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Horse, rider benefit from trainer

Neil Melton, who grew up showing quarter horses and holds an associate degree in equine reproduction, is now offering his expertise at NorthWoods Arabians, located just off Highway 71 South. He offers training services for $600 a month, which incudes boarding.

Neil Melton rode into town last fall and decided to dismount at NorthWoods Arabians, where he has set up a training business, Ashton Performance Horses.

The set of circumstance leading up to the decision isn't quite as simple as a classic Western, and his tutelage goes far beyond "cowboy" riding.

The Kansas native was introduced to Park Rapids in September via friend and fellow horse trainer Casey Daugherty. A few weeks later, he was "roped into" transporting horses back to Park Rapids after a truck's mechanical failure.

Then he learned Kathy Monico was looking for a trainer.

Ashton Performance Horses has emerged at NorthWoods Arabians, Melton offering multi-discipline training for quarter horses, paints and Arabians - and the owners.

Melton (whose middle name is Ashton) grew up on a small farm in Kansas, climbing aboard a horse at 5.

Although he's "ridden with the big dogs - successful trainers" - he's mostly self-taught. Patience, he explained, is a key component to the process that requires hour upon hour of learning the horse, "how they move and foot placement.

"I can feel where the horse's feet are via the saddle," he explained.

The training process, he said, depends on the horse's disposition. On average, training begins for a quarter horse at 2.

But the length of training is a "guessing game," and also depends on the level of show for which the horse is bound.

Training generally begins with groundwork in a round pen with a lead rope, the horse learning manners and respect via repetition.

"You have to know when to reprimand, and when not to," he said, "to read the horse's attitude." A wrong-time reproach can cause problems.

In the course of his equine training, the 22-year-old has trained 13 horses, offering a range of challenges.

Melton works with each of the horses he's training at least five times a week.

Kids, he said, are the most fun to instruct. "You see them frustrated. Irritated, they try harder. And their smile of achievement is awesome," he said of horses responding to young riders, who themselves "learn patience, dedication and work ethics" in the process.

An autistic child is among his students, who, by year's end won the "high point award."

He learned to focus, Melton explained.

"Once you have body control of a horse, you can basically do anything," he said of a "finished horse."

"You have to learn to feel where and why a horse is doing what it's doing - and correct or improve," he said.

"I like to do it right."

Melton will be hosting a showmanship clinic from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 14 at NorthWoods Arabians indoor arena to "tune up your horse and yourself for the 2012 show season."

The clinic is limited to 10 horse/handler combinations. Call 732-3682 to reserve a spot.