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Pro rider teams up with ‘People Helping Horses’ in Arlington

ARLINGTON — The Black Raven Stables in Arlington received their second visit from champion horse rider Aaron Ralston from Oct. 1-3, as he teamed up with “People Helping Horses” to offer a clinic for fellow equestrian enthusiasts from throughout the state and beyond.

Ralston provided on-air commentary for NBC’s coverage of the reining competition portion of the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Ky., and can be seen weekly on RFD-TV’s “The Ride with Aaron Ralston.” About a year ago he met up with Gretchen Salstrom, owner of Black Raven Stables and founder of the Arlington-based “People Helping Horses,” through what they both called “horse circles” and since then, he’s supported her mission of rehabilitating, retraining and re-homing horses.

“We already shot an episode of my show here at the stables, on how to work with horses, that aired this past spring,” Ralston said. “I have tremendous respect for this organization, which is why I’m teaching these riders the art of reining, or putting horses through performance maneuvers. Everyone loves horses and wants to have one, but it helps to have things to do with your horse.”

Salstrom started “People Helping Horses” in 2002 and has operated out of the Black Raven Stables since 2008. She grew up around horses and was inspired in her current mission when she bought a house which came with its own horse. The horses she works with have often been surrendered or seized, and she soon realized that, in addition to getting them well and finding them new homes, she also needed to make them able to work with people.

“We get these horses ready to adopt,” said Salstrom, who estimated that 92 percent of her funds come from donations. “If we’re not able to re-home them, because they can’t be retrained or they have injuries that make them unridable, we provide them with a place to live out a peaceful retirement. All of our animals are sponsored by donors.”

Salstrom’s stables currently care for close to a dozen such retired horses, and 31 others whom she hopes can eventually be re-homed, down from a peak of 82 in 2009. While she takes pride in the number of horses she’s re-homed already, admitting that “I lost count after the first 100,” she also acknowledged that her stables are down by 20 percent for the third consecutive year.

In addition to partnering with local peers such as Paradise Stables, also located in Arlington, Salstrom has sought out the aid of professional trainers including Ralston, who seeks to create deeper bonds on two levels among horses and riders.

“It’s not just about developing relationships with their horses, but also creating a community among those who interact with horses,” Ralston said. “Horse owners and riders can have the fellowship of seeing the world in the same way.”

At the same time, Ralston teaches riders to put their horses through paces that were first developed for herding cattle, and have since become performance arts of their own, from sliding stops to turning around in full circles using their hind legs as pivots.

“It’s about going through motions that have the highest degree of difficulty with the least amount of effort,” Ralston said.

“Rescued horses have some real emotional and physical hurdles to overcome,” said Kecia Nathan of Portland, Ore., as she rode 8-year-old thoroughbred “Bottega.” “It takes more time and patience, but the rewards are really great.”

 

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