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A Passion For Horses vBy Linda Wuebben Vanessa Gravatt went through the school of hard knocks. As a native of Portland, Oregon, Gravatt moved to Boise, Idaho, where she developed her love of horses. Her passion for horses and working with them became her life goal. She wanted to be a horse trainer. At the age of 13 years old, Gravatt moved to South Dakota to help her grandma on her farm in Mitchell. It was also at this time she started showing horses through 4-H horse events and open class competitions. Horse training came naturally to her and she started working with horses after school, entering them in competitions. Gravatt’s early years in 4-H really cemented her love for horses. “I was the kind of kid who would work on something and work on something until I had it perfected,” Gravatt said. “I wasn’t the kind of kid who wanted to go on trail rides; I wanted to dedicate my time in the arena, teaching the horse, going through the process of making the horse better and putting myself and my work to the test which is, of course, showing.” After a short stint back in Idaho, she moved back to South Dakota where the work with horses on her grandma’s farm led her to purchase property near Woonsocket. There she built her first riding arena and her reputation. “Normally, people who want to be trainers try to get an internship or work as an assistant to a trainer and work their way into the business,” Gravatt said. “But I had a baby boy at an early age which made it difficult for me to get into the training business that route. I went through the school of hard knocks and learned the hard way what to do and what not to do.” The challenges did not hold Gravatt back. She trained horses for clientele and showed horses, working her way up in the training world. Learning on her own has been a positive influence in her training methods and reputation. She also takes advantage of training videos to help polish her skills. Eventually Gravatt’s family, husband Shawn and 14-year-old son Skylar, decided they wanted to live near a bigger town and made the move to Yankton. Today she trains horses for owners out of a local barn and has grown a clientele of ten horses, looking for a couple more to fill her schedule. “I’ve been very fortunate to know some good people and good customers and have done very well,” Gravatt said. Her reputation speaks volumes and her only advertisement is by word of mouth. Gravatt trains horses to show in horse events in Idaho, Nebraska, Minnesota and Oklahoma. She usually travels at least twice a month to reining shows which are sanctioned by the National Reining Horse Association in Oklahoma. The crown jewel for horse trainers and Gravatt’s goal is the Oklahoma-based NRHA Futurity for three-year olds and the NHRA Derby for older horses. “I also hope to be in an event in Texas at some point – the sky is the limit,” Gravatt said. According to the NHRA website, the NHRA is a nonprofit association which monitors the sport of reining through events and judging for horse lovers of all ages. The reining events display the athletic ability of ranch horses in a show arena. The competition is designed with 13 patterns, one of which contestants must perform for judging. The patterns include small slow circles, large fast circles, flying lead changes, roll backs over the hocks, 360-degree spins done in place and sliding stops. The more in tune the trainer and horse are makes for exciting performances of horsemanship. After 20-plus years in the horse training business, that is what Gravatt considers herself – a horseman. “I want the horse to want to work for me out of trust,” Gravatt said. “I want them to try to please because they want to please and not because they’re forced to do it. I want them to enjoy what they’re doing and when I call on them, they’re there for me.”

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