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- November 2nd, 2021 - Trainer Tips

By Sheryl Lynde | Horsetrader columnist

I don’t know you, and you don’t know me.

We dress differently, we are of different ages, different backgrounds and reside in different states and countries. But for a moment, just a glimpse in time we can find a commonality. I know a place where we can connect and share a space together as we ride on the back of a horse.

Even though we might be of different cultures and riding abilities, a connection is made as we share an experience, a moment of peace, riding through the stunning beauty of grapevine laden hillsides located in Napa Valley.

It’s not a surprise really, how people are profoundly affected. After all, we’re riding on hallowed ground. This property was originally developed as a horse ranch by the Rapp family in the late 1970s. Phil Rapp, who now resides in Weatherford, Texas, is a cutting horse trainer, an inductee in both the NCHA Rider Hall of Fame Open Division and Non-Pro Division, and the leading NCHA money-earner with lifetime earnings nearing $10 million. This ranch became world renowned for top breeding, training and competitive cutting horses. Hall of Fame horses like Mr Gun Smoke and Tapeppyoka Peppy carried Phil Rapp to National Cutting Horse Association finals and AQHA Championships.

The ranch was eventually sold and redeveloped into vineyards and a winery. The Alkossers purchased the property, now called Shadybrook Estate Winery, and decided to marry the two businesses of vineyards and horses. By restoring and incorporating the horse facilities, they revived the rich history of the ranch. There is a parallel that runs through both the vineyard and ranching industries — they are both multi-generational professions that are steeped in Napa’s history since the mid 19th century.

I rode with…

…a retired Marine who served alongside his service dog, trained in detecting narcotics. When he retired, his dog remained in service. But, finally, he received the call that he and his dog were to be reunited when his dog was coming home to spend his days as a retired civilian. He proudly showed me pictures. His bond with this animal was undeniable…

…and a logistics expert who worked for the Pentagon. We spoke of the increased suicide rate of returning Vets and the palpable efficacy of programs such as War Horse Creek, designed to integrate returning vets to work with Mustangs. I saw how he and his family connected to the story and were deeply moved…

…and a photographer who worked for area newspapers for 30 years covering difficult and often tragic stories of life, capturing them in his photographs. He is now interested in only covering human interest stories…

…and a District Attorney who often found herself immersed in her cases. It could be weeks before she took a walk outside and embraced the backdrop of the outdoor landscape. Several stops were made along the trail to allow her to take a breath and soak up the scenery.

These are just a few of the stories shared while on horseback.

There is an honesty about being in the beauty of this iconic countryside. The colors are vibrant, the vines bear their bountiful fruit, the cool breeze hastens to bring relief from the sun’s warmth, and the tall oaks are standing vigilantly as they have for years in their pastures. There is no use for pretense out here — everything is as it presents itself. Maybe that’s why people can relax, their shoulders lower a bit, their breathing deepens. Now add to that riding horseback. I’ve often said when I throw my leg over the back of a horse I become immediately present in the moment. I am aware and ready to respond to my horse’s reactions and I am content, its like coming home.

I’ve spent 17 years starting colts and working with horses displaying issues such as bucking, rearing and bolting. Training begins only after building a foundation. It’s an open conversation. It’s about listening, observing and responding rather than reacting. There is no judgement, no micromanagement, or an uneven temperament on my part. Just listening.

The most powerful way to connect to another being, whether it be a horse or human, is to listen. If there was ever a time that people need that basic courtesy extended, it is now. If frustration breeds aggression, what does sharing time in this exquisite bucolic surroundings while on the back of a horse inspire? Connection.

Napa Valley Trail rides was formed to allow people to experience a special connection of the love of horses and their significance in the West. Afterwards, sit on the beautiful terrace that overlooks the vineyards and enjoy the prize winning wines of Shadybrook Estate Winery. Need a connection? I found a place.


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