Training Challenge Judges

Connie Harris

When it comes to horsemanship, Connie has tried her hand at a little bit of everything. Western and English pleasure, trail, gymkhana, eventing, dressage, hunter/jumper, mountain trail – she’s done it all. At the age of 6, Connie and her dad moved to Texas and when he remarried, the first thing that her new mom did was put her up in the saddle. From that point on, and through Connie’s teens, her mom would buy project horses –bought to be trained and then sold to good homes. “She would train them, and I’d show them,” Connie says. “Then life happened. I went to college and got married, and although I dreamt of the day, I didn’t get back into horses until 2010.”

Her entrance back into the horse world wasn’t quite what she’d bargained for. The mare she bought was great when she visited her at the barn, but when Connie brought her home, she quickly realized that she was not equipped with the leadership skills that her mare clearly needed from her. She was so dangerously disrespectful that Connie’s friends were certain the mare was going to be the death of her. After one particularly disastrous ride, a friend recommended Connie read Clinton’s book Establishing Respect and Control for English and Western Riders.

Connie bought the book, read it, and was set on a life-changing journey. Incorporating the lessons in the book led Connie to attend multiple clinics and a private lesson at the ranch, and ultimately transformed her mare into a safe and willing partner and provided the knowledge Connie needed to become a skilled horsewoman.

“When I was a kid, I had a lot of experience riding horses, but those horses did not behave like this one did. When I got my mare, I had no idea how to gain her respect because I had never had to deal with issues like hers before,” Connie shares. “I’m passionate about teaching the Method because of my experience. I know there are other people out there going through the same situation I went through. I see how far my mare has come and it’s made me a true believer in what the Method can do. I want to share that sense of empowerment with others.”

 Jamie Laird

Jamie has lived her life around horses and traces her love for the animals to her father. The lifelong horseman had his daughter up in the saddle with him before she could walk. “He had me on the back of a horse before I could even hold my head up. He’d put a towel around my neck to stabilize it, and then put me in a saddle bag and go for a ride,” Jamie says.

She grew up helping her father raise and sell Quarter Horses and competed in local playdays and barrel races. “We didn’t do any groundwork with the horses back then, but a lot of what Dad did with the horses under saddle follows closely to what Clinton teaches,” Jamie says.

Always eager to grow as a horseman, Jamie attended Clinton’s Walkabout Tour in Katy, Texas, in 2011. “As I listened to Clinton talk during his demonstrations it just clicked. It was like I was listening to my father’s words, just slightly different,” she says.

She began using the Method to train her horses and eventually started training and re-educating horses for the public. “The Method works. I have grown in my horsemanship through its employment and have watched horses transform into willing, respectful partners much more effectively than I had previously been able to accomplish. I think in great part that’s due to Clinton’s excellent explanation of the why behind the how, which I did not clearly understand prior to the Method, as well as the development of clear communication between trainer and equine,” Jamie says.

Jamie now owns a Gypsy Vanner breeding program and trains and shows the horses she raises. It was when she joined the Prime Time Express Mounted Drill Team a couple years ago that she considered enrolling in the Academy. “The experience with the drill team coupled with the personal struggles I’ve overcome with my horses and the successes I’ve had with other people’s horses using the Method made me want to use it to teach and train professionally,” Jamie says. 

As a Method Ambassador, Jamie is passionate about sharing the training program and helping others improve their horsemanship. “We’ve all been in a position in which we’ve felt lost in our horsemanship. We don’t know how to handle a situation or how to teach a horse a particular lesson. The Method works so well and eliminates those feelings of being lost or frustrated,” she says. “I’m really big on providing people the knowledge to build a partnership with their horse that’s pleasing and enjoyable for human and horse.”

 Stephanie Harvey

Stephanie Ledbetter Harvey grew up on an Appaloosa horse farm in the Dallas Ft. Worth area and started riding before she could walk. Her formal horsemanship education did not begin until about nine years ago when she adopted her first two Bluebonnet horses, Juno and Sunkist. At that time, she realized how little she knew about proper horsemanship and riding and began taking lessons in natural horsemanship riding and training from Jere Johnson and later from Aaron England. She has since then adopted four more Bluebonnet horses, fostered about ten more, trained three Challenge horses.  She continues to seek education on becoming a better horseman through lessons, clinics and practice, practice, practice!

In addition to her equestrian activities, she stays very busy as the happy wife of Benjamin, homeschools her three children, and volunteers at her church. She has been an active member of Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society for over 10 years and has served as Assistant Adoption Coordinator, Adoption Coordinator, on the Board of Directors, Meet the Horses Coordinator, and Training Challenge Coordinator. She is excited to judge this year’s Challenge and wishes all competitors the best of luck!

Bernie Wilimitis

“In all communication, the most important and respectful act is to Listen”.

Bernie’s inherent love of horses was discovered during high school in Indiana where he cleaned stalls for a neighboring horse farm for free just to enable him to be around horses. He later started showing horses in 4-H and then competed in working-horse events. Prior to moving to Texas, Bernie resided in New Mexico for 20 years where through his clinics, lessons, and training he helped many human and horse relationships develop. Bernie and his wife, Gena, now reside in Brenham, Texas where he continues to help horses develop acceptance and trust of the human so they will be a more willing partner when adopted. Bernie now dedicates his training time to non-profit associations like Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society that focuses on helping horses rehabilitate and receive a better life.

God entrusted humans to steward His resources, the horse is one of the blessing’s GOD placed in human hands to take care of and learn from.

Along with his life’s journey of being a student of the horse, he also holds degrees in Agricultural Business and Industrial Technology from Purdue University, is a Licensed Texas Real Estate professional, Accredited Business Broker and Partner in Patriot Mergers & Acquisitions, and is a Veteran of the Army National Guard.

Bernie, first and foremost, gives thanks to God for enabling him to be involved in the lives of the many horses he has encountered.

Bernie enjoys gaining a deeper understanding of the behaviors of the horse starting in their wild natural environment throughout their life span. He is a practitioner of “with respect comes trust” and in order to have a willing horse partner, each side must have mutual respect and trust in the relationship.

Bernie continues to develop his skills as a horseman and has been blessed to have learned from some of the greatest master horsemen throughout his lifetime. His foundation in natural horsemanship was set by learning from the teachings of many master trainers and clinicians over the past 35 years, among them, Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, and Pat Parelli.

Everything done with the horse should have respect for the horse first; from how we catch it in the pasture, to how we halter it, to how we lead it, to how we saddle it, to how we ask it to perform, the simplest things become the foundation the relationship is built upon. “Engage the mind, and the body will follow.” Each horse is different with a different personality, just like humans. Each trainer, clinician, and horseperson can have different methods they use to address a similar issue. Bernie continues to learn from every horse, and horseperson, he watches to pick up more methods and skills to enable him to be a wiser partner for the horse. Bernie remembers Ray Hunt’s saying of, “you did too little, too late”, when working with horses, which always leads him back to “Listening” to the horse.