Tigger, a tan-hued, registered quarter horse, is cranky. He is snorting, galloping around his corral and kicking at the fence with his hooves. Suzanne Sheppard, a business partner in Two As One Ranch in Middletown, watches his dramatics impassively. She laughs. “He’s just wondering why all his stable mates have been given dinner and he’s still waiting.”
The cranky horse has reason to feel entitled; Tigger is one of two privileged horses who accompany Sheppard and ranch co-owner Bob Jeffries to demonstrations, equine expos and clinics around the country—an average of fifteen a year. Thanks to these appearances, the pair behind Two As One Horsemanship have emerged as leading horse trainers in the United States, celebrated for the ability to tame even the most unruly equine.
“People have a romantic attachment to horses, thinking it would be nice to have a horse,” Jeffries said. “We have a lot of people that have had their careers, and now they want to relax, buy a horse, ride a horse. But what we’ve found is that since we’ve transformed as a society—from an agricultural society to a computer nation kind of deal—people don’t know anything about horses.” These days, most people who end up with a horse are not using it as a beast of burden on the farm. Instead, says Sheppard, they are “reaching out for a relationship.” The biggest challenge, she says, is that people do not understand that they must be not only a friend but also a leader to the animal. “Horses crave leadership, absolutely crave it.”
Too often, Sheppard and Jeffries explain, horse trainers feel they must “break” a horse, a process that involves undue and unnecessary discipline. Horses will usually stand up to a cruel rider. “That’s when you get into a fight with your horse,” Shepard says, “and nobody ever wins a fight with a horse.”
Those seeking a civil communion with horses often find their way to the twenty-acre Two As One Ranch. The property grounds are tucked away off a main road and dotted with modest but sturdy structures—house, barn, shed, riding ring, and seven paddocks for the horses. Clients range from local residents seeking animal behavior modification to well-heeled New York City transplants who feel their makeovers as country squires require riding a steed. Sheppard and Jeffries have a mission: to disabuse horse owners of the notion that climbing onto a horse is like getting behind the wheel of an SUV. Too often, tenderfoot clients pull at the reins as if fumbling with directionals.
“You just sit there and say, ‘Wow, this is a disaster waiting to happen.’ But,” he adds with a laugh, “if it wasn’t for those people, we wouldn’t have jobs.” Although Bob Jeffries made his name in the world of oil trading, horse riding was always part of his life. He was born on Staten Island, when the borough was still a rural redoubt, not yet linked to the mainland by the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The island was home to numerous stables and Jeffries nurtured an inherent skill for training horses.
As his job in the oil business grew more difficult, Jeffries would look forward to weekends where he could ride his horses and forget about the pressures of his career. Even as an amateur, he had shown great aptitude and was constantly being asked to tame the horses of friends and neighbors. In the late 80s, Jeffries resigned from his job. The place where he boarded his horse had recently moved from New Jersey to the Mid-Hudson Valley and Jeffries followed. When a position at a ranch fell through, Jeffries decided to start his own business.
How does this team train and communicate with their horses?
Jay Blotcher doesn’t know hay about horses. He writes often on a wide variety of topics for Hudson Valley Life.