Shawna and Sea World

Shawna Karrasch spent nearly ten years working to perfect her training skills not with horses, but in the pools at Sea World of California with killer whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals. Her infectious enthusiasm, sense of humor, and rapport with an audience, put her center-stage in the Sea World show. She also worked backstage with show producers, facilitating the writing, blocking, and staging of performances.

Shawna built steadily on her academic foundations. She assisted in directing the daily maintenance of the mammal facilities; which included training programs, meal preparation, medical distribution, scheduled feedings, daily exercise, and assisting with veterinary procedures from X-rays to minor surgeries.

Shawna and the World of Horses

In 1992, Shawna was invited to attend her first grand prix show jumping event in Del Mar, California. As an animal trainer, Shawna was curious to learn more about how horses were trained, and was fascinated by the possibility of applying Sea World’s tried and true system to horses.

Two years later, Shawna took her first horseback-riding lesson at the Rancho Riding Club in Rancho Santa Fe, California. There she met Vinton Karrasch, a veteran of the grand prix circuit, who became her husband and business partner.

Vinton Karrasch

Vinton had begun riding at the age of 15, quite a late start for a serious junior rider. Nevertheless, he progressed at a fast and furious pace, studying and absorbing all he could to become a successful jumper rider. Vinton competed as a junior up through the grand prix level, and spent years training with some of the top professionals of show jumping. He focused on riding and training his own up-and-coming horses and grand prix jumpers, as well as on coaching his clients and training their horses.

Vinton found many aspects of his jumper business frustrating; particularly the effort to maintain a balance with coaching his clients, developing his horses, and managing the business.

He decided to make a clean break from the equine industry and pursue a new career where he could work with animals while someone else actually managed the business. Ironically, Vinton had come to California in search of a new career as an animal trainer at Sea World.

How On Target Training Evolving

After being introduced by a mutual friend at Sea World, Vinton and Shawna talked and decided the training method Shawna mastered with marine mammals might produce similar breakthroughs with horses. The idea was too exciting to ignore.

Convinced that they could actually accelerate a horse’s learning curve and encourage the horse to want to perform, Vinton persuaded close friend and top trainer John Madden to look at their system. John was so impressed he invited Shawna and Vinton to work out of his world-renowned training facility with his wife, Beezie Patton-Madden, an international show jumping team member.

Founded in 1995, the Madden farm became the testing facility for adapting the training process for horses through On Target Training. Beezie found her horses “began to have an idea of when they were doing something right, and then they clearly had the desire to do the right thing!”

Few visitors at Sea World ever get to see the remarkable training process that builds trust between animal and trainer, actually unlocking the animal’s desire to perform. Shawna now brings this remarkable process to the equine world, for horse enthusiasts and professionals alike to use. The On Target Training system is safe, highly effective, and easy to use.

On Target Today

In 2003, the ownership of On Target TrainingTM transferred fully to Shawna Karrasch, who now runs the operation. E-mail Shawna at or call her at (888) 512-1712.

“After a split from Vinton and much soul searching, I’ve realized that On Target Training is where I am supposed to be. We created something special with our training programs, and both owners and their horses recognize it. To that end, I’m now back On TargetTM!”

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
~Jeremiah 29:11

In The News

Due to Shawna’s past Sea World expertise, she was interviewed by several national media outlets for her professional outlook on the death of Sea World Trainer Dawn Brancheau. See below for quotes.

Shawna Karrasch of San Marcos, who trained killer whales at SeaWorld San Diego for several years in the late 1980s and now uses the same technique with horses, said it relies on positive-reinforcement ideas that date to the 1930s and the work of psychologist B.F. Skinner.

The whales are taught to associate the sound of a whistle with something they value – food, head rubs, toys. Tricks are taught step by step; each time the orcas do something right, they get the whistling and rewards.

“SeaWorld was one of the first places to take it out of the textbook and into practical applications,” Karrasch said. “It really is the safest way of training animals.”

Still, she and Pryor acknowledged, killer whales are intrinsically dangerous, especially ones like Tilikum, an aggressive, breeding male who’s the head of a social group.

Excerpt from Sign On San Diego

Whales like Tilikum that have gotten violent are likely to be separated from the rest of the performing troupe, kept in isolation and trained only by the most senior of staff. But the policy is generally not to destroy such animals – a policy that most trainers agree with. “I would not put any animal down,” says Shawna Karrasch, who now trains horses but once worked with killer whales at SeaWorld San Diego. “People are killed riding horses, but that doesn’t stop us from getting back on them.” She says the trainers know the dangers they face when they enter the water, fully aware that killer whales are dangerous animals.

Excerpt from

Awards and Honors

Shawna and Vinton Karrasch won the praise of the U.S. Equestrian Team, as well as many universities, pony clubs, and mounted police units around the country. They are also well known in Canada where they held numerous clinics. On Target Training system was a part of prestigious equestrian events such as:

  USET Festival of Champions

  National Hunter Jumper Council Annual Meeting

  American Riding Instructors Certification Program

  Fair Hill International Three-Day Event

  Equine Affaire

  Equitana USA


  Horse World Expo

  Winter Equestrian Festival

  Ft. Washington Horse and Pet Expo

As Authors

  “You Can Train Your Horse to Do Anything”, On Target Training: Clicker Training and Beyond, by Shawna and Vinton Karrasch, 172 pp.

  “You Can Train Your Horse to Do Anything” Video, by Shawna and Vinton Karrasch, 53 min.

  The Horse Digest, “Shawna Karrasch Talks With Equine VIP,” May 2011

  Equine Journal, “Shawna Karrasch Offers On Target Training Tips,” August 2010

  California Riding Magazine, “Positive Reinforcement is Persuasive with Horses,” July 2010

  Practical Horseman, “Click and Load,” May 2000, by Shawna Karrasch

  Sidelines, “Getting Hershey Back On Target,” October 23, 1999, by Shawna Karrasch

  Horse World Expo

  Winter Equestrian Festival

  Ft. Washington Horse and Pet Expo