Bridging the divide: Ellsworth delves into human-horse relationships
Gillette – When a friend and fellow rancher approached Chris Ellsworth to help out with trail rides on a guest ranch’s mountain permit, Ellsworth knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“I was a ranch hand, and my friend asked if I would help take guests up on a trail ride,” Ellsworth says. “He asked if I would talk about horses and horsemanship before we took off.”
He continues, “I had always been shy, but I found out that I loved talking about horses.”
His first day on the job went well, and Ellsworth has been bridging the gap between horses and humans ever since.
From guests to clinics
Shortly after he started taking guests on trail rides, Ellsworth was asked to teach a clinic.
“I’ve stuck with it ever since,” he comments.
Ellsworth, who came to Wyoming for college after living across the West as a child, has been in the state for the majority of his adult life.
“After going to college in Sheridan, I started working at ranches,” he explains.
He worked on cattle ranches in Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota for nearly 30 years before he was faced with a decision.
“Being a ranch hand is a great career, but I had to choose between that and working with horses,” Ellsworth says. “It was no contest for me. I love working with horses.”
“While on ranches, I met and worked with some of the greatest horsemen people have never heard of,” he explains. “Their innate grasp of what to do and when to do it inspires me to this day.”
Today, he spends the spring, summer and fall on the road, from April to October, teaching clinics across the country.
Ellsworth concentrates on the relationship between horses and their owners to improve the dynamic and increase the effectiveness of the relationship using the motto, “Get close to your horse and never stop getting closer.”
Inside the mind of a horse
Ellsworth bases his work on understanding the world around him, especially horses, situations, cattle and the relationship between them.
“The thing about a horse is, he tells us what we need to know about our own life,” Ellsworth explains, “and the horse is honest with us.”
Horses provide insight into the daily lives of their humans, he continues.
“If we’re willing to see the world the way our horse sees it, he’s got some good advice for us,” he comments.
Through years of practice, Ellsworth says he’s able to discern the relationship a person has with their horse.
He says, “Oftentimes we blame our horse for not seeing things the way we do, but if we can make small changes in our demeanor, how we move or what we do to let our horse know what’s coming, it’ll often turn things around for the relationship.”
Starting a clinic
When he begins working with clients, Ellsworth says they start with groundwork.
“We don’t get on the horse until everyone’s ready,” he explains. “What we do on the ground translates directly to what we do in the saddle.”
Within a very short amount of time on the ground, Ellsworth says he is often able to pinpoint challenges people experience while riding.
“I try to teach people how to use observation to objectively see what’s happening with their horse,” Ellsworth explains. “I tell people why is much more important than how. Once we figure out why something isn’t working, fixing the problem is simple.”
“People who come to my clinics should expect me to point out little things that make a big difference in how they work with their horse,” he explains.
As Ellsworth looks forward, he says he hopes to keep traveling and working with people and their horses as long as possible.
“When I start seeing one layer to the relationship between horses and their riders, there’s always another,” he says. “There’s no limit to what we can do.”
Ellsworth adds, “It’s important for me to work with the humans, as well as the horses. There’s a lot of good in both horses and people, and we can work to improve the relationship.”
The biggest challenge for Ellsworth is when people are unwilling to open their minds and see more.
“People who come to my clinic have to realize we have to change what we do to get better,” Ellsworth explains. “There can be resistance. My challenge is to present the horse in such a way that their owner wants to see more.”
“I can’t twist anybody’s arm into seeing more with their horse, but when people realize how much their horse has to offer, they want to see more,” he continues.
Seeing transformation between horses and their owners is his greatest joy, says Ellsworth.
“It’s very fulfilling for people to open up and see what our horses are trying to show us,” he says. “They’re worthy creatures with a lot to offer.”
“The more time I spend around horses, the more I know there are things I haven’t seen,” Ellsworth comments. “There’s always more to a horse, and I want to learn more.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.