FAYETTE, Iowa --- Tammy Hallberg was at the end of her rope.
A couple of years ago, the Oelwein woman severely injured her back during a riding accident. Hallberg had ridden and shown horses for decades, but the accident changed her. She no longer felt comfortable in the saddle.
Bob Smith gave Hallberg her confidence back.
Smith owns Natural Elements Horsemanship. He trains horses and riders at his 24-acre farm just north of Fayette near the Volga River State Recreation Area, known for its equestrian campground and trails.
Compassion and communication are Smith's primary teaching tools. He doesn't use bits, tie downs, cross ties or anything that mechanically controls the animal. And brute force is strictly prohibited.
Smith uses the natural herding instincts and curiosity of a horse to his advantage. Through observation, Smith learns an animal's personality. Body language is used to control the horse. Treats aren't used as a reward, merely love in the form of a kind touch. The goal is for a horse to do exactly what the rider wants, and to stay calm in any situation.
"It's a change in the way of thinking," Smith said. "If you understand what and why a horse does what he does, it makes a difference. I want a horse to hand you their heart, not just to do what you tell them to do."
At first Hallberg was skeptical of Smith's unique horse training philosophy. Plus, the former landscape business owner in Cedar Falls had only been professionally training for about six months when she hired him this past summer.
Hallberg said Smith is a college friend of her husband's and his ideas were intriguing. She was desperate to ride and work with Patch, her 5-year-old Arabian/Saddlebred cross, again without fear.
Patch stayed at Natural Elements for a couple of months. Hallberg trained once a week as well.
She's a Smith believer now. The fear turned to fun.
"This man has a gift. He connects with the animal," Hallberg said. "He's (Patch) a very big boy, and I'm a very small girl. He was spoiled and pushy on the trails. Now he doesn't do that.
"Now, with a little pressure or a calm word, he knows what I want," she added. "He learned to stand still and not be spooky around traffic --- more safe on the trails."
A loose-fitting rope halter and a 22-foot lead rope are Smith's primary teaching aides. He uses repetition, body positioning and kindness to teach animals. For example, Smith can move toward a horse's hindquarters to make the animal pivot away. While riding, leg pressure to a horse's side is a signal to turn. A rider slightly moving forward or back tells the horse to do the same thing.
At the training facility, Smith acclimates horses to conditions that might scare them. Pallets on the ground simulate walking over a bridge. Horses learn to walk through a round hay feeder standing on-end, which is like going into a trailer. Animals learn to step or jump over obstacles like tree branches.
A horseman practically his whole life, Smith trained his own animals and loved it. The 52-year-old decided to make it a career.
"I'm not a whisperer. There's no mystery to it," Smith said. "I found a way to train that made sense to me. What I'm doing is duplicating what horses understand."
Training costs $150 per week. Week-long and weekend clinics are also available. For more information, e-mail Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.