Gallop to a new horse-training paradigm

Gallop to a new horse-training paradigm
The study of horses is a lifelong quest for Danette DeBolt. Now, she’s parlaying her experience as a horsewoman and passion for the equine world into business.

By Beverly Lomosad

Danette DeBolt has done it all in the equestrian world. Her journey with horses began at a young age. At 10, she went behind her parents’ backs and bought her first horse off the meat truck, using her paper route money. She had rolled on and up from that point on. In 2007, she made history as the second female outrider to compete in the heritage sport of chuckwagon racing, gracing the infield of the prestigious Calgary Stampede and earning the Rookie of the Year award for the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association (CPCA).

Now, thanks to the recent rise of online learning, a new world of possibilities has opened up for her as she begins to parlay her passion into business. Enter Humans Honouring Horses, the business she founded, which offers one-on-one horse training as well as online learning through a library of instructional videos with which she teaches everything from riding to horsemanship. The library is built into her business website.

“My program is really steeped in horsemanship, which is understanding horse behavior,” said DeBolt, adding: “A lot of people can’t haul or afford to have a trainer come in. So, I really want to empower people to spend the time with their horses and train them themselves.”

Share a little bit about the business.
The business started in 2019 under a different name and rebranded as Humans Honouring Horses in 2022. The business is a heart-led initiative. My own personal journey, in part, formed the impetus for the business: As a rider and competitor, I have struggled with not having consistent coaching and access to a program. I’m also trying to find a balance between my home life and my coaching life. The other component that propelled the business is the ethics side of horse training. I think there’s a real interest and curiosity from the general public now about horse training. More people now want to see ethical horse training, and my program is very ethical. Our goal is to cultivate empathy as one of the cornerstones of effective horsemanship. I think that understanding the horse’s perspective is key to building a harmonious partnership – basically honouring what the horse needs as an animal, including more turnouts, fresh air, good food, living in a herd setting. We’re basically training two athletes, right? A lot of times the horses can get over-humanized, and that’s something we want to bring awareness to as well – that horses need to be horses.

Talk a little bit about your history with horses.
At the age of 10, I bought my first horse, using my paper route money, and going behind my parents’ backs. My parents got me some riding lessons, which were about a week long, and that wasn’t enough for me. I needed more. I was just hooked after that. I’ve worked in a lot of different barns and, for a while, at a racetrack after I moved to Calgary from Kelowna, where I was born and raised. I’ve groomed, performed various odd jobs in the horse industry, and owned horses over time. I rode for the CPCA and ended up with some rides at the Calgary Stampede. In 2007, while outriding at the Calgary Stampede, I met my husband, Sean, a chuckwagon driver. In 2009, I tried my hand at Three-Day Eventing, which is an Olympic sport and includes three disciplines: dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. Halfway through 2009, I moved up to the area and started grooming for my husband on the chuckwagon tour. And once I moved up here, it was really hard to train. You need indoor facilities, and I’ve basically spent most of my time grooming and working for my husband. In 2021, I started show jumping, which I was curious about. Since 2007, I’ve been an Equestrian Canada-licensed coach.

What were some of the competitions you consider your most memorable?
Outriding was probably the most memorable for me considering I was the first female outrider in well over 40 years. Chuckwagon racing icon Jim Nevada was the outrider and the driver who mentored me. Outriding is a discipline that’s not quite welcoming to women. Even now, it’s still a man’s sport. As a female, I think I’ve put in probably twice as many hours in training. So, all winter we probably went three days a week just jogging on the road with the horse and learning how to jump on and off and getting fitter. I knew nothing about it – nothing. Somehow that didn’t deter me from reaching out to CPCA and expressing my interest. I just thought the chuckwagon races looked like fun.

So, what was it like being in a male-dominated environment?
There was isolation because they didn’t treat you the same. You’re not one of the boys, and that’s the worst part of it. In terms of the actual riding, I could work just as hard as them. But, when it came time to getting out there, I wasn’t one of the guys.

How’s the business been?
Business has been good. I started teaching beginners when my daughter was young. As she got older, I’ve been able to do more things competitively for myself. And I now coach, I have an online video library, and my goal is to provide rural riders with a consistent program and support.

What kind of programs/services do you offer?
My program is designed for the horseman training from home. So, whether you’re starting young horses, or you just want to be a better rider, or you want to have more tools to communicate with your horse, those are the types of things I support people with. I have an online library of videos for all sorts of horse training.

Gallop to a new horse-training paradigm
Danette DeBolt aboard Jimmie Dean at the Amberlea Meadows Fall Harvest horse show.

Where do you start with a client who is a complete neophyte to anything horse-related?
We need to sit down, have a discussion and figure out what it is a client wants to do with horses. And then we go from there. Typically, when people first get into horses, they have certain issues that come up right away. So, there’s usually a reason they seek out help. My program starts with basic things like grooming and connection, those types of things.

What must a beginning rider pay attention to?
Confidence, I think, is everything. Building confidence is a huge part of the early stages.

What do people usually seek help for when they turn to you?
Riding lessons, or they are troubleshooting – they have something with their horse they’ve hit some kind of a roadblock on.

Who are your clients mostly, and where are they from?
I’m teaching way more adults – from young adults to probably 40-ish. A lot of them are more competitive. They already know their basics, and they’re looking to get better. They come from everywhere – Beaverlodge, High Prairie, Grande Prairie, Wanham, Fairview.

Talk about your video library.
I can support clients through video meetings and through my instructional videos, which provide a lot of information – from riding to horsemanship. My program is steeped in horsemanship, which is understanding horse behavior. Clients can access the library and apply the lessons with their horse, or try an exercise. Then we can communicate as to how it went and for feedback. I can do both video and one-on-one lessons at the farm.

The instructional videos are a clever way to expand your client base, don’t you think?
My new business model of delivering lessons through videos, which are accessible online, is an offshoot of the pandemic. As you know, the pandemic has given rise to so much online learning. I think online learning has opened a lot of doors. Let’s face it, we get a lot of winter, and there’s not a lot of indoor facilities. A lot of people can’t haul or afford to have a trainer come in. So, I really want to empower people to spend the time with their horses and train them themselves.