An innate connection with horses has her training and riding championship quarter horses—and winning titles to boot.
When Teri Dawn Haws was barely 2 years old, she’d spend all day in the saddle with her dad while her pregnant mom was on bed rest. Together they’d ride through rain, snow and sunshine on the family horse ranch, running 200 horses and 600 cattle on 30,000 acres in the Oquirrh Mountains.
“People who see her ride say, ‘Man, it looks like that little girl was born on a horse,” he says. “And in a way she was.”
Now 13, Teri Dawn trains and competes on her own quarter horses. She communicates so well with the equines that she’s earned the reputation as a horse whisperer. Most competitors in American Quarter Horse Association events hire professional trainers, but Teri Dawn trains her horses herself, winning state awards since her first local Little Buckaroo rodeos at age five.
Her first pony, Peanut, taught her about the valuable partnership between horse and rider, which became the foundation for her later success as a horse trainer. “I’d play with Peanut when I was three and four, and he gave me the confidence to ride and control him,” she recalls. “At first I’d ride him with a saddle. Then I’d ride him in the corral, and then in the pasture and eventually up on the mountains. We built our confidence together.”
Teri Dawn spends upwards of 40 hours a week riding and training her horses. In the summer, she’s up before sunrise and returns to the field at 6 p.m. after a midday rest indoors. During the school year, she finishes her homework after classes end and is with her horses from dusk until late in the night, riding, practicing and grooming. “What sets her apart is her ability to interact with the horses and communicate with them,” says dad, Shamus, a two-time reigning Utah horse trainer champion.
The connections she forms with horses are based on a mutual respect and empathy she says the animals can sense. With patience, repetition and practice, they eventually build a bond based upon trust. “A horse can feel a fly land on its saddle, so they can basically feel everything you do, even talking,” she notes. “I can move, just lean a certain way, and they know I’m asking them to go somewhere.”
Main man: At 21 years old, Blue Duck is one of the oldest horses she rides, trains and enters in competitions.
Young rider: State champion in Little Buckaroos at age 8
Bareback: Most people ride without bridle and reins on older, seasoned horses. Teri Dawn does it on horses younger than 3. “[They] are more of a challenge but are a lot more fun,” she says.
Words of Wisdom
"Be sure you're patient and don't try to push the horses past their limits, and always think positive things and not negative. Have faith in yourself and your horses."