Monday, October 20, 2014

New website!

I'm excited to announce a brand new website, and thus some changes in this blog.

Here is the latest entry on my blog, which is now located on my website (rather than the blogspot address).   Please make sure that you head over there, and to facebook, to receive my updates from now on!

Welcome to the new 3R website! I'm so happy to have celebrated my fifth anniversary with Three Rivers Horse Training and all of the wonderful horses and humans that have joined my 3R family in this time. I decided that as an anniversary gift to myself and to the business, a new website was in order!

When I was writing a business plan and designing a website for Three Rivers Horse Training in 2008 and and 2009, I was just hoping to create a business where I could ride horses all day and make enough money to feed myself. I knew that my aspirations as a horse person were high enough that I needed to be working horses all day, every day, to begin to make a dent in my goals. The best way I knew how to do this was to start working horses for the public. So I took a leap of faith and started a business. I created a website that felt like me, felt like the beautiful Grey Cliffs Ranch, felt like Montana, and hopefully felt like something everyone with a horse might like!

Well I have been so lucky, because it worked. Five years later I have ridden A LOT of horses. I have learned more than I ever could have imagined I could learn in just five years. My aspirations are only greater now, and I know I better keep doing this!

But a couple things happened that I wasn't expecting. The first, was I got to know myself in ways I didn't see coming. I have been so inspired by the horses and the humans around me, that I have really begun to learn who I am, both in and out of the round pen. In doing so, I learned what I have to offer this world and the horses in it, and I also learned what I am not. That is one reason why I felt so strongly I needed a new "look" for my business. One that wasn't that of me five years ago, just wanting to convince people to hire me. But of me now, a person who is truly and utterly in love with the horse (I thought I was five years ago! I was wrong, because THIS is love. Hopefully five years from now I can say the same). I know that I am not the trainer for everyone, because with hiring me you get a passion and a love that is a little bit...intense. I now know I am incapable of compromise when it comes to this love and so I need the right clients around me that love their horses as much as I do.

And this leads me to the second magical thing that has happened. Three Rivers Horse Training became something separate from me. It became not just a business, but a feeling. I love when I'm traveling at a clinic and a group of us are chatting and someone talks about the 3R page on Facebook and what is happening there. Or how they heard Alex in their ear when they were working a horse or talking to their husband or playing with their kids. As if somehow I, the person who writes this blog, and Alex and 3R are not all the same thing! But we aren't. Because this has taken on a life of its own. This business, this life, this philosophy, is alive and well at my barn in Three Forks living with my boarders while I am in Arizona. It is alive in Billings where there is a huge contingent of 3R riders who love and support each other in ways I find remarkable, even when I haven't had a clinic there in a while. It lives in the workplaces of all of my clients who tell me stories about how they have changed how they deal with co-workers after they reflected on their horsemanship. It is in relationships between friends and spouses that are reconsidering how they treat each other based on their work with the horses. It is in the parenting I hear people talk about, and how they are considering how to raise their children in a thoughtful and engaged manner after becoming so committed to that with their horses.

It is truly remarkable and such an honor to see this thing become something separate from me. I can't begin to express how thankful I am to have heard the stories I've heard, to have been a part of relationships, both human and equine, as they grow, and in turn to have been shaped and inspired myself.

So I hope that this website, and the changes I am making to structure my business, can reflect all of these moments and blessings. I hope that business can reflect life and life can reflect learning and learning can reflect horses. Because there seems to me nothing more pure and flawed and lovely than working with a horse!

Thank you all for making the last five years the best five years of my life. I'm so excited to see what is next.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


One of the projects I have given my intern Bree is to figure out how to get a horse to walk trot and canter with no flee, without using her legs or saddle strings or any sort of driving force. I started her on this project with a filly thatI had done the foundation work and first four rides on, and told her to figure out how to teach this horse to lope. This project was as much for Bree's learning as the horse, and of course I have no problem using aids, but this concept I think is really life changing.

She did it! And the changes in her horsemanship have been huge (plus, that filly is riding like a pro!). Any ideas how she did it?

Here is Bree on a different horse, Grace, working on something similar out in the field.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


I have been thinking lately about what the foundation to my horsemanship is, or is becoming.  What is the core understanding that drives each decision I make with a horse?  In the simplest terms, what does everyone need to start thinking about before they begin this type of journey with a horse?

I think it is the understanding that the horse has an experience that is not the same as my experience.  

When I first read this sentence, it sounds utterly ridiculous.  Of course my horse has an experience that is not my experience.  They are ALIVE after all!  But when I think about how horses exist in this world, what they are for, how they are treated, and the decisions we have all made at one point or another, I realize that this concept is incredibly profound.

