Out of a crowd on a New York City street, a huge brown Clydesdale harnessed in an eight horse team pulling the famed Budweiser wagon notices the man who had raised him since birth, before he was sold to Budweiser. Out of harness, he races without rider or saddle along the New York street to meet him. Though this is the make-believe story of the uplifting 2013 Budweiser Clydesdale Superbowl commercial, the horse is not acting. He is really running without bridle, bit or other visible instruction. He was trained by stuntman Equine Extremist Tommie Turvey, owner of Liberty Horse Ranch in Summerville, GA, who has trained horses for films and television productions and performs nationwide.
What people “Think of as a trick, I think of it as a behavior and I control it,” he said during a recent demonstration. In training, he uses a snaffle bit, or no bridle at all, and rides standing astride two black and white America Paint Horses or bareback. “Most people who know how to ride bareback started as a little kids. Think it has something to do with falling off,” he joked.
Melissa Blake, an intern from Ontario, Canada rides bareback astride two horses standing up, a stunt which Turvey has made famous nationwide, even while riding through flames, proving riding standing is teachable. Turvey grew up surrounded by horses, as his father, Tommie Turvey Sr., currently residing in Florida, participated in rodeos and performed stunts.
Training the horse for the first time, starting off bareback “I get results just as fast. At end of two years my horse is more rounded ‘cause I do so much with it,” said Turvey.
He rides bareback because, “I want to feel that horse, his heartbeat, everything about him,” hanging his feet and toes down, rather than toes up.
He starts cutting a pattern, using a belt around the horse’s neck, and pressing his knee for direction.
Though he talks while explaining his tactics, when he is home, he never allows talking during training, and expects his interns to wait with their questions until he has finished a maneuver.
Since the horse is always paying attention, what he hears is critical, and it is important that the horse listen only to his verbal commands. After hearing “Stop” 10 times, “he’ll stop every time,” he said. Therefore, during movies, “We don’t want the director yelling action,” and the horse taking off to that command, “We want him to listen to me.”
To lay the foundation for getting horses to lie on the ground, he demonstrated hobble training with the horse walking with a hobble on its left foreleg. He wants her to, “Think her way out of a hobble, training her to work its way out of a hobble,” instructing Bill Minchew of North Carolina during his presentation to stop the horse if she is pulling hard when she’s stepping on the rope while instruction.
“With my technique laying down horses, not about getting horse on the ground, it’s about how you get him down. Want him to step on that hobble, stand still when it’s ground tied.”
In laying the horse down, you want the horse to lay away from you. Stand right next to him while pulling the foreleg up. Sometimes people stand far away due to fear. “If you’re afraid of the horse, you shouldn’t be teaching him to lay down. Use a full cheek snaffle bit. That way you can pull horse way over. At this point horse spins and that’s when you stay with him.”
“If you prep the horse, don’t leave any holes in his training, got a safe horse now. Everybody wants to lay down their horses to walk up to them.”
Horses can access only 60 percent of their breathing capacity when they are lying down, which is why they sleep standing up, he noted.
To make the horse rise from laying down, follow their own pattern of getting up which is usually hind end, then feet, flicking the control whip to tap their hind end, then their front.
“There are 9.2 million horses in the U.S and 2 million horse owners,” he said, the majority being trail riders. There’s more money in recreational riding than in the race horse industry, he said. According to a 2005 survey, the horse industry pays $1.9 billion in taxes to all levels of government.
He owns 14 horses. His black and white American Paints Pokerjoe, Joker and Ace have achieved fame along with Turvey.
“One thing, please do not walk up to a horse and put your hand by its mouth or in a horse’s mouth. Diseases are transmitted by people going from horse to horse.” People protest when he says this, saying they own horses, but no dice.
“You can pet my horse or scratch away but don’t go up here and put your hand in their mouth.”
He stresses walking backwards when working with a horse, because if you moves forward, the horse moves away, which can be used conversely; moving away causes the horse to follow you.
He used his horse Joker to teach sitting down, and gave him a treat when his head was bowed between his front legs before he laid down. If he were actually in training, the treat would be given after he gets up. “Some people call it a chest drop. I call it cool,” said Turvey.