slow maturing colt physically and mentally so I did not do much more with him until five and really haven’t ridden him extensively until he was seven. Some horses benefit from this patient approach.

I never did get any papers on Kit or her supposed brother (we called him Roman) and we have determined that Roman was probably a son to Kit, not a brother. I used Roman quite a bit and trained him for horseback archery. He now lives in Hamilton, MT with my good friends Steve and Janie Vogt where he still loves to gallop down the archery track. Both of these horses exhibit a great deal of Spanish characteristics from their movement to their conformation. Brego looks a great deal like his brother, his movement is a bit different but there is no denying the relation. I am also noticing a lot of very similar behavior/personality traits. I enjoyed working and am so impressed with Roman that I have been unwilling to part with Brego. He has been a challenging horse to deal with at times, but he is a very athletic mover with movement that you wouldn’t expect from a 15 hand horse.

This year our focus is to prepare him for some Hunter/Jumper time with my wife. I will also be using him for some Western Dressage clinics that I am doing and there is always Horseback Archery. We currently have him at a local indoor arena where the work has begun, stay tuned for updates.

Thanks for reading.

Tom Kelner

The case for Dressage

Getting a supple bend


Many, many years ago when I first watched a Dressage competition I can remember thinking ‘wow that is impressive….if you are into that sort of riding’. My initial thoughts were that Dressage was not for me, I didn’t see the value in it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. For starters, I was beginning to see and feel holes in my riding and in my horses. I knew something was missing and I had a sneaking hunch it had something to do with training. I attacked it from two directions; without even knowing it. First, I started taking Classical Dressage lessons; second, I signed up for a horsemanship clinic.

The Classical Dressage lessons taught me that even though I rode a western saddle, good riding is good riding. It transcends tack. I learned the techniques of basic Dressage such as getting a proper bend; stretching a horse’s top line, turn on the fore and hind and much more. In learning these I had to develop proper leg, hand, body and seat positions. Besides the Dressage techniques I also learned the philosophy and application of these concepts. Such as how my balance impacts the way my horse moves, the importance of developing an independent seat, leg and hands. I learned that gravity is truly the only thing that keeps me on my horse; I just have to keep him between me and the ground to avoid a catastrophic dismount……

The first Horsemanship clinic that I attended was taught by clinician Harry Whitney. From Harry I learned Dressage ‘from the horse’s point of view’, which is his slogan by the way. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was working on the solution from both parts of the equation, riding and training. Over the years I have attended many follow-up clinics with Harry and others from which I learned the ground work mechanics of Dressage. I learned that Dressage not only works a horse’s body, it works his mind. I also learned a great deal more about the anatomy of the horse which helped me better understand the postures that I was asking from my horse.

Putting this knowledge together and applying it proved rewarding, challenging and not always successful. It was a process of trial and error; with the error all on my part. This process continues to this day and I have incorporated these Dressage principles into my routine. Every time I work with my horses, I prepare them with bending, reaching down, turn on the haunches, turn on the fore. If I notice stiffness in a particular direction then I might do some additional exercises to help him work it out.

The same exercises that a competition Dressage trainer/rider uses have multiple benefits beyond the show ring. Keeping a horse flexible and supple extends their riding usefulness well into their senior years and becomes more important as they age. I also consider the phrase that ‘a strengthened muscle is a lengthened muscle’. As I work my horses and leg them up, I am working large muscle groups that will always benefit from a stretching routine. A basic warm-up routine also establishes a ‘time to go to work’ attitude in both me and the horse.

Some other practical applications of Dressage principles that have saved me and my horse include riding along in tall grass only to realize we were quickly becoming tangled in downed barb wire. I was able to stop my horse dead in his tracks and extricate him in a slow controlled fashion by turns on the fore and the haunch. Had I tried to dismount, I myself would have been tangled along with the horse. If he panics in that moment we are both in trouble. Another example was when my gelding stepped off the trail on the side of a mountain and we dropped ten feet instantly. I was able to direct his feet and position his body to get us both back up on the trail. There have also been plenty of times when a mountain biker approached us at a high rate of speed on a blind corner without announcing themselves and we had to execute a quick side-pass.

