Jeff is a lifelong student of horsemanship. His involvement with horses began at a very early age on his grandfather’s cattle farm in rural Ohio, and horses have been an enormous part of his life ever since.
Many of Jeff’s first jobs away from home were cleaning stalls and doing chores at local horse facilities, often in return for a chance to work with and learn from the resident trainer. As a teenager Jeff began taking in outside horses to start himself. He attended university to further his formal education in horses, beef production and agriculture in general. It was while at college that he began competing in rodeo rough stock events. He was a four-year member of a very successful inter-collegiate rodeo team and began competing on the semi-pro circuits.
He obtained a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science, all the while continuing to take in outside horses for training and holding down various cattle working jobs in order to pay his way through school.
After college Jeff focused on riding bulls, making his living for the next half dozen years by competing on the Pro Rodeo circuit. Even then, he continued to ride horses for the public during the less busy times of the rodeo season. With the birth of his first child, Jeff quit the rodeo circuit in order to be at home more, and went back to riding horses full time. He began taking cowboying jobs that afforded him the opportunity to both work horseback every day and to be around people more knowledgeable and skillful than himself. He moved around, working jobs throughout the US, always in an effort to be around better and better horsemanship. He also travelled aboard several times to observe and learn how horses were used in other countries and cultures. For nearly two decades Jeff held jobs on ranches, managing horse programs, contract colt-starting, or holding a spot on the cowboy crew, always trying to further his understanding of and abilities with horses and using them to handle livestock. The majority of this time was spent starting colts or rehabbing “problem horses”. Jeff would get these horses going, prepare them for cattle working jobs, and then hand them off; either to the ranch cowboy crew, a professional trainer with the intention of competing on them, or a recreational owner wanting to enjoy using them perhaps on a neighbor’s ranch or maybe in town at a local competition or roping event.
Consistently through-out his career Jeff has searched for ways to get along better with horses; to better be able to elicit the responses and performance that he desired from the horse, with less trouble for the horse. His search led him on a path of working more and more with the animals’ natural tendencies, (talking them into the desired result), and less and less from trying to force or physically manipulate them.
This has led him to explore approaches to horsemanship that value the horse as an equal partner in the relationship. While he is open to learning from many different disciplines and areas of horsemanship, and values what works well at getting along with the horse wherever it comes from, he has always been drawn to the cattle working aspect of cowboying and ranching. He appreciates the functionality and the truth that goes with needing to influence a separate living being.
Jeff has been riding horses in the hackamore and interested in bridlehorses since his teenage years, but it has been the past half dozen or so years that he has focused nearly solely on the Californio Vaquero style of bridlehorses. This is due largely to meeting and working with Bruce Sandifer. Much of what he first heard Bruce saying resonated with Jeff, so again, he made opportunities for himself to learn more.
Once riding with, and then further while working and partnering with him, Jeff saw in Bruce some of the very best examples of ideas he had heard of for so long; about making it easy for the horse, working from where the horse is, adjusting ourselves to fit what the horse needs, and respecting the horse for just what it is. In Bruce’s approach Jeff saw what he feels is truly working with the nature of a horse. As both Bruce and Jeff are quick to point out, none of this approach is new. It’s an old way just newly being reapplied.
The Californio Vaquero style appeals to Jeff for its combination of artistic beauty from the classical horsemanship background, the high value placed on the horse and its well-being, and the functionality needed for working wild cattle in extremely rugged terrain.
Being a lifelong student comes from a joy for learning, and with that comes a passion for teaching, as well. Jeff truly enjoys sharing what he has learnt and works well for him with others; the approaches that gain positive feedback and responses from the horse. It is very satisfying seeing that come about for others. Knowing that he has helped somebody else get on to something good for themselves and their horses is about as rewarding as it gets.
Heres an article about Jeff, featured in Western Horseman, written by Jennifer Denison