The Cowboy Barista

Usually an encounter between a Starbucks barista and a customer consists of nothing more than friendly chitchat and legal tender—but in David Turner’s case, it put him on the path to his dreams.

How it all started…

A few months ago, David, who works at the Starbucks at the northern end of Battleground Avenue in Greensboro, NC, chatted with an athletic, outdoorsy-looking man who was buying coffee. David noticed the logo on his cap—Cooler Horsemanship—and couldn’t help asking about it. He’d just watched Buck, a documentary about horse trainer Buck Brannaman. Buck had an uncanny understanding of horse behavior and psychology; he did what some call “horse whispering”—a poetic-sounding term for what’s more commonly called natural horsemanship.

Buck Brannaman leading a clinic last fall at Flint Rock Farms in Reidsville, NC

David had been fantasizing about working on a farm, with the long-term dream of running a ranch out west. He wanted to incorporate natural horsemanship into his dream, and watching Buck had solidified that desire.

Eight years as a barista had left David feeling caged, and he was ready to spring the door open.

He expected the customer, James Cooler, to shrug when he told him about his desire to work on a farm. Dave had asked around at some local farms and nobody was interested.

This time was different.

“You should come out sometime,” James said and handed David his card. “We do natural horsemanship. That’s what we’re all about.”

It took David about a half second to accept. Later in the week he appeared at Fiore Farms in Summerfield, where Cooler Horsemanship is based. He watched James and Kate play with their horses: it was different from anything he’d ever experienced. James’s Arab-quarter horse, Indigo, freely ran alongside him, dancing in circles, sailing over jumps. Kate rode Kleo, her elegant Arab-Friesian mare, using body cues to move her forward with lightness and grace.

James and Indigo doing ground play

Kate and Kleo

David, who grew up near Charlotte, had spent a lot of time at his grandfather’s farm when he was a boy. “My maternal grandfather had horses,” he remembered. “He was old school in how he trained them. You couldn’t even approach his horses because they were so afraid of people.”

These horses were different. “Seeing horses with personalities was a shock because my grandfather’s horses didn’t have any,” said David.

He was hooked in a big way. He started helping out at Fiore Farms, taking care of water tanks for more than twenty horses while absorbing the fresh, coffee-free air. He began taking lessons here and there, learning the fundamentals of natural horsemanship.

Kate instructs David on how to back up Moonshine

His mother came out to see what he was raving about.

“These horses are smiling,” she said in wonderment.

His girlfriend, Abby, came out and loved the place, especially how it de-stressed David. Her only concern was his rekindled desire to ride a bull in a rodeo.

Abby and David

In late April, David got on a horse for the first time since he was a small boy. “I’m scared of heights, so I was nervous at first,” the erstwhile rancher confessed. “But once I got up there, I realized there was nothing to worry about.”

Filling water tanks and helping with other barn chores has made David realize that his ranching dreams are giant-size. But he’s working toward them, one lesson at a time, and is a happier man because of it.

David and Moonshine after a lesson

“I’ve always said I was born in the wrong part of the country. I belong in the West or Midwest.”

And bullriding? For a man who’s afraid of heights?

“I just want to ride one.”

The future?

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2 thoughts on “The Cowboy Barista

  1. Loved this! I think coffee and horses go hand in hand and as far as bull-riding? It appears to me one “hits the ground” soon enough. 🙂 Glad you are having fun, David!

  2. Love the article!! I’m so happy for David. It’s refreshing that he gets to watch Kate and James use their gentle touch to train. As he said, he saw the sad side of training horses while growing up. Uh, no bull riding, Son!!!!

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