TWOTH Update - Kindness Rules for Horseman O’Dell

Respect, communication and kindness rule when Bruce O’Dell works his magic with horses. The Way of The Horse 2014 winner is back in the round pen at EQUITANA Melbourne 2018 as one of four invited to be part of the All-Star TWOTH. O’Dell will go head-to-head with Adam Sutton (2010 TWOTH winner), Ken Faulkner (2012 champ) and Kiwi Tui Teka (EQUITANA Auckland 2017 winner) to transform unhandled horses from wild to willing over four days . . . and he can’t wait.

“For sure I am looking forward to being able to work alongside such high calibre horsemen,” says O’Dell. “Each man deserves to be there. It’s all about the horses . . . about showcasing, understanding and communicating, and showing kindness and empathy. Young horses are no different to young children.”...

His own win in 2014 was special mostly because it gave the former rodeo cowboy the chance to show the public how a horse can be started – the right way. “Horses don’t have to be broken to be broken in,” he says, “and I could highlight the perception that not all rodeo cowboys are tough and rough. Our horses welfare – both physically and mentally – comes first.”

O’Dell grew up with horses. His family owned and operated large cattle properties in far western Queensland. “From as far back as I can remember we spent from daylight to dark on the back of a horse.”

And while he is still all about horses, it is a far cry from those early days. “Back then we were taught – through lack of knowledge – literally how to ‘break a horse in’,” he says. “That didn’t necessarily mean we were deliberately cruel in any way, but we knew no better than to get a horse both physically and mentally tired to the point of where he gave up and accepted what you were doing.”

Now O’Dell champions communication. “I would like to think it is now far more of a two-way partnership and that my horses are happy and willing to work with me.”

His sessions with horses are these days far shorter and the communication far greater.

“Mutual respect is necessary,” says O’Dell. “Clear communication eliminates confusion, and kindness can never be overdone.” He says people should treat their horses as the educator, how you wish for a school teacher to treat your child in the same learning environment. To O’Dell, there is no difference.

People often ask too much too soon of their horses, and then blame the animal. “Horses only do under saddle what they have been taught. A solid foundation is vital regardless of job type – without clearly knowing what is required of you and feeling confident in the early stages of a job, there is the risk of confusion and panic. It is where mistakes are made. Those same foundations apply to starting young horses,” he says. “Slow down. Take the time necessary and communicate clearly.”

Over the years he has been inspired by many, but his greatest early mentor was Ray McGhee. More recently it has been Ian Francis, who O’Dell describes as a “genius with a horse”.

O’Dell and wife Jane run a very busy horse breaking and education operation in central Victoria. Their list of happy clients – both human and equine – is long. A master farrier by trade, O’Dell has been breaking in thoroughbred, warmblood and performances horse for more than 20 years, having worked across Australia, the United States and Canada. He competed with huge success internationally as a professional saddle bronc rider and was at one time the highest-ever money earner in the sport. These days he competes only in campdrafting aboard his team.

“I missed the camaraderie amongst the friends I had for many years on the rodeo circuit but funnily enough, many of those cowboys are now also doing campdrafting so we are once again meeting up most weekends. I really enjoy the campdrafts as it is a great family sport and I get to catch up with all my old cowboy mates.”

Jane is also a very accomplished horsewoman who spent 17 years on the Australian professional rodeo circuit as a champion barrel racer who can lay claim to all of Australia’s major titles.

She stepped back from her racing days a few years back to concentrate on their family. Their two sons were keen to get into campdrafting and she didn’t want to be at the other end of the country doing her thing away from the family.

Jane is an integral part of the business. “She has a great eye for a horse and reads a horse well,” says O’Dell. “If I ever need a second opinion, she’s my right hand man and my go to.”

This couple show no signs of slowing up any time soon. “I love what I do for a living,” says O’Dell. “I am kept very busy starting young horses year-round and can see that continuing for a while yet.”

For more information of this year's All-Star The Way Of The Horse and Bruce O'Dell click here!