Horses are generally seen in terms that are relative to us.  A horse has a good day if we enjoy the ride.  A horse is well built if he can perform what we want him to perform.  A horse has earned her keep if she has done the job we have given her that day.  A horse is brave if he goes past something that we think would scare him.  A horse is smart if she accomplishes the task we provide.  A horse is stupid or stubborn if he doesn’t want to do what we think is important. 

But, maybe that wasn’t their experience at all.  Maybe the horse had a bad day because of that ride, you just enjoyed it because they chose to cope.  What if a horse has trouble with how he chews his food or has aches and pains we don’t know about, but because he wins ribbons, we say he is well built.  Perhaps a horse that is held captive inside fences deserves her dinner whether or not she goes for a ride.  Maybe that thing didn’t take much bravery to go past, because it wasn’t very scary at all and he understood what it was, and that’s why he wasn’t afraid.  It’s possible that the horse is not particularly smart, and while she can accomplish the task she’s told to do if given very few options, if she were left to figure out how to manage her own decisions, she would struggle.  Maybe that horse isn’t stubborn and stupid, but actually very smart, and doesn’t want to do something that makes no sense to him.

Horses have their own lives.  They are forced to participate in ours, but they have their own experiences, own ideas, heartbreaks, successes, worries and moments of both sheer brilliance and complete confusion.  It seems so simple, but to take the moment and think, I wonder what this horse’s experience is of this moment, can radically change how you might respond.  Suddenly, that horse who won’t go isn’t stubborn, but worried, and petting that behavior seems a lot more practical than kicking it.  Sometimes noticing that a horse is involved in something else in the world, rather than being haltered, even though they are standing still to be caught, changes how quickly you do it. 

The realization that a horse’s experience is not the same as our experience may be the most obvious and life changing realization of our horsemanship journey.  I think it is so profound that it cannot help but change every interaction from then on.  To separate our experience from that of the horse brings an ability to empathize with their feelings, even if those feelings are inconvenient for our plans and goals.  

For me, it changes the start point and the end point.  I start by considering the horse, and end wherever that takes me.  I have had to let go of a lot of the things I loved about riding a horse that did not locate the horse in the moment, and find new (and greater) appreciation for things that do.  I think I find pleasure in smaller things than I used to.  I think I laugh more around the horses than I used to.  I think my understanding and appreciation for the horse has grown in ways I didn’t expect, and I have come to realize how sophisticated and funny and incredible these animals really are.  I thought I already knew all of that, but I didn’t.  I’m excited to share many more experiences with many more horses, and I’m sure my love for them will only continue to grow.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

First time feeling.

Last week while I was sitting on a filly for the first time, I got to talking with the photographer watching about what she observed as the horse taking comfort when I picked up a rein. That we had already established a feel between us, so even though me being on her was new, she was easily able to find comfort in me despite my new position above her. I've been thinking about how this has changed in me as I've started colts over the years. I now spend less time getting them okay with me being on them, and more time getting them to feel like I have something to offer them. Being able to get on them, having a soft feel between us, helping them to understand how to think in front of them, steer, change speeds, etc, and supporting them when something is scary, just happens after that.
At the end of a first ride (or, at the end of any session, really), I want the horse to be brighter eyed and more confident with me around and in themselves than when we started the day.
Here I am leaning over to give an enthusiastic rub to this filly, for bravely allowing me to climb up on her. It never ceases to amaze me that they let me do this, and no matter how many colts I start, I get such a kick out of it every time I put a first ride on a horse. And, it's certainly not an adrenaline rush, because it's usually pretty boring!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Intensity without worry?

Today is my last day in Utah, and over the last few days I've had quite the introduction to what's going on in the dog world right now. I have been surrounded by a huge variety of trainers, and learning about the various schools of thought that are popular at the moment. I've never thought about dog training in such a structured way, because it is not my livelihood, so it's been wonderful to really immerse myself among so many trainers.

Last night at a BBQ, some bite dogs were pulled out and I got to watch their trainers working them. I certainly was surprised to see some of the softest moments I've seen occur with these animals. That was not what I expected. I have very little exposure to sporting dogs of any sort, but what I have seen in a general sense has been a level of chaos and worry in a very driven dog that makes me rather uncomfortable. The same feeling I get when watching most competitive horses, in any equine sport. The animals are often amazingly obedient, but have to be pretty upset inside to perform at the intensity level desired.

But the dogs I saw yesterday had been trained by some very thoughtful trainers, and I loved seeing the moments where the dogs could be engaged and certainly intense, but absolutely present. It wasn't worry that was driving them. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What's so interesting about interest?

