The bay gelding cantered smoothly around the arena, the mecate reins attached to his bridle gently swinging back and forth to the steady rhythm of his gait. The silver-haired woman on his back grinned from ear to ear, and to Certified Clinician Jeff Davis, at that moment, there wasn´t a prettier picture. Six weeks prior, the woman had dropped her gelding off at the ranch to start the Academy Horse Program. When she met Jeff, who would train the horse, she explained that the gelding had a long history of bolting.

A Passion to Help

“He´d been to four other trainers and came back to her with the same problem,” Jeff says. When he began teaching the horse the Fundamentals exercises in the arena, the stout Quarter Horse managed to bolt and nearly drag Jeff off his feet. “At that point, I knew I had my work cut out for me,” Jeff says, “but as with every other horse, I just followed the Method and he made a complete 360.”

When the horse´s owner showed up for her lesson day and was able to ride the horse on a loose rein, the moment was one to savor for the clinician. “There´s nothing better than when you can help somebody make progress with their horse. Sometimes, getting results with a horse can be hard, but to see the look on an owner´s face when you help them get past that hurdle is rewarding,” Jeff says.

The passion to help others and the desire to share his knowledge sent Jeff on the path of becoming a Certified Clinician. “I love training horses and I´ve always liked teaching people. If I can share my knowledge with you, I´m going to do it,” he says.

Discovering Horsemanship

Jeff was born into a family of horse lovers—both of his parents ride horses and family trail rides were common occurrences while Jeff was growing up. “Our horses weren´t fancy—they were just backyard pets, but we put a lot of miles on them going on trail rides and overnight camping trips,” he says.

When he was 13, he took on his first training project, a 4-year-old mare that hadn´t been started. “I didn´t have the faintest idea of what I was doing,” Jeff says. At that point, his horsemanship education was basic. “We just got on and rode our horses. My parents taught me basic skills, like how to stop and turn the horse, but other than that, we didn´t have any training knowledge,” he explains.

Standing in a roundpen with a 4-year-old mare that had spent her life turned out in a pasture, Jeff quickly found his knowledge lacking. A family friend loaned him a copy of Clinton´s “Feel the Difference” VHS tape. “I picked up some basic groundwork exercises from the series and researched other clinicians to help me start the mare,” Jeff says, but he kept coming back to Clinton and the Method. “I had a huge collection of all kinds of horsemanship books and tapes from clinicians. I settled on Clinton because he was just easier to follow.”

He went to his first Walkabout Tour in 2009 and was a spectator at Clinton´s three-day clinic in Ocala, Florida, the same year. During the course of the tour, Jeff was surprised to learn that Clinton offered a certification program to become a clinician. A few months later, at the clinic, he watched Professional Clinician Shana Terry, who had just earned her certification, in action and knew he wanted to pursue a career as an instructor of the Method. “Up until that point, my plan was to become a horse trainer, but I hadn´t realized you could make a career out of teaching people the Method. When I realized that was a possibility, I knew it was what I wanted to do,” Jeff says.

He´d already established a small business training horses, and with the support of his family and good friends, he applied to the Academy after he graduated high school. After participating in a Fundamentals Clinic and learning that he´d been accepted into the Academy, Jeff returned home to Florida and worked as many horses as he could before he officially began the grueling program. “I had talked to some of the Certified Clinicians at a tour I was at and they said that the best way I could prepare for the Academy was to work as many horses as I could get my hands on,” Jeff says. “I wanted to do everything I could to give the Academy my best shot.”

The Tough Get Going

Coming into the Academy, Jeff was well aware of its notorious reputation for being tough. “I knew going in that there were going to be a lot of long days, so overall I´d say the program was exactly what I expected it was going to be. When you arrive at the ranch, you hit the ground running,” Jeff says.

In the beginning, students are given two horses to work with. “These horses can be a 2-year-old colt that needs started, or an 8-year-old gelding that´s been turned out in a pasture for three years and his owner wants him to be trained in the Method, or a horse with dangerous behavior that´s been turned away by six other trainers,” Jeff explains.

Although the horses test the Academy students´ skills as trainers, the Certified Clinician is quick to point out that there are no better teachers than those horses. “It would be a real injustice to a student if Clinton had you work with anything but these horses. As hard as some of them are and how frustrating they can be, they´re typical of the type of horses that show up at our clinics. As Clinton likes to tell us—there is no substitute for experience,” Jeff says.

To ensure that prospective clinicians are learning the Method correctly, Clinton works with them every day, six days a week. As they get better versed in the Method, he progressively steps back and watches from afar. “He´s always got eyes on you. He might not be in the arena with you, but he´s always watching you, trust me,” Jeff says.

Towards the end of the program, Clinton spends a day each week with the students, and he´ll ask them to bring their most challenging horses to work with while he watches. “When he says that, your first thought is, ´I don´t want Clinton to see my most challenging horse. I want him to see my best horse so he thinks I´m on top of my game,´” Jeff says, and adds that he and the rest of his class got a lesson on that line of thinking. “Not far into the Academy, Clinton made it clear to us that our job was not to impress him. Our job was to learn the Method and be good at it. He warned us to take advantage of the time we had on the ranch to learn from him,” Jeff says.

A Lifestyle for the Passionate

At the end of a typical day in the Academy, Jeff would fall into bed, his muscles sore and his brain still digesting all the information he´d learned that day. “There were plenty of days where it´d be 2 in the morning and we´d be putting our tack and tools away for the day and we knew we´d be dragging it out again in just a few hours,” Jeff says.

But no matter how exhausted you are or how challenging your days, when you´re passionate about what you´re doing, each day is an opportunity to get better. “Before I made it into the Academy, I thought about being at the ranch and learning from Clinton every single day. After the first clinic we helped Clinton at, where we had our first chance to help people, I knew I had made the right decision to become a Certified Clinician and that this was exactly where I needed to be,” Jeff says.

Jeff´s desire to learn as much as he can and become the best clinician he can be prompted him to earn his professional certification. “As a Professional Clinician, I can teach the Intermediate and Advanced levels of the Method and all the specialized divisions,” Jeff says. “There has been a lot of interest from horsemen wanting to move beyond the Fundamentals, so I’m really looking forward to putting all the knowledge I’ve learned into practice.”