For Wyoming horseman and clinician Ken McNabb, teaching horses, and those who ride them, is a way of life that he began when he was young.
Growing up, McNabb’s family was heavily involved in the agriculture lifestyle and he seldom remembers a time when he wasn’t horseback—or wanting to be.
“My parents ran a boarding school for troubled kids and found that many of them responded well to the agriculture lifestyle and to horses,” McNabb explains. “Kids can be pretty hard on horses, though, so my sister and I started working with problem horses at a pretty young age.”
According to McNabb, he and his sister, who were mounted well, commonly were asked to let the other kids ride their horses and they were traded out with horses from the boarding school who had developed bad manners.
“We would always have to trade out our good horses for the spoiled ones. Then, when we got the spoiled ones back going good we would trade out again,” he says.
McNabb recalls this being the beginning of him training and fixing problems with horses.
In addition to working with the boarding school horses, McNabb’s family was heavily involved with ranching.
By the time he was in junior high McNabb began doing day work for area ranches which increased his knowledge and desire to learn more about horsemanship.
McNabb credits his dad for helping him to become what he is today from early lessons learned in life.
“When I was in 4-H we went and saw an exhibition of reining horses,” McNabb recalls. “I watched those horses and the way they slid to a stop and told my dad I wanted to get a horse that did that.”
Like it was yesterday, McNabb remembers his dad telling him, you don’t buy a horse to do that — you have to learn to make a horse do that.
So, as if there wasn’t already a seed planted, that just fueled the fire even more for McNabb to pursue his dream of working with horses.
However, there was one event that made more of an impression on him then anything else up to that point.
“When I was 15 I went to one of John Lyons’ horsemanship clinics. It was at that point I knew what I wanted to do and I was going to do whatever it took to be a trainer.
Now that McNabb is putting on his own clinics, he tells people he comes from 200 years of horsemanship.
“My dad and his dad before him and myself all come from ranch people and we have always worked with horses,” he explains.
The fact that McNabb not only comes from a strong ranching background, but that he still does ranch, is what he feels sets him apart from other clinicians in the industry.
“I would not take anything away from anyone in this business,” he says. “But, what sets me apart is that I am actually ranching for a living when I am not on the road.”
According to him, that is what allows him to be able to talk to and work with the common horseman and their horse.
“I’m not just driving down the road from arena to arena. I work in big country and work with cattle so I know where those guys that are asking me to help them, are coming from,” McNabb explains.
Chances are, according to him, the same problem they are having with their horse I have had or I will have it tomorrow.
Those problems, the clinician explains, are nothing new.
“The things we teach today are not newly invented problems. When it comes to working with horses we may just want to try to change the way he thinks so he can continue to do what God created him to do. He just might do it a little better,” McNabb says. “I didn’t invent the wheel, I just want to teach people how to use the wheel a little better.”
Although many refer to McNabb as a horseman, he will be the first to admit that it isn’t all about teaching horses.
“I teach people just as much as I teach horses,” he explains. “That is what I think makes you successful in this business. First, you have to be able to see things from the eyes of the student. Then, you have to break the situation down so the horse can understand.”
The most important part of both of those things, according to McNabb, is to do it without insulting the intelligence of the person or the animal.
With the hectic schedule of clinics and RFD Television programming, and taking care of things at home on the ranch,
McNabb has placed himself in an interesting position for he and his family.
“It is really neat that my wife DeeDee and my two sons Kurt and Trent are able to travel with me and take part in the clinics,” he says.
As a matter of fact, Kurt and Trent are often the stars of the clinic, showing off what they know in the round-pen.
“We don’t push the boys to do this, I want them to really enjoy it. Besides, if they get to doing too many shows people are going to put me out to pasture so they can watch them,” he jokes.
DeeDee also takes part in clinics whether it is riding problem horses or doing dutch oven cooking demonstrations.
“DeeDee’s dutch oven cooking demonstrations kind of came naturally,” McNabb says. “We started taking guests on trail rides years ago and we needed a cook so DeeDee got to be that person.”
McNabb is happy to include his family in his clinics because it is all part of what they do in everyday life as a family.
As Horsefest rolls around he is excited for the three-day event.
“We were at Horsefest three years ago and enjoyed everything about it,” he says. “I look forward for the chance to visit with people about what they are passionate about.”
According to him, it is the people who make his work rewarding.
“Whether they see me on television or in person, when they come up afterwards and say how you have affected their life it is really neat. When those opportunities arise I know I am doing just what God intended for me to do,” he concludes.
Horsefest is scheduled March 11, 12 and 13 at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds in Springfield, Missouri.
For more information on McNabb and the other clinicians who will be at Horsefest log onto the Website at www.horsefest.net.