To Donnette Jordan Byrnes, horses are magical. She believes they have beautiful spirits and can teach people a lot about themselves and about others.
Breaking a horse, forcing the animal, working it like a machine or being naive to its feelings and needs, is not part of the vivacious young woman's thinking or vocabulary.Byrnes is head teamster for Carriage Horse Livery Ltd., a Salt Lake company that provides carriage rides around downtown Salt Lake City and that organizes hay wagon rides. She also is vice president of operations for a subsidiary company, Pioneer Entertainment Inc.
Caught up with horses since she was a youngster, she eventually rode and learned from the buckaroos on the 1.1-million-acre Wine Cup Ranch in Nevada. Now she trains and drives teams of draft horses for Carriage Horse Livery and oversees equipment and drivers for Pioneer Entertainment, which provides chuckwagon dinners and live country-western musical programs near Pioneer Trails State Park. The latter firm also operates Hardware Ranch, which offers sleigh rides through elk herds near Hyrum, Cache County.
"Horses understand a lot more than people give them credit for," Byrnes said. "A good trainer will be able to see when something's wrong with a horse and help, but not fight, the animal. I would choose to love him (the horse) and, with patience, try to understand his needs and try to make my ideas and thoughts his ideas and thoughts."
During a visit to the Carriage Horse Livery barn, located in a converted warehouse at 330 W. First South, and during a ride in an elegant French-style carriage, Byrnes shared information about her own background and her feelings about working with horses and people.
She was born and reared in Salt Lake City, where she attended Highland High School and what is now known as Salt Lake Community College. Byrnes lived off and on for about seven years in Heber City and comes from a family of lawyers, doctors and other professional people. Much of her love for horses stems from a close friendship with an uncle, Dr. Joseph L. Hatch, a Salt Lake ophthalmologist who owns quarter horses.
She and Hatch still enjoy riding horses together in Heber City.
Her father, Dr. William S. Jordan, an anesthesiologist at University Hospital, had hoped his daughter would be more academically oriented. But he says he's come to appreciate her goals in life. He said he's very pleased with the love she has developed for horses and other animals.
"The skills she has developed in training horses are skills we could all use in our daily lives," Jordan said. Byrnes's mother, Jane, says Donnette "is such an individual, who has enriched our lives through her varied activities. She keeps us young."
In 1986 Byrnes went to the Nevada ranch, where she was hired as a cook, but she said that job didn't work out very well.> "All I wanted to do is ride with the buckaroos. Martin Black, the cowboss and an excellent trainer, invited me to ride with the buckaroos, and it opened up a whole new world for me. He has a buckaroo's etiquette on how to move cows," she said.
"A buckaroo's etiquette is the simplest, easiest way to work cattle without a lot of force or work. It's the easiest way to do less to get more results."
Since Byrnes and her husband, Wally, worked at the Wine Cup Ranch in Nevada, the couple has ridden horses and worked with cattle at the Padlock Ranch in Montana. They had similar duties at the Big Springs Ranch in Nevada and a sprawling operation in Wyoming. On her own, Byrnes has worked at several other ranches in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Heber City and Fairfield, Utah County. She also has driven 18-wheel livestock trucks throughout the western United States and teaches skiing in Park City.
For the past 11/2 years she has been employed by the carriage company, which has taken thousands of individuals and families for rides in its four years of business in downtown Salt Lake City. The Christmas season is one of the busiest for the firm.
On a beautiful snowy night just before Christmas, Byrnes took my daughter, Shauna, 15, and me for a ride through the downtown area in one of the beautifully designed and built black vis-a-vis carriages.
A comfortable six-seater equipped with green velvet seats, warm lap robes and battery-powered lights, and decorated with pine tree boughs and Christmas bows, the carriage was pulled by Kat, a dapple gray, 1,800-pound Percheron.
A sure-footed French draft horse, Kat (the mare is often teamed for hay-wagon pulling with Kit, another Percheron) seems to know every inch of the streets criss-crossing the business district.
As the horse moved down the colored light-bedecked streets, the rhythmic clippity-clop clop sound of the horse's shoes broke the stillness of the crisp night air.
"I like the sound. It rocks children to sleep sometimes," said Byrnes, who was wearing European-style tuxedo tails, pearl earrings, breaches, a black top hat and leather knee boots.
"Actually, when I'm in this outfit I feel horrible because it's not me. It's nice, but it's not Byrnes at all. But I'm giving the image the carriage company wants to give. But when I'm up here I'm in a shell. It's not me. I'm not English."
Carriage Horse Livery Limited "wants to give people an old-fashioned European experience," Byrnes explained.
Donnette Byrnes' face beamed with excitement as she talked about learning to work with and enjoy horses. Her philosophy, developed over a number of years in attending classes with well-known horsemen, is mixed with her own personality. She seems to be bursting with excitement about horses and her job.
"My goal is to be in total harmony with my horse. I don't look at myself as a finished horse trainer but as someone who is always learning."
As she spoke she turned to Shauna, asking her how she had enjoyed the evening ride, which was enchanting experience as we rode past beautiful yule displays.
"It's great. It's nice. It's fun," Shauna replied. "It makes your imagination run. . . . The carriage and the horse, just the atmosphere. I'm ready to go anytime."