In these uncertain economic times, some local professionals believe the job of caring for horses and their owners is a stable business.

Roland “Top” Ramirez owns Top Horse Solutions in south Killeen. He said his business thrives on word of mouth while catering to his clients’ varying needs.

For Ramirez, a former Marine, his greatest success comes not in the form of payment but in the lasting connection he sees transforming the lives of horses and people.

“There are really three aspects of my business: horse training and boarding, riding lessons, and providing a therapeutic facility for children and adults,” Ramirez said.

“For many of my clients, they are older, and this is the first time in their lives they’ve had the time and money to pursue their dream of owning a horse, but they really find themselves in trouble.”

Ramirez said because of regulations prohibiting the slaughter of horses, an influx of abandoned horses are for sale at reduced prices.

“These people have a lot of heart, but they don’t know how to form a lasting relationship with an animal that weighs 1,200 pounds,” Ramirez said.

“Horses are prey animals, they are followers, and they don’t form relationships with humans out of love. They form relationships out of respect.”

After 23 years in the Marine Corps, Ramirez retired in 2004.

He always dreamed of owning a horse.

“I get really excited about horses. I knew I always wanted a horse, but I had never ridden or owned one,” he said.

“I wasn’t familiar with all the terminology and there wasn’t a lot on the Internet, so I began doing my own research.”

Ramirez bought his first horse in 2008 and started training in 2009.

He took his new charge to a training facility, and learned by asking questions and observing how other horse owners interacted during training.

“I didn’t know that what I was doing was one of the most dangerous things you can do,” Ramirez said.

“I got very little training and fortunately never got hurt; I was also fortunate to be surrounded by people who owned horses and knew what they were doing.”

Inquiries led to business

People started watching Ramirez and his success in training and interacting with his horse.

“Before long, they were asking me questions, and that’s how I got started in this business,” he said.

Top Horse Solutions sits on 18 acres near Patterson Middle School in Killeen. Ramirez stables a few horses at his private facility. He spends most of his time teaching people to listen to their horses and not try to dominate them.

“I show people the mentality of horses, to understand and accept where the horse comes from,” he said. “And then they approach a horse not from a human aspect, but from the animal’s mentality.”

Stress relief

Another important aspect of Ramirez’s profession is providing therapy for children and adults.

He opens his facility free of charge to those who seek relief from self-esteem or anger issues.

“The first time I worked with someone who needed therapy, I was approached by a friend who is a clinical psychologist with a patient who needed to set boundaries and establish self-esteem after an abusive relationship,” Ramirez said.

“I brought this lady in every day to work with the horses. A month-and-a-half later, she stopped and said, ‘I get it. I know how to establish boundaries and allow a 1,200-pound animal that wants to be near me, respect me and doesn’t hurt me.’ I let her figure it out in her head. You can let someone love you by setting boundaries while not allowing them to hurt you.”

Ramirez said some Fort Hood soldiers with anger issues and internal turmoil find a spiritual release at his facility.

“A horse also feels animosity and turns away,” he said. “Soldiers learn to find their inner peace and confidence, listen, and calm down so they don’t push the animal away. Sometimes, they even get the horse to follow them around without a halter.”

Crystal Cross Farms

Crystall Petry, a friend of Ramirez, trains people and horses at Crystal Cross Farms on State Highway 195 in Killeen. She has won national and world championships in horseback riding.

“I’ve been riding since before I could walk,” Petry said.

“I consider myself a horse trainer, and in my barn, the horses come first.

“Without the horse’s cooperation, you don’t have a team, and I teach the horse and rider to reach realistic goals so the rider doesn’t become discouraged.

“Riders have to learn to work with a horse, not against it.”

Petry agrees with Ramirez that the greatest success in their businesses is not in financial gain.

Keys to success

Their success lies in watching people reach their goals and establishing lasting relationships with the animals.

Professionals said training costs between $300 and $600 per month, horse boarding averages $300 per month, and riding lessons are $25 to $50 per hour.

When it comes to horses, Petry likes to share her favorite quote: “You’re not a rider unless you’ve fallen off at least once — horses are dangerous at both ends and tricky in the middle.”

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