The people of Spirit Lake coined his nickname “the Indian horse trainer,” fittingly so, since Belgarde has been training and riding for 57 years- since he was 13-years-old. “When you see a horse it's a part of your survival,” Belgarde emphasized. “Remember, it's important.”

By Shinoah Young
DL Journal Reporter

More than half a century has past since Peter Belgarde Jr. was taught how to train horses.“Right after I was born in Spirit Lake, the transportation we had were a team of horses.”

The Wodakota Peacemaker learned from his parents, grandparents and friends about how to care for and live alongside the sacred animals.
He elaborated on Dakota clans and societies-all which were centered around the culture of the horse. “The big part of survival is, horses carried the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota away from the enemy.”

“You know, survival is also a part of getting buffalo and different game for food and a lot of that depended on the horse for transportation and running the animals into certain traps,” explained Belgarde.  
Now 69, Belgarde is teaching his grandchildren and the younger generations the ropes. “I always feel that these horses came to us for a reason,” he declared.

The people coined his nickname “the Indian horse trainer,” fittingly so, since Belgarde has been training and riding for 57 years-since he was 13-years-old.
Belgarde has trained horses from South Africa, Sweden, Norway, England, Ireland, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Canada and every state west of the Mississippi, also a couple from states on the east coast. Belgarde’s horses will ride in the Fort Totten Days parade on Sunday, July 27 at 10 a.m.

“My grandpa has taught me everything I know about riding horses,” said 13-year-old grandson Michael Belgarde.
That includes how to put on a saddle, bridle, horse shoes and how to feed and ride a horse. “You’ve gotta take care of your horses and check their feet, take care of your equipment,” said Michael. “Riding the horses, it could be hard but it’s fun. It can be scary but it’s still a fun time.”

“Treat them with respect and they’ll treat you with respect,” added Victoria Wolters, Belgarde’s granddaughter. The 11-year-old said her grandfather taught her how to ride when she was 8-years-old.

“It gives them experience and confidence,” said Belgarde.

“Horses are like family to me,” Victoria said. “We need these animals. I feel pretty good after I ride.”

“The longest I’ve rode is five hours,” she told the Journal. “I feel free when I’m riding and the horse starts running or galloping.”

Equestrian therapy is somewhat of a mystery to the outside world, but Belgarde swears by it. He said more and more post-war soldiers are looking towards horse companionship for stress-trauma treatment. “I’m a Vietnam vet and these horses are my buddies.”

“I did what a lot of veterans do. I crawled in the bottle.” But Belgarde said that didn’t make a difference so in 1976, he stopped drinking and started riding.
“This horse is actually a teacher,” he quietly addressed his grandchildren. “If you need to let go of some oppression or bad feelings, that horse will take it away from you.”

“It has a certain calming effect.”

“It’s a totally different feeling with a horse because you can go out across the prairies, you can go through the woods, you can go in the water.”

“It’s taking away all other thoughts.”

“I want the community to come back to being a true horse society and understanding the horse.” This spring he taught about a dozen grandchildren how to saddle, bridle, feed and care for the animals.

“The only thing we ask people for is a day’s notice in advance, if they’re going to come out here. No money or gifts.”

“It’s a gratifying feeling,” said Belgarde. “The ego isn’t involved.”

“A week ago I was pretty mad and I jumped on,” said Victoria. “What you feel, the horse will feel and it will react to that so that horse was mad and then I started getting control of it and it got happy and after that I didn’t want to stop riding.”

“It amuses me because of how grandpa works with them. They listen to him. They do everything he asks them to. They know who’s boss. You gotta teach ‘em.”

“I like to visit mostly everyday here,” she smiled.

“When you see a horse it’s a part of your survival,” Belgarde added. “Remember, it’s important.”