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Expert Equestrian Articles» The Best Horse Trainer You’ve Never Heard of… Yet!

The Best Horse Trainer You’ve Never Heard of… Yet!

June 27, 2013

Like a lot of trainers who have come to prominence in the past 10 years or so, Ronnie Ford practices Natural Horsemanship. Haven't heard of him? Read on!

by Karen Prell



Ronnie Ford’s world is contained in the round pen, and if horse training is an art, then Ronnie Ford is a master. The round pen is his tool and the horses he trains and transforms are his happy works of art.

The horse community here in Florida is fortunate indeed to have Ronnie Ford available to us now, as he has been for many years. But get ready America, because he’s fixin to come to you!

ronnie ford natural horsemanship

I’ve been fortunate to see Ronnie in action at one of his clinics, and it was a revelation of what one man can do with a horse in a short span of time. I recently spent a fascinating two-hour lunch speaking with Ronnie before he hit the road to share his knowledge and training talent with the rest of the country. I have to tell you that with the stories he shared with me, I could have listened to him for many more hours.



Ronnie is one of those rare birds–– a native Floridian. Born in Lakeland from an old ranching family, like many trainers, Ronnie has spent his life around horses. He told me he never planned on being a horse trainer and in fact was in the construction business for himself at one point in his life. What this humble man forgot to mention in our conversation was that he had worked his one man operation of making concrete parking lot stops up to the point where he had a million dollar business with 21 employees. Fortunately for the horse owners and lovers among us, somewhere along the way, he decided to get back into the horse business.

In speaking with the man, you realize not only the love he has for horses, but more importantly, the respect. He spoke more than once about his relationship with them and the parallels between the human / horse relationship and the human to human relationship and how one can learn a lot about dealing with people by dealing with horses. Throughout our conversation, his philosophy came through in a single statement he made, “to make life better for the horse, you have to first go through the human”.

Like a lot of trainers who have come to prominence in the past 10 years or so, Ronnie is what is now called a Natural Horseman. Great horseman like Ray Hunt put this training on the map, and many people have been doing this for years, unsung not even realizing it had a “name”. Ronnie has been practicing this art quietly for years in his home state of Florida with much success and the clients he’s helped; well they usually turn into friends as well. That says a lot about the man and his methods.

ronnie teaching

Photo Courtesy of Sandy Hall, Blue Feather Web

I asked Ronnie what he thought about the current popularity of the whole Natural Horseman philosophy and his response was that if it made things better for the horse then that’s good, but if it is just for the ego boost of the owner, well then chances are they missed the point.

When you watch Ronnie Ford at a clinic you will notice a lack of any fancy equipment, tools, etc. I mentioned this during our lunch and with a typical Ronnie Ford response, he said “The best treat I have is at the end of my arm, and I haven’t figured out yet how to sell that”.

With just his hands, voice and the occasional kick of dirt from his foot, Ronnie gets done the job that needs to be done. If you attend a Ronnie Ford clinic expecting to see a show and be sold some equipment that will get you the same results, then you might be disappointed. But if you come to a clinic to really learn something and see things from your horse’s point of view then you’ve come to the right place.

One of the first things you will learn from Ronnie is as a horse owner you need to take responsibility for your actions with that horse and how it affects him. If you are an owner with a horse problem and you want to send your horse to train with Ronnie, do not expect to just drop your horse off, pay your money and not be involved. That’s not Ronnie’s style. The first thing he is going to do when he shows up at your place to assess your horse is to ask to see what you do with your horse. Just from that few minutes of observation, expect the man to tell you why your horse has a problem with his human and not the other way around. And don’t expect him to sugar coat it, either.

Ronnie Ford Training

More than once in our conversation Ronnie said that “if you are not committed to becoming a true partner with your horse and you just want some machine that will do whatever you want, then I’d advise you get out of horses, because it just doesn’t happen that way”. Too many people in working with their horses are “reactive” instead of “active”, they react to what the horse is doing instead of seeking to direct that horse’s action the way they want it to go. As much as you think you are reading your horse, you can bet he’s three steps ahead on reading your signals-- signals that you are not even aware of. Ronnie is more than a horse trainer. He is the horse’s advocate in every sense of the word.

Ronnie has trained everything from Mustangs to Warmbloods all with the same level of respect and success. So, naturally I had to ask him about the toughest horse he ever trained. Before I finished the question he said “Pistol”. I knew I was in for a story, and he gave me the shortened version.

Pistol was an Appendix Quarter Horse stallion. Now for those of you who do not know what is meant by Appendix Quarter horse, it means that the horse carries Thoroughbred blood, sometimes a lot of Thoroughbred blood, which can make for a more sensitive type of Quarter Horse with a taller, rangier build than the traditional Quarter Horse.

