BURTON, Ohio — Deep in the heart of Geauga County Amish country, Joe Allen Yoder works with horses. Standardbreds, hackneys, drafts, Morgans and even a Welsh pony stallion have found their way to the picturesque farm — on Tavern Road south of Burton — over the last few years.
The white barn at the end of a long, white-fenced driveway shelters several carts under its portico.
Yoder figures his career is making good strides, considering he often works days with a construction crew.
Horse training is a road he started down when he was 9, line-driving one of his father’s Haflinger youngsters.
When he was 10, Yoder started three babies born to Haflinger mares on his father’s farm.
“I was still going to school yet,” he recalled, so work with the foals had to fit in between class time and chores. But Yoder persevered and his patience paid off.
“We started taking them to sales. People saw how well broken in they were and wanted their horses broken in, too,” he said.
“I was 14 when I first trained someone else’s horse.”
Now considered something of a local horse whisperer, Yoder, 16, has a short waiting list of clients and learns something from each horse.
For instance, when the Welsh pony stallion arrived at the Yoder barn, he had a kicking problem. Breaking a dangerous habit in a younger horse is a challenge. Dealing with an adult stallion is even trickier.
“He was 9 years old already,” Yoder said.
With a calm demeanor and horse sense, he solved the problem with a simple technique.
“Usually, you just play around with their back legs,” he said of a kicker.
Attaching a plastic bag to a stick and rubbing a horse’s legs and hind quarters is another way of desensitizing it to handling, he added.
Yoder doesn’t take credit for discovering the techniques that produce his successes. He has learned from one of the foremost horse trainers in the U.S.
“I have three of Monte Roberts’ books. I read those,” he said.
Roberts practices and teaches communication between horses and people. Using a round pen enclosure, Roberts trains wild and poorly behaved horses to respect and listen to people. He also urges people working with horses to learn herd language in order to understand their horses.
Yoder grew up around horses, as do most Amish youngsters. He helped one of his two older brothers with the family’s stock. In turn, he is working with one of his two younger brothers, Nathan, 15, to train a horse to sell.
“I do most of the training,” he said. “He helps a little.”
His parents, Joe and Betty Yoder, also have four daughters, the young man said.
Horses that come to him are of all ages, breeds and abilities. When they leave, they can be handled, ridden and driven, as requested by the owners.
One of those owners is Linda Peiffer, who brought Yoder her horse, Bingo, a 2-year-old, 16-hand (64-inch) spotted draft gelding.
Peiffer, 58, had owned a horse as a youngster, but had no recent experience. After a sleigh ride at Christmastime, she decided she wanted a horse she could hitch up and drive. Having no horse-community contacts, she went to the Internet.
“I saw Bingo on Horsetopia,” she said, naming a Web site that sells horses.
“I bought him from his picture. Then I went and saw him and fell in love.”
The black-and-white untrained youngster was registered as a spotted draft with blood from Belgian and Percheron draft horses and a registered Paint. She bought him in January from Kelly Sednesky, a trainer and dealer in Garretsville.
“Owning a draft horse is something I have always dreamed of, due to their calm temperament and disposition. But Bingo was so young and big!” Peiffer said.
“I had no idea how to train him or put a harness on. I needed a trainer.”
Sednesky, who doesn’t work with draft horses, recommended Peiffer contact Yoder for help with Bingo. Peiffer’s first reaction to the Amish trainer was predictable.
“He was so young!” she recalls.
But Sednesky’s confidence in Yoder motivated her.
“I had Bingo delivered to Joe Allen,” Peiffer said.
“After 12 weeks of training, he had Bingo pulling all types of horse-drawn equipment and he was saddle broke.”
She also bought a cart and sleigh that were built by Amish craftsmen, and Yoder taught her how to harness and to drive.
“Bingo is trained so well he knows what a stop sign is,” Peiffer marvels.
Besides cueing the young horse with the reins, she can use voice commands. Bingo knows his left from his right, she asserts.
“I just talk to him,” she said.
In the field he frolics just like any youngster, but he has learned a good work ethic.
“He knows when he has his harness on, he has to work.”
She has Bingo stabled in Richfield and enjoys her time with him.
“He’s going great,” she said.
Recently, Yoder sold a 3-year-old Haflinger gelding named Nate the Great. He helped raise the golden pony draft and is pleased to have sold Nate to a woman in Michigan. Though young, the Haflinger can be driven and ridden.
Yoder, who can stand on the colt’s back without benefit of bridle, taught him to kneel for easy mounting. The trainer is also working with a 2-year-old Morgan stallion he hopes to use for breeding.
The leggy bay appears to be more highly strung than the Haflinger, but Yoder isn’t concerned. He knows daily lessons will yield good results.
“The only thing a horse needs is work,” he said.