Professional Clinician Diego Gaona was raised in a family steeped in horsemanship tradition, and was on the back of a horse before he could walk. Diego’s grandfather, Dr. Raul Gaona, founder and past president of the San Antonio Charro Association, owns a ranch in Seguin, Texas, and his family stays involved with horses and the Charreada, a competitive, rodeo-type event from Mexico. Diego’s family has competed in the Charreada for many years.
A traditional Charreada is made up of 10 events, and Diego has been a regular competitor in three of them: Cala de Caballo, a reining event; Coleadero or bull flipping, an event that requires the competitor to ride alongside a bull and roll it to the ground by wrapping its tail around his leg; and Terna en el Ruedo, a team roping event in which competitors not only rope a steer, but perform rope tricks beforehand. The events of a Charreada trace their roots to the Mexican cowboy´s way of caring for livestock. “Bull flipping is one of my favorite events. My dad, an expert, taught me his skills,” Diego says.Surrounded by horses all his life, there was never a doubt in Diego´s mind that he wanted to pursue a career working with the animals that he loves. “I understand the importance of higher education and wanted to get a degree in a field related to horses, but there aren´t many programs out there that grant degrees in hands-on horse training,” Diego explains.
Surrounded by horses all his life, there was never a doubt in Diego´s mind that he wanted to pursue a career working with the animals that he loves. “I understand the importance of higher education and wanted to get a degree in a field related to horses, but there aren´t many programs out there that grant degrees in hands-on horse training,” Diego explains.
One evening, while he was idly flipping through a Downunder Horsemanship catalog, Diego came across an advertisement for the Academy. “I learned more about the program and decided that I would apply as soon as I graduated high school. I realized that this was the higher education I was searching for,” he says.
Diego discovered Clinton when he started his first colt a year before. “My dad trained horses and told me that you always start a horse in the roundpen.
I had an idea of how to go about the training process, but I wanted more knowledge and looked up as much information as I could on the internet,” he explains.
In his search, he came across YouTube videos of Clinton demonstrating groundwork and roundpenning exercises. “At the time, Clinton´s name didn´t mean anything to me, but I loved his step-by-step instruction,” Diego says. He researched Clinton further, becoming a faithful viewer of his television show. “I watched other clinicians, but nothing impressed me like Clinton´s instruction. Through his videos and television show, I could see the results Clinton gets. I got the same results when I tried his exercises on my horse. The way he explains training makes sense.”
It wasn´t long before Diego became a No Worries Club member and bought the training kits, teaching himself the Method. “Up to that point, I was experienced with horses, but I had never had so much control of my horses before. Before, it was kick means go and hopefully when you say whoa your horse stops. The Method taught me how to get control of the horse´s entire body, softening and suppling him, from his nose to his tail,” Diego says.
After high school, with his family´s full support, Diego laid out a plan to apply for the Academy. “When my family saw the successes, resources and outreaches of Downunder Horsemanship, they realized that if I made it through the program I could have a successful career doing what I am passionate about,” Diego says.
He wasn´t lulled into thinking he´d skip through the Academy. “I knew it was going to be hard work and I´d have many challenges to overcome,” he says. When he first began pursuing the idea of becoming a clinician, he asked himself if he was willing to make sacrifices to his personal life in order to succeed. “My answer was yes; I was willing to do whatever it took to succeed.”
After attending a Fundamentals Clinic, Diego was accepted into the Academy, and he threw himself into the program. “Right from the start, you realize the importance of the four core values: loyal, hardworking, ambitious and personable. These values are ingrained in everything the company does,” Diego says, and he thrived in the environment.
Clinton develops the clinicians´ skills as horsemen by having them train horses for the public through his Academy Horse Program. While some of the horses are colts that need started, most of the horses come with longstanding problems. “It´s easy to get on a horse that´s broke and make small corrections or to start a 2-year-old that´s a blank slate and has a willing disposition. When you start working with a horse that has never been exposed to any sort of training and has gotten away with bad habits for long periods of time, it really proves to you how important it is to have a solid training method. It also opens your mind up about how best to approach the situation, whether the horse´s behavior is due to fear or a lack of respect,” Diego says.
Training those types of horses, he adds, is how Clinton helps his students learn to develop feel. “The first concept about feel that Clinton wants you to understand is how much pressure you should put on a horse. He talks about that in the Fundamentals Series and in his philosophy book. While you´re in the Academy, you learn so much more about feel, as in how to feel a horse out or how to move forward in a training situation. You get so much experience at the ranch working with such a variety of horses that your feel just gets better and better,” Diego says.
There´s no doubt, he adds, that working with horses that have been sent to five or more trainers with no success and are brought to the ranch as a last resort is motivating. “There were some really tough cases, and it tests you and challenges you as a horseman,” Diego says. “I love that sort of challenge, and I love training horses and watching them progress.”
Even though a horse might appear to be a hopeless case when first arriving at the ranch, Diego learned to trust the Method. “If you follow the Method, you´ll get the results you´re looking for,” he affirms. There was a particularly challenging mare that brought this point home to the clinician. “I had a horse come in that was very untrustworthy—she had a bad habit of bucking. One day she´d be fine and do all of her lessons perfectly and we´d make great progress, and then the next day she´d blow up and it felt like I was back to square one with her. I struggled with that at first, but Clinton worked with me one-on-one and we went step-by-step through the Method. By the end of the training session, she was a different horse and became a very safe mount for her owner.”
Lesson days, where he was able to work with owners, rate as the best experience on the ranch for Diego. “By the end of the horse´s training, you´re proud of the progress you´ve made and you can´t wait to share the experience with the owner. To see their eyes light up when they´re watching their horse respond willingly is amazing and rewarding,” Diego says. “Results are what people want, and I´m lucky enough to have a career in which I can help people get those results.”
Diego appreciated the education he received at the ranch so much so that he decided to earn his professional level certification. “I took the opportunity to become an even better horseman and clinician, learning directly from Clinton,” he says.