Sometimes tragedy can lead to great things. Such is the story involving a horse named Bear, whose severe injury was the catalyst that sparked Mark Tarver’s interest in horse training, ultimately leading him to Erath County’s Downunder Horsemanship Ranch.
Tarver is one of four certified clinicians who has been personally trained by celebrated horseman, Clinton Anderson, and his own talent for working with horses is becoming quite notable in and of itself. Consequently, the misfortune that befell Bear has turned into a blessing for many horse owners who participate in clinics taught by Tarver.
Sixteen years into his career as a Dallas police officer, Tarver segued into the first part of his equestrian future. No stranger to the world of horses, Tarver seemed a natural fit for a career as a mounted police officer with the Dallas Police Department.
“We had horses when I was a kid,” he explained. “But we didn’t know anything about them. We just got on them and rode. We didn’t have any formal training. It wasn’t until I went to work for the Dallas P.D. that I got any actual training.”
The horse assigned to Tarver was Bear, who subsequently became injured in a training accident.
“As a result of his injury, he had to have an extended amount of stall rest. It was months. Initially he was in so much pain that he didn’t cause much trouble,” Tarver said.
But horses and stall rest are not a comfortable fit, and Tarver was to witness his four legged partner’s frustration.
“As he got to feeling better, although the injury was still there, he got more unruly and difficult to handle,” Tarver added.
In time Tarver had to face the daunting task of rehabilitating Bear, and he found himself at a loss for resources to address Bear’s particular situation.
“There came a point where the veterinarian said, ‘Now it’s time to get him back to exercise. But when you do this, it has to be really controlled.’ We couldn’t just turn him out or he would reinjure himself, and we would have to put him down,’” Tarver said.
But Bear’s disposition was deteriorating.
“He had gotten so bad and dangerous to be around; just going to the stall to feed him was tough. He had been penned up for so long. The trainer and I didn’t know what we were going to do,” he said.
It was while channel surfing that Tarver was presented with a possible solution to his quandary.
“I was just sitting around watching RFD-TV (a channel covering rural issues), and I happened to see Clinton’s television show. I started watching what he was doing, and I thought this might be the answer to our problem. Right away I ordered the VHS tapes—what we had back then. Then I asked the trainer if he thought Clinton’s Method would be something we could try. He told me to give it a shot, see what I could do,” he said.
Under the trainer’s supervision, Tarver began to work with the horse, using the Anderson Method.
The Method is a series of three levels in horse training, with the goal of creating a relationship of mutual respect and patience. Dedication to the Method’s tenets leads to a stronger connection between the horse and its rider.
But the Method would prove an arduous undertaking for Tarver in the beginning.
“At first I was just useless,” he remembered. “But as the days went by, I got better at it, and he got better at it. And it worked.”
“I was pretty sold on it then. A few years later, I went to one of Clinton’s tours in the Dallas area. Then I went to a clinic as an observer,” he said.
Tarver was nearing the end of his 26 year career as a police officer when his next step on the path to a second vocation presented itself.
“I noticed on Clinton’s website he was looking for volunteers to help on a tour he was doing near Houston. I thought it would be interesting to see how things were done behind the scenes,” he explained.
He received a prompt answer to his application to volunteer and spent the next weekend on the tour, working and getting to know the staff. Once the weekend ended, Tarver assumed his stint with the Anderson team was finished. But he had made a highly favorable impression on the tour manager, who then patiently waited out the year until Tarver’s retirement.
“One evening a year later, the phone rang. I had been retired for about a week. It was Clinton’s tour manager. She told me she saw on her calendar that I should be retired by then and offered me a job,” he said.
“That’s how it all got started. One thing led to another, and over time I have taken on more responsibility. I managed to get to the point where I am one of Clinton’s clinicians.”
Tarver said of his role as a clinician.
“People come here so we can help them perfect their skills. They can continue forward with what we teach,” he said. “They won’t have our facilities, but that doesn’t matter. It’s like Disneyland here. A Disneyland for horses.”