MOONSTRUCK....WHO'S TEACHING WHO?
The year was 1989 and Frank Bell was on a horse that was about to teach him the most important lesson of his horse career; a lesson that would go on to benefit riders throughout the world for years to come. He was on his second two year old Argentine filly of the day and neither horse had been previously ridden. The first, a sweet chestnut had been a breeze and they seemed to fit each other like old friends. But the second was clearly having a bad day.
It hadn't started that way. Frank had saddled her up and done a little ground work and gotten right on. With his earlier success he was feeling just a little cocky. You see this was the second unbroken horse he'd ever been on and had absolutely no idea how quickly and violently it can all turn very bad. Her name was Moonstruck because of the obvious bright white moon on her almost black forehead. She was of the finest South American breeding and very high strung. She would go on to become one of the fastest horses in the game of polo and carry the most famous polo player of all and the future King of England, Prince Charles. But today she had her mind on other things, namely shear terror and the absolute determination to unload her rider.
The ride in the 60' round pen had gone perfectly. It was a beautiful Spring day in Camden, South Carolina. The whole south was coming out of winter as the grasses greened and buds exploded everywhere as the trees and bushes and flowers greeted the warmth and moisture and penetrating sunshine. The smells and sounds of the awakening had everyone feeling great, including Frank Bell. With his second successful ride under his belt, he just had to push the envelope a bit more and decided to ride Moonstruck out. He rode over by his house several hundred yards to the north, then to the edge of the lake and even took a step into the water and then headed back toward the round pen which was situated right in the middle of the 300 acre horse farm he was managing for Geoffrey and Jorie Kent. As he swung his right leg off the horse, it barely brushed the horse's rump. She scooted right out and he landed hard on the ground. She was clearly bothered by this surprise and suddenly very jumpy. He knew he had to get back on and leave her in a good place. He also knew she needed a little time to cool down. He turned her into the round pen and then sat up on the edge watching as she moved around.
He'd worked for the Kents for a couple of years now and was learning about horses as quickly and efficiently as seemed possible. Their travel company, Abercrombie and Kent had a high goal team which was sponsored by Rolex. They played the fastest and most prestigious polo in the world and owned the best mounts as well. Each prospect horse had the potential to command astronomical figures. Players were paid sums as high as a million dollars to play for a season. They were almost always of Argentine decent and grew up playing the game. As very young kids they would swing mallets as they raced around the yard. By the time they were riding, they could hit the ball quite well. The game was imbedded in the culture and they turned out the best horses and riders unequivocally. And Moonstruck was one of those horses. She just didn't know it at the time. Nor did Frank.
The moment of truth could not be avoided any longer and he entered the solid wood round pen with determination sprinkled with a touch of resignation. He was confident, but really had no idea how to help the horse, aside from getting on. His ground skills were very limited. As he swung his leg over her back, she tensed up like a coiled spring. He had her head around as he mounted so she could not explode, but she was just shaking with fear as he found the stirrup on the off side. He eased her head a bit and she walked off very gingerly on her tip toes. He sat deep and talked to her.
"Easy girl. You're just fine. Eeeeeeeeeeasy now," he cooed over and over again. But it wasn't working. They would walk a few steps and she'd tense up and be right on the verge of blowing and he'd get her head cranked around and wait until she settled a bit and try again, but to no avail. She was completely freaked out. When he shifted in the saddle to dismount, she'd almost blow and he had no options but to continue with the same or let her move out a bit and perhaps burn off some of that energy which was the very untimely option that he finally chose in total desperation. He allowed her to break into the trot and at the second stride she catapulted him right into the side of the round pen. He heard a loud snap and couldn't move his left arm. He face was skinned up and bleeding. And mostly his pride was hurt.
He dragged himself up and out of the round pen and finally to the hospital to have his face cleaned up and learn that he wouldn't be riding horses for a couple of months with a broken collar bone. Frank Bell had a lot of time to think about his mistakes and his future. He vowed to himself that before he would ever ride another horse he would set up a system on the ground to promote his safety as well as the safety of the horse. And he did.
What evolved from the fateful Spring day is a system that Frank has been teaching to students, trainers, teachers, and veterinarians throughout the world. He calls it his Seven-Step-Safety System. It is the foundation for everything he does with horses, all horses, whether he rides them or not. When these steps are used properly, the rider has a completely new and in depth relationship with his horse. It is a relationship based on confidence and trust and understanding. If this level is not attained, it's not time to ride the horse, or it may be time to get some help. What we're talking about here is safety. To Frank's way of thinking, it is the only thing that really matters. The seven steps are as follows:
bonding, take and give, intimacy, the dance begins, desensitizing, ballet on the ground, ballet in the saddle
"The first three steps are about building a trusting relationship" says Bell. "Then I teach the horse to dance, first on the ground, then in the saddle, with a little confidence building along the way. It really is an amazing process."
This very straight forward system is well outlined in Frank's foundation video "Discover the Horse You Never Knew" as well in his audio book "The Gentle Solution, Seven Steps to the Horse You've Always Wanted". These tools give horse men and women a place to start and a plan to begin working . . . now. As Frank so often says, "It's all about preparation. It's not painting the house. It's about getting the house ready to paint. Well it's the same with a horse. When the horse is ready, he will invite the ride."
Frank has an entire video library to help horse people of every desire and aptitude, but only when they completely understand and are working his foundation 7 step system. These additional videos include:
Starting the Young Horse- The first ride.
Working With Young Horses- weanlings, yearlings, spoiled 2 yr. stallion.
Communication in the Saddle
Retraining the Racehorse
Crossing Water and Bridges
Solving Seven Common Horse Problems- ears, clippers, feet, bitting, herd-bound, barn-sour, and pull-back
Spooking and Shying
Mounting the Difficult Horse/Problem Foot handling
A Day in the Life of a Horsewhisperer- 3 part documentary including ABC, CBS, and scenes from the Movie "The Horse Whisperer" with Robert Redford.
These products and his appearance schedule are available on the web at To order direct: 800-871-7635.