A good horseman helps others

Truman native honored for his efforts

By Carol Stender

LAKE CRYSTAL, Minn. -- Ken Bohlman says being a horseman isn't just being good on a horse -- it also means helping others.

Bohlman, a trainer at Island Farm near Lake Crystal, finds that a common love of horses can open conversation with troubled young people.


"Both horses and kids become not good citizens when they hurt," he said. "Many times you are fighting a horse that has problems because he hurts someplace. That's true with people. You have to find out where they hurt before you start facing the other problems."

His work with youth and his accomplishments with horses were noted by his peers in January when the Minnesota Horse Council named him Horseman of the Year.

Helping youth

Bohlman has won several awards for horsemanship, but it's his work with teens he mentions most. He understands the mindset of troubled youth because he once was one. Bohlman attributes his turn-around to working with horses.

He grew up on a farm near Truman, raised by his father after his mother left the family. Bohlman describes himself as "an ornery little bugger" as he dealt with his mother's absence. He was sent to a boys' school, went to Phoenix and worked with horses.

"I remember my first horse," he said. "It was a foal that couldn't stand up because his legs were knuckled under. I worked with him and lay down by him and moved his legs back and forth, flexing his legs and ankles. That colt eventually stood. I learned a lot about not giving up on things when I was working with that colt."

Bohlman returned to Minnesota after working on Arizona dude ranches. His work with Iowa horseman Joe Bolling gained him a greater understanding of horses and people.

"He would tell me to always watch the warm-up pen," he said. "You can see what's happening with the horse. If you start watching what they do, you start to understand them more...''


"There are many people who have won awards on their horses but they don't understand them,'' he said. "You can force a horse to do things but he won't do them for long until you learn what's going on with the animal."

Most of his young students "don't have a ton of money," he said. From troubled homes or not, all the students experience some trial in their lives and find strength in working with horses.

"I'll tell them the horses don't lie," he said. "The kids will come in, work with their horses and tell them things that they wouldn't tell anyone else. The horse has a lot to do with their own mental strength."

When one of his young students became anorexic, Bohlman put a scale in the barn.

In order to ride, she had to either maintain or gain weight. If she lost more than five pounds, she'd lose the horse. She continued to gain weight in order to ride.

Although he has experienced setbacks at times with some students, Bohlman remains optimistic.

Tragic fire

Bohlman and Island Farm owner Suzette Johnson have been together for 20 years working with horses and youth. They suffered a setback two years ago when the farm's barn burned. Bohlman discovered the April 15 fire at 11:10 p.m. He managed to save 23 horses but lost 10, he said.


The horses were stabled at another farm where he and fellow trainer, Andrea "Andy" Pidde, work with horses and riders. Their training site will soon change when a new barn, designed by Bohlman, is ready to stable and train horses April 15.

Bohlman has a special event planned that day. A clock that hung in the arena and stopped at 11:10 during the firewill be plugged in at the new building.

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