I’m excited to bring you a new kind of blog post this week, an interview with a friend of mine, Jill Roberson. She owns and breeds beautiful Tennessee Walkers in NW Arkansas and owns Walking on Boots, where she helps horse owners find and size boots for their horses. She not only raises her own horses, but trains many of them herself. I hope you enjoy this informative and candid interview that includes the ups and downs of breeding horses to learning about the benefits of having your horses be barefoot and riding them in boots.
How did you get started with horses?
Jill: As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted a horse. I grew up on a dairy farm in Illinois and dairy farms are a lot of work. I am the middle child of 7. I’m the only one with the “horse bug”.
When I was 12 years old, I got my first horse, Lady. I knew nothing about horses other than that I always wanted one. I would catch her and ride her around the farm. I remember crying one day because she decided that was enough of that and decided I didn’t get to catch her that day. She was in a big pasture with cows and I learned an important lesson that day. You can’t just catch and ride a horse, then put them back. They need other reasons to be caught.
Growing up, I’d ride that horse everywhere on the farm. Carry a bucket to go catch her, use the bucket to get on her, ride her up to the house, then saddle her and ride her on the 180 acres we had. I had so much fun. She was a good horse to carry around this inexperienced rider.
What are some ups and downs of having your own breeding business?
Jill: Breeding horses has lots of ups and downs. I love it when the buyer of a foal or horse I raised or trained tells me how happy they are with the horse. They send me pictures of the horse as it matures. Then when they get it trained by me or someone else, tell me how great it trained. I really enjoy putting the first rides on a horse I raised. Riding those first of many smooth glides. It just puts a smile on my face and reminds me why I do what I do. I love it when owners tell me how great their horse is that they bought from me.
The downs are obviously when things don’t go as planned. Which any seasoned horse owner knows it’s not if, it’s when. I have lost my share of horses. It never gets easier, and it really makes you reflect. Majority of the time it was just nature, and I had no control. Makes you appreciate more when things go right. Besides, the emotional burden it is also a financial strain. If I didn’t have the ups, I definitely would quit breeding.
What is one undervalued training attribute of a good horseman, in your opinion?
Jill: Patience. To be a good trainer, you need to have patience. You can not rush a horse. They will learn and retain better if you allow them to think it through.
You’ve got some unique colors in your herd. Is that something you’ve worked hard to achieve and is important in breeding?
Jill: Yes, I have some unique colors. While color is important in what I pick, I also make sure the horse also has other characteristics I want too. I want to raise easy to train and smooth riding horses. Color is just icing on the cake.
You moved away from traditional metal shoes for your horses and now ride your horses in boots. Has that improved your horses’ hooves and performance?
Jill: Yes, I’m so glad I made the switch years ago to do away with metal shoes. I originally made the switch only because my current farrier was doing wrong angles on my horses and I just didn’t like how the hooves were looking. My new farrier is only barefoot. I ride on rocks. No way would I expect my horses to soundly carry me on 30-50 miles on a weekend camping trip without protection.
I ordered many sizes of scoot boots. Because I ride many different horses. Soon, friends got word and would ask me to come over and help them figure out what size they needed. After a while I contacted Scoot boots to become a stockiest for them. After a while I realized every horse is not a good fit for Scoots. So I branched out and began to carry Cavallo, Evo and Flex hoof boots. My website is www.walkingonboots.com. I can size remotely using pictures and video or can size in person if local.
Back to your question. I had a horse I was getting shod. He was rode some but not much. He had a vertical crack in the front of his front hoof. So the shoe was needed to hold that hoof together, right? I thought so, and that was with the advice of the farrier, so he was always shod. The crack never got better. Three years later and I continued to shoe him, hoping the crack would go away. Then, 6 months of being properly trimmed by the barefoot trimmer, that crack left and 2.5 years later is still gone.
The horses’ hooves now function as nature intended without the hindering of a metal shoe. If you ever watch a slow motion video of a barefoot hoof landing, you see that it flexes and changes. It is not solid like a metal shoe. When I watch the videos, the mechanics of the barefoot hoof is very different from the shod hoof. My horses can feel the ground. The shock of a metal shoe is also problematic to see as well.
I get why people shoe their horses. And absolutely it is easier than booting. But also think about that shod horse that pulls a shoe out on the trail will get sore faster than the barefoot horse because that barefoot horse is used to being barefoot. I feel it is better for the horse in the end, especially with the wide variety of boots now available on the market today. A properly fitted boot will function even better than a metal shoe.
Your website says you try to produce gentle horses that require little training to get them to gait under saddle. How do you go about that?
Jill: Gait is both breed in them and trained. If you teach your horse to be relaxed but not lazy, you can get a good gait. If you teach them to be worried or excited and have them hollow out their back, they will not gait correctly. I want a horse to be comfortable for me and for them. I really enjoy Ivy Glide Gait’s way of training a horse to be relaxed. I also ensure both parents’ gait naturally. To produce gentle once again goes back to parents’ bloodlines and temperament and just as much goes back to the owner/handler.
You also say that Tennessee Walkers are a versatile breed. How so?
Jill: I’ve seen Tennessee Walkers be used for endurance, pleasure trail riding, show ring, working cattle, jumping, and they are gentle enough to give kids rides around at the house. They might not win any metals at barrel racing compared to quarter horses, but they can still try. Whatever you want to train your walker to do, they can do.
You recently joined your local chapter of Back Country Horseman of America. What are some of the main objectives of the BCHA and would you encourage others to join their own local chapter?
Jill: Back Country Horsemen of America is a nation-wide organization. It is committed to protecting the access of equestrians to public lands. We work with forest and park rangers to get permission to work on trails.
If you don’t use it, you lose it. And unfortunately trails have trees fall, trails don’t get maintained due to government cutbacks, trails don’t get used, then we will lose them. So we as an organization are working at keeping trails open for the public. Equestrians, bikers, hikers.
If there is a local BCHA chapter next to you, please join. Even if you don’t want to be out clearing trails, there are other aspects of the chapter you can help with. For example, food prep for the workers, newsletter writing, getting the word out about the chapter at local events, fundraising, grant writing and just being a voice and member help the community. Of course I encourage you to get out and work but I also understand not everyone can.
If you could give one piece of advice regarding horsemanship, what would it be?
Jill: Easy, think like a horse. If you can think like a horse, then you know why they act like they do and know how you can fix or improve something.
A huge thank you to Jill Roberson for agreeing to this interview. If you’d like more information regarding her horses, the horse boots she carries, or the Back Country Horseman of America, then please use the links below. I encourage you to read more about the BCHA because our local chapter here doesn’t just aid in clearing public lands. They recently started helping a veteran owned equine center and helping clear their trails.
Jill’s Tennessee Walking Horses: http://www.arkansaswalkers.com/
Arkansas Walkers Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/arkansaswalkers
Horse Boots: https://www.walkingonboots.com/
Backcountry Horseman of America: https://www.bcha.org/
Backcountry Horseman of NW Arkansas: https://www.bchnwa.org/
Thank you for being here! If you’d like to stick around, then please join my email list. You can stay up to date on each new blog post. (All photos featured on this post are credited to Jill Roberson from Arkansas Walkers Facebook page.)