Hollywood trainer teaching here

RJ, one of the stars of “Hidalgo” with Viggo Mortensen, entertains spectators after the last clinic hosted by The Fine Equine Stables with a demonstration of his repertoire of movie tricks with Hollywood horse trainer Rex Peterson.
Brandy McDonald
RJ, one of the stars of “Hidalgo” with Viggo Mortensen, entertains spectators after the last clinic hosted by The Fine Equine Stables with a demonstration of his repertoire of movie tricks with Hollywood horse trainer Rex Peterson.

On March 30, Rex Peterson, acclaimed Hollywood movie horse trainer, will teach individual and group sessions at The Fine Equine Stables in Amissville. This will be his third clinic in the area, thanks to positive feedback from earlier participants.

Peterson’s expertise can be witnessed on the big screen with the horses he has trained for movie roles, including for “Secretariat,” “Hidalgo,” “Runaway Bride,” “Dreamer,” “The Horse Whisperer,” “Arthur,” “The Black Stallion,” “Black Beauty” and “City Slickers.”

Peterson offers simple techniques to improve your horse’s responsiveness and obedience. His approach, which also facilitates better communication between horse and rider, rests on a foundation of 50 years of training horses. Moreover, he infuses his work with patience, kindness and a profound understanding of the equine mind. Peterson is renowned for training horses to do things other experts thought impossible, such as the Procol Harum video, which featured a horse bursting up from what appeared to be a sandy beach. In the clinic sessions he will apply his skills and knowledge to solving problems and vices, under saddle and in hand.

How the clinic hosts, Brandy and Bryan McDonald, became acquainted with Peterson and his partner Cari Swanson, a very accomplished rider and trainer of jumpers and dressage horses, would itself make an entertaining scene in a Hollywood production. It happened in autumn of 2009, early in the season for riding to foxhounds.

“We met Cari and Rex through Julia Thieriot, a good friend of ours, who was interested in buying one of their horses as a foxhunter,” recalled Brandy. “Julia had The Real McCoy on trial, and she wanted Bryan to take him out hunting the first time and see how the horse did. Well, McCoy happened to be really well trained and bombproof, which is what Julia wanted, but he was also a trick horse. Bryan took the horse hunting and it was hysterically funny. If someone cracked a hound whip (sounds like a pistol shot), McCoy thought you were shooting a gun and he would fall down and play dead.”

The trick horse was a great foxhunter and jumped everything really well, but a little too well trained (i.e. sensitive to environmental “cues”). Bryan’s version of that day to hounds, without any Irish embellishments on his part, is hilarious, but he felt that the horse wasn’t really what Thieriot wanted. McCoy, however, ended up in a wonderful home after being purchased by people appreciative of his acting repertoire. He events and sometimes his rider will cue him to make a full bow to the judge after their final halt and salute in the dressage test.

In Peterson’s last clinic at The Fine Equine, the McDonalds watched the trainer in action as he tackled a number of equine issues. One horse overcame its fear of cows, thanks to the Peterson’s humane approach to remedial training. Another horse with a chronic habit of throwing itself on the ground whenever a rider got into the saddle managed to leave that bad habit behind, thanks to Peterson, and went to a successful show jumping career. One Quarter Horse bucked and shied at everything, but by the end of the session Peterson was standing on the horse’s back (on the saddle) and cracking a whip.

Both Peterson and Swanson are skilled equestrians whose primary task with each horse is building confidence and trust. Their ultimate goal is to train each horse to respond to the lightest possible aids (signals), whatever the horse’s job: jumpers, hunters, dressage, cutting, reining, pleasure, foxhunting or tricks.

What’s very interesting is the fact that Peterson uses the same techniques whether he is training a horse to perform flying changes at the canter or piaffe and passage (upper level dressage movements) or to “fight and rear” on command.

Spaces in the clinic are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Participants can choose either an individual one-hour sessions for $150 or a two-hour group of four session at $135 per horse. Swanson, who is a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) silver medalist, FEI (International Equestrian Federation) competitor and graduate of the USDF ‘L” (learner) program for judge training, will offer private dressage lessons.  

Auditors are welcome, and the $40 fee covers all the sessions from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Equine Stars of Hollywood presentation from 7 to 8 p.m. is a fun-filled meet-and-greet with Peterson demonstrating his techniques with two of his four-legged movie stars: RJ from “Hidalgo” and Mr. T from “Secretariat.” Admission is $35 per person.

For more information or to RSVP, please contact Brandy McDonald at 540-937-3280 or email thefineequinestables@msn.com

To learn more about the trainers: swansonpetersonproductions.com.