Ever since I implemented Dressage principles into my routine, I have had much more flexible, supple, calm and responsive horses. Whether you look into Classical Dressage or Western Dressage, the focus is the same and equally useful. Dressage is after all, training. This training will be a huge benefit to you, your horse and it has real world applications beyond the show ring. Don’t get me wrong, I think the show ring can be a wonderful thing and a marvelous way to test yourself, but if that is not your thing, you will still benefit from Dressage.

Thanks for reading

Tom Kelner


‘In over your head’ or ‘Your next horse’



Assessing from the ground










Every once in a while I get inquiries from people who are either contemplating a new horse or have just purchased a horse and now have big problems. The ‘In over your head’ part comes when you have pulled the trigger and are the not-so- proud new owner of the finest specimen of horse flesh this side of the Mississippi River. You have taken possession of this magnificent equine only to realize that his mind didn’t come with the purchase. Now what?

Unfortunately there is no magic fix that will remedy that situation. One of my favorite quotes is ‘There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers….’ How I translate that to this situation is that there are very few cases where a horse cannot be helped. It isn’t always easy and often times, requires spending money on a good trainer to help you through the problem. By a good trainer I mean one who will initially get the horse through some of his anxiety issues, then work with you the owner to educate you about how to follow up. This will be a continual process that will require consistency and specificity on the owners part.

There is something that could have been done before it got to this point, when looking for ‘your next horse’. It’s called a pre-purchase exam. I am not referring to a veterinary pre-purchase (I highly recommend that as well). I am talking about having a trainer that you trust to take a look at the horse before you buy. By the way, ask the trainer if they have any financial interest in the horse before hiring them to assess. If you cannot find a trainer that you feel comfortable with, here are some of the things I look for. This is by no means an all inclusive list but might help you see how your prospect behaves. How does he interact with people? Other horses? Does he seem aloof or social? How is he to groom and saddle? How does he respond to being bridled? How does he go through a gate? How is he with things behind him? If you see a frightened, anxious or agitated reaction to any of these I would want to investigate further.

I have a very specific set of groundwork exercises that I run every new horse through before I get on their back, or if I get on their back. This shows me his basic level of training, tractability and safety. There have been horses that I would not get on right then and there. It was fixable in those horses, but I sure wasn’t going to attempt it from the saddle.

So bottom line is that you can either have an equine prospect’s behavior and training level assessed before you buy or you can take a chance….and end up ‘in over your head’.

Thanks for reading

Tom Kelner

Learning from others

Inspiration comes from many different places for me. Anytime I get a chance to watch or read about what other horseman are doing, I take it. If you carefully study the actions of the horse and rider, you can learn a great deal. This applies to watching both professionals and amateurs. At an early point in my life I had a boss tell me “Kelner, you can learn as much from a bad example as you can from a good one”.  I took this to heart and integrated it into everything I did, learning wherever I could. Modeling is the highest form of teaching and if you can look at every observation as a learning opportunity, then you have an unlimited learning potential.

The internet and YouTube has proven to be a wonderful way to practice this concept. Some of my favorites to watch include high level dressage riders, hunters/jumpers, reiners and Garrochistas. The link that I have included in this post is a good example and is of a caballero names Pedro Torres. The video is of him competing in a European event called working equitation. It involves a dressage test, then an obstacle course done at a walk, then the same course done at speed. I like this video because it shows a lot about this man’s relationship with his horse. I find inspiration from this because this rider has taken high level dressage movements and used them get a job done with his horse. I use this video to motivate myself and focus my riding on the basics that are necessary to perform many of these movements.

All of the obstacles that he traverses are examples of things you would encounter while getting a job done with your horse. This style of riding is not your typical Northern European dressage and in fact may be frowned upon by many practitioners of this sport. But this is good riding, no matter how you look at it. He is relaxed and very fluid, moving with his horse not forcing and both horse and rider are very athletic. Mr. Torres has obviously put in a great deal of time, effort and training with this horse. Enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

Tom Kelner