The owner of Pistol called Ronnie to put his horse in training said the horse had issues. Ronnie picked up the horse from a less than horse friendly environment. In working with him in the round pen at one point, Pistol became distracted by a nearby mare and turned his frustration on Ronnie, picking him up by his shoulder and shaking him like a toy before dropping him.

ronnie ford riding 

If that wasn’t bad enough, as Ronnie was attempting to get up from that onslaught, here came Pistol back at him. At this point in the story Ronnie said he had 2 choices. He could attempt to roll away from Pistol and hopefully make it out of the round pen without the horse following him and doing more damage. Or, he could roll up under the horse and hope he would step away. Pistol had other plans. Ronnie rolled under the horse and Pistol proceeded to lay down on Ronnie as if to squash him into the earth.

Then just as suddenly, the horse backed off and went to the other side of the pen. Ronnie dragged himself up, all the while trying to figure out if he still had his arm attached to his shoulder and nursing some banged up ribs. He was so sore he didn’t know what hurt the most!

With Ronnie bent over in this vulnerable position, the clients that were observing this let Ronnie know that Pistol was coming back. Only this time, the horse was coming back dragging his nose in the dirt the whole way. When he got to Ronnie, everyone held their breath as Pistol raised his head and put it on Ronnie’s midsection while Ronnie held and stroked his face. When he was asked what this meant, Ronnie told everyone that Pistol was apologizing and that he let him know he understood. After that, Ronnie went to the hospital to get looked at! Any of Ronnie’s clients will smile at this story, because it is Ronnie.

Read the complete story of Pistol here on this site.

As a flip side to this, I also asked Ronnie about his most rewarding horse. Just as quickly he answered, "Jo."

Jo was Smokin Jo Polite, Ronnie’s Dun Quarter Horse stallion who was ranked 2nd in the nation at Halter. Jo was a stallion who truly lived up to his name, a polite kind of horse. Ronnie lost Jo in 2012, and it was clear when he spoke of him that this was his equine partner in heart and soul.

So many riders these days just move on to the next horse when one is gone with no thought about the horses who may have gotten them to the top of their game. It was clear as Ronnie spoke about Jo that such was not the case for him. Jo has left behind a little piece of himself in a colt born after he left–– his barn name is Jo Jo in honor of his sire.

However, as with all things in life the story is not complete as yet. While speaking with Ronnie, he let me know that Jo has some issues with his legs that have to be worked on and he is hoping for the best. It was clear to see he was worried about this last living connection to his equine soulmate and praying for a good resolution.

florida horse clinic

A testament to how well respected and loved this man is by his clients / friends is a story that I know of regarding an incident that occurred involving our unpredictable Florida weather. Not too many years ago here in our area of Volusia County, we had a run of a couple of Tornadoes that touched down and did some real damage in the areas it hit. One of those areas was Ronnie Ford’s training facility. It ripped the roof off one of his barns, sent a tree crashing through his bedroom window, ripped all the wire from the fence posts. The Lord must have looked down on Ronnie that day, because the horses all survived in good order.

The good news from this bad news situation was the almost immediate outpouring of help from the people who know Ronnie Ford. People offered trailers, barn space, and labor and whatever else was needed to get Ronnie back up and running. I don’t know many people who elicit that kind of response, but Ronnie Ford seems to bring out the best in horses and their folk.

Ronnie is instantly recognizable by his Old Southern manners and humble attitude towards what he does and who he is. For years now his clients, friends and loved ones have been urging him to “take his show on the road” and let the rest of the country know how good he is at what he does. For just as many years, he has been content to just stay local” and work with his horses here in Florida and states nearby. But now finally after many years of urging, Ronnie is hitting the "road to America."

I asked Ronnie for his itinerary, and at this point he is headed to Atlanta, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and on into Washington and possibly California. My advice to anyone who would like to see a consummate professional and a compassionate advocate for the horse would be to contact him for his schedule or better yet find out when he will be in your area to go and see him.

If your horse is having a problem with their human, contact Ronnie for information on how to get a clinic in your area. You may not come home with a whole bunch of new toys and equipment to play with, but you will come away with something better-- knowledge!

Go to Ronnie Ford’s travelling website for more stories, information or to contact him about a clinic. Your horse will thank you for it.

My last question to Ronnie in closing out our meeting was this–– If you are on the Road to America, can the Road to the Horse competition be far behind? The answer I got was a twinkle in his eye and a smile... I’m taking that as a yes!

About the Author: Karen Prell, aka "Triple Crown Karen," came from a very non-horsey, working class New Jersey family and started riding at age three. With over 30 years experience as a riding instructor, Karen is passionate about developing beginners into confident riders and compassionate horse owners. A favorite expression heard often by her students is "It's ALL about the horse!" A lover of all things "horse," she is especially passionate about promoting the retraining of retired Thoroughbreds and adoption and rehoming of unwanted horses. Her ultimate dream would be to see the US Equestrian Team mounted on these great reclaimed athletes. Her career in media focuses on the everyday equestrian adventure and how a horse lover of modest means CAN make a difference for even ONE horse.

Topics: best horse trainer, best horse trainers, equestrian trainers, equine trainer, equine trainers, florida horse trainer, florida horse trainers, horse trainers, natural horseman, natural horsemanship, Ronnie Ford, Ronnie Ford Equine Training Center

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