By Michelle DeCrescenzo – San Diego Union Tribune Community News Writer
SAN MARCOS – Silently watching a horse out to pasture can be calming. Then gradually grooming him, walking him and getting on his back can bring a person closer to the animal.
At Bheau View Horse Ranch, overlooking Twin Oaks Valley, students must be fully present in the moment and aware of their surroundings. There is no multitasking when working with a horse that can weigh up to 1,500 pounds.
Four-hour sessions, called Dances With Hooves, go beyond traditional horseback riding lessons. Students begin by watching the horses interact with other horses, then brushing them, walking them, and riding them bareback, if desired.
Shera Sandwell is the instructor. She describes the ranch as an oasis.
Some students say they have learned something about themselves while taking the class.
Jean Carstensen said she “just thought she was going somewhere to ride a horse” when she visited the ranch for a class to help her overcome her fear of the large animals. She said working with a horse allowed her to confront her worries.
Sandwell teaches horse communication classes. She said she developed a knack for working with horses as a child in Illinois.
She regularly spent time in a 65-acre pasture owned by her uncle, where horses roamed loose. The animals had been deemed untrainable by their former owners, and her uncle accepted them on his property.
Sandwell said she spent so much time with the horses that ultimately she was able to ride many of them.
Now in her 40s, she passes on what she has learned to students of all ages that come to the classes. Tarsha said the point is to educate people about how important it is to make the connection before they get on a horse’s back.
During the course of the day, students work with a number of breeds with different temperaments.
“Every person is different, every child is different, every horse is different,” Carstensen said.
Sandwell aims to teach others how to “become the lead mare in the herd so that the horse will trust them.” Students learn how to approach each horse and to communicate in a straightforward manner to mirror the communication style of the horses.
Carstensen eventually worked up to riding the horse bareback, and she said being able to feel every muscle helped her appreciate the way the horse moved. It also taught her to coordinate her movements with those of the horse.
Instructor Tarsha is also vice chairman of the San Marcos Trail Advisory Committee. The group works to establish hiking, biking and equestrian trails that are part of a 72-mile master trail plan.
The next class at Bheau View Horse Ranch will be from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. in July.
Classes are open to all ages, and students who attend may also sign up for individual horseback riding lessons.