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'Horsemanship' key for training facility founder

Sharra Sage rides alongside a young bison in an enclosure at Thunderbird Horse Center south of Brandon on Tuesday. The bison is used to train horses to work with cattle.

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Sharra Sage rides alongside a young bison in an enclosure at Thunderbird Horse Center south of Brandon on Tuesday. The bison is used to train horses to work with cattle. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)

Neil McLeod works with Gunner, a horse he trains and boards at Thunderbird Horse Center, along with Houdini the dog and a potbellied pig named Chewbacca.

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Neil McLeod works with Gunner, a horse he trains and boards at Thunderbird Horse Center, along with Houdini the dog and a potbellied pig named Chewbacca. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)

Communicating with the horses is key to Neil McLeod’s day-to-day work at Thunderbird Horse Center.

With anywhere between 70 and 100 horses at the centre at any given time, understanding what they are thinking is extremely important.

"Horsemanship is by definition how humans communicate with horses," McLeod said. "It ranges from terrible, horrible and very, very bad to beautiful and almost like mind reading."

McLeod founded Thunderbird Horse Center in 1977 and has been building it up to what it is today — a training facility that focuses on horsemanship and sells horses all over the world.

When he bought the land eight kilometres south of Brandon off Highway 10, there were no buildings and no trees. Now the facility includes two stables, three outdoor and two indoor rings to work horses, an outdoor obstacle course and much more.

"It was part of the dream, but I think the dream has evolved," he said. "This is what the industry needed and here it is."

From breeding and training to classes and clinics, Thunderbird’s work centres around the understanding that horses do not work the same way as people.

"Horses are just going be horses," McLeod said. "If you don’t know how they communicate, it is going to be hard for them to listen to you."

Standing in a field near a herd of horses, McLeod explained that horses communicate mainly through gestures. The direction their ears are pointing is one of the first signs of what they are thinking.

One of the main focuses for the herd of horses is comfort. McLeod notes at the time that the horses were not hungry; rather they were standing close together in attempt to stay comfortable, despite the bugs.

"The best is when it is just me and the horse, when I can forget the business side of things," McLeod said. "It really is just such a gift to be able to live in a place where we can enjoy horses."

The centre is hosting a sale and show weekend Aug. 22-24.

The sale will be different than most sales in the area, as it will not have an auctioneer. Sellers will have an asking price, but buyers can negotiate throughout the weekend.

"People can take the horses for a ride and won’t have to make an instinct decision," McLeod said. "The downside is if you try negotiate, someone might offer the asking price and get the horse."

Other activities throughout the weekend include the Crocus Cowhorse Show, a ranch horse competition, team roping and a Saturday night barbecue for $20.

The events are free to come and watch.

» mlane@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @megan_lane2

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 13, 2014

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Communicating with the horses is key to Neil McLeod’s day-to-day work at Thunderbird Horse Center.

With anywhere between 70 and 100 horses at the centre at any given time, understanding what they are thinking is extremely important.

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Communicating with the horses is key to Neil McLeod’s day-to-day work at Thunderbird Horse Center.

With anywhere between 70 and 100 horses at the centre at any given time, understanding what they are thinking is extremely important.

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