Making a connection: Lake Stevens trainers use ‘Horse Whisperer’ approach


Herald Writer

LAKE STEVENS — Julie Bader had a gentle old pack horse to ride when she was growing up in the ’60s near Lake Stevens.

It was a little girl’s dream come true.

Earlier this year, she convinced her husband to renew that dream with a retired racehorse. She figured it would be well-trained and only cost $100 a month to keep.

She was wrong on both counts.

Bader found out the high-spirited racehorse she bought named Stanzi was hard to train. After going through several conventional horse trainers, Bader found Heart Centered Horsemanship in Lake Stevens. Owners Ron Valentine and Kathy Joseph follow John Lyons’ methods – the gentle approach to training made famous in the movie "The Horse Whisperer."

Valentine used to go to work at the electronics firm Fluke Corp. in Everett in a shirt and tie. Now he wears a cowboy hat and boots and uses kissing noises and body language to communicate with horses.

"On the racetrack, they teach them only a couple of things – to go fast and to turn left," Valentine said.

So Valentine and Joseph had to teach him to calm down. Stanzi’s previous owner sedated him before going for a ride. But Valentine calms the horse and rider by helping them succeed as a team.

Now, Stanzi has learned to trust and respect humans. That’s the starting point for a happy horse that loves its "job," Joseph said.

She started training horses professionally 10 years ago, and quickly latched on to the approach of Lyons, who lives in Colorado. Conventional methods with bridle and bit work on some horses some of the time, she said. But Lyons’ approach always works.

"If I can connect with this horse’s mind, there’s no stronger lead rope in the whole world," Joseph said.

The trainers teach riders to think like a horse, which isn’t easy.

"Horses are prey animals, people are predators, so we think different," Valentine said.

By offering horses something they want – safety and comfort – riders can get them to behave without big bits or crops.

Meanwhile, Valentine’s horse, Fancy, follows him around at the shoulder. The pair is practicing for a demonstration Sunday at Farm-City Days near Granite Falls. Clucking and slightly motioning with his shoulders, Valentine directs Fancy to walk backwards through a narrow path.

Valentine said it’s not magic, just good communication. Joseph is willing to say it’s something more.

"I’ve seen some real big miracles happen with some of these horses," she said.

Bader, who lives in Kirkland, agreed.

"It’s coming along well," she said of Stanzi’s training.

You can call Herald Writer Kristin Kinnamon at 425-339-3429 or send e-mail to

Talk to us

More in Local News

FILE - A sign hangs at a Taco Bell on May 23, 2014, in Mount Lebanon, Pa. Declaring a mission to liberate "Taco Tuesday" for all, Taco Bell asked U.S. regulators Tuesday, May 16, 2023, to force Wyoming-based Taco John's to abandon its longstanding claim to the trademark. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Hepatitis A confirmed in Taco Bell worker in Everett, Lake Stevens

The health department sent out a public alert for diners at two Taco Bells on May 22 or 23.

VOLLI’s Director of Food & Beverage Kevin Aiello outside of the business on Friday, May 19, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Coming soon to Marysville: indoor pickleball, games, drinks

“We’re very confident this will be not just a hit, but a smash hit,” says co-owner Allan Jones, who is in the fun industry.

Detectives: Unresponsive baby was exposed to fentanyl at Everett hotel

An 11-month-old boy lost consciousness Tuesday afternoon. Later, the infant and a twin sibling both tested positive for fentanyl.

Cassie Franklin (left) and Nick Harper (right)
Report: No wrongdoing in Everett mayor’s romance with deputy mayor

An attorney hired by the city found no misuse of public funds. Texts between the two last year, however, were not saved on their personal phones.

Firearm discovered by TSA officers at Paine Field Thursday morning, May 11, 2023, during routine X-ray screening at the security checkpoint. (Transportation Security Administration)
3 guns caught by TSA at Paine Field this month — all loaded

Simple travel advice: Unpack before you pack to make sure there’s not a gun in your carry-on.

Heavy traffic northbound on 1-5 in Everett, Washington on August 31, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
To beat the rush this Memorial Day weekend, go early or late

AAA projects busy airports, ferries and roads over the holiday weekend this year, though still below pre-pandemic counts.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Troopers: DUI crash leaves 1 in critical condition in Maltby

A drunken driver, 34, was arrested after her pickup rear-ended another truck late Tuesday, injuring a Snohomish man, 28.

Housing Hope CEO Donna Moulton raises her hand in celebration of the groundbreaking of the Housing Hope Madrona Highlands on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$30M affordable housing project to start construction soon in Edmonds

Once built, dozens of families who are either homeless or in poverty will move in and receive social and work services.

A south-facing view of the proposed site for a new mental health facility on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, near 300th Street NW and 80th Avenue NW north of Stanwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
County Council OK’s Stanwood behavioral health center

After an unsuccessful appeal to block it, the Tulalip Tribes are now on the cusp of building the 32-bed center in farmland.

Most Read