"He's just taking his time and being easy," says Donna Jahnke as she watches her husband Kent groom their three-year-old buckskin stallion, Smart Sailing Dun It. "That horse loves him."
This particular horse was raised on the Jahnke Ranch, but Kent Jahnke has been starting horses for other people since he was 15. The now 41-year-old has people coming from as far as Texas just to have him work with their horses, including world champions.
He got his start in the horse business when he was very young. He would ride his bike a great distance to break horses for a man he and his wife remember only as Old Man Tucker. Eventually, he bought his own horse from the man. Then he worked as a groomer for Mike Civils, a highly respected Walking Horse trainer.
At age 20, he went to school in Kentucky to learn to be a horseshoer. Shoeing, however, requires long hours, a lot of driving and too much time away from home. Therefore, he and his wife are trying to emphasize training more. And their attempts seem to be working. Donna says they will be building a new barn as soon as possible because they are currently booked up.
"We're not a big fancy place," explains Donna, "but we do it the best." So what makes his techniques so successful? People like bringing their horses to Jahnke because when he is done, they are calm, they have manners and they are not "head shy." Horses who have been beaten or abused do not like people to come near their face or head.
"I have sent two horses to Kent," says Sandra Baker, one of Jahnke's clients. "I wouldn't let my horses go anywhere else. I always felt welcome when I would go to see how their training was going. When my horses came back home they were ready to saddle up and go. The horses were safe and sane. He breaks them to ride without breaking their spirit."
A calm demeanor is evident in both the trainer and the trainee as he works with Smart Sailing Dun It, who was born and raised on the ranch. There is also an apparent mutual respect between the man and the horse. Jahnke wears spurs, but he is not pushing in with them. Still, although it is the middle of breeding season, the young stallion remains manageable, despite a few distracting mares nearby.
"I think a lot of it is realizing that, like people, horses have different personalities," explains Jahnke. "You have to earn their respect and trust. You can't do that by beating them. You also can't get angry because a horse doesn't understand what you want it to do. You just have to know how to show them what you want."
He also says that there are three things required in training a horse: Common sense, patience and a round pen. A round pen gives the trainer room to ride, but the horse cannot get away.
Jahnke plans to enter Smart Sailing Dun It in some reining competitions this summer. Reining is an up-and-coming sport based on the moves cowboys used when working cattle while on their horses. The horses must be able to perform various patterns and move about at different speeds. Signature moves such as spins and the "sliding stop" are most easily recognized by those who do not know the sport well.
He will show the horse in both the American Quarter Horse Association, or AQHA, the National Reining Horse Association, or NRHA. The reining champion in the NHRA wins $150,000. Reining will also be included in the Olympics in the near future. Having a horse in the Olympics would be a dream come true for the Jahnkes.
Smart Sailing Dun It seems to be the most likely candidate among their 11 American quarter horses. All of his ancestors are hall-of-famers, with the exception of his sire, who is a world champion.
People can have Jahnke work with their horses for a monthly fee. He works with each horse daily to train them for whatever use the owner has in mind. All the horses, however, start with the basics in manners. And when he is not working with the horses, they are allowed to roam free around the ranch, rather than being stalled all the time. The Jahnkes feel this does wonders for the horses' attitudes.
The Jahnkes live in the Poland area with their two children, Matt, 14, and Diana, 13, who attend Spencer-Owen Middle School. They can be contacted at (812) 986-2315. "The coffeepot is always on," says Donna. "We love company and welcome people to come out and get a feel for how we do things."