It seems that all the time, I’m thinking about and discussing what we are trying to cultivate in a horse when working with them.  I say things like “directing the thought” and “being soft” and “taking an interest.”  But what does that really look like?????

Tonight my husband, Tye, came in with a story that really struck me as what this philosophy is really all about.  So I will brag about his creativity for a moment!  I’ve been giving Tye regular lessons with his young mule, Slim, who is about ready to get going under saddle.  Slim, however, would really just like to party all the time.  Who can blame him?  Tye’s recent challenge has been that Slim would prefer not going back into the pen after a session (Tye may be the only person in equine history to have an animal that will run to him to be caught, go wherever he likes, and then throw a fit when it’s time to go back in the large pen with the other horses!).  There is green grass and way more to do outside his paddock than inside it, so Slim wonders what the point of going home really is?

As anyone who has ever played with a mule before knows, when a mule gets a thought, it gets a BIG thought.  And if you match that big thought with any sort of muscle, well, good luck to you.  Tye spends his days with tractors and hammers, and was unpleasantly surprised to find that Slim didn’t really care how hard he pulled on the lead.  Slim was staying at the party, not going home.  Last weekend, I demonstrated to Tye how I would handle this.  I spent time getting Slim’s thought to go forward, regardless of what happened with his feet.  Every time his eyes got bright, his ears went forward, and he showed a glimmer of interest in the right direction, he got a pet.  The take home message for Tye was how little strength any of this required on my part, because I was cultivating the thought, not the feet.  Before you know it, Slim walked quietly and purposefully through the green grass and into his pen.  I think Tye could have killed me!

Instead of domestic dispute, though, Tye thought on it.  When he next went to practice the reentering the pen, he said there were a few times he almost got in a fight, but was able to work his way through it.  But then something magical happened (at least magical to me…I don’t think Tye or Slim would describe it as such!).  Tye said he was reaching a point where he wasn’t sure what to do.  So he swung the big gate shut to take Slim for a little walking break.  When the gate swung shut, it bounced a bit off the post, and caused a vibration, which caught Slim’s attention.  Slim became very curious about the vibration, and was looking right at the gate Tye wanted him to go through! So, in a stroke of what I would call genius, Tye pet him.  He asked for him to go towards that interest, which Slim did.  He opened the gate a bit, and Slim got worried about going through, so Tye shut it and caused it to vibrate.  He repeated this.  Each time Slim got worried about going through the gate and leaving the party side of the fence, Tye would vibrate the gate, Slim would get interested, and Tye would pet him.  He said before he knew it, Slim was walking through the gate just as nice as can be! No fighting necessary.

I think this is such a valuable lesson.  It shows that none of this situation had to do with Slim’s feet, or Tye’s strength.  Just where Slim was interested, and if he was allowed to pursue that interest.  Tye did exactly what I had done. He cultivated an interest until Slim wanted to pursue it.  While I made a bit of noise or put a bit of a feel on the rope, Tye just slammed a gate so it vibrated.  No difference.  They all caught Slim’s attention.  Tye probably was smarter about the situation than I was, because he didn’t have to work so hard to catch his attention, or worry much about timing, because he noticed something that did it easily! So here, Tye used the mule’s ability to have a big thought to his advantage!

When we are working our horses (or mules) it is so important to remember that if they wanted to, they can do everything we ask of them.  But why would they want to? Just like Slim wanted to stay out in party-land (i.e: not his paddock), every moment a horse is alive they have feelings, desires, and ideas.  Why fight that? Isn’t that what we love about them? I know that the reason I choose to ride horses and not a motorcycle is because I absolutely love the emotions, the tries, and the intelligence that radiates from a horse.  It is simply a matter of making the ideas we have, their ideas.  We have to direct their thoughts and change their feelings, so that they can take an interest in what we would like them to take an interest in.  This isn’t something that can be done with force, because this is something that is willingly given by the horse.  You can’t force me to be interested in something.  You can force me to do something, but not to be interested in it.  I have to have a reason, a motivation, a desire, in order to be truly interested, and not simply obedient. 

I don’t know why the vibrating gate was so fascinating to Slim, and I hope in the future if Tye continues to cultivate this, the gate won’t need to be there.  Slim will decide that whatever Tye suggests is interesting, truly is interesting, just because he trusts that Tye knows what he’s talking about in that department.  That’s really what my goal is every time I’m with an animal.  For them to feel confident enough in our relationship that if I suggest they take an interest in something, they are excited to do it, and their effort is genuine.  

Our animals must freely give their thoughts to us, because they cannot be taken.  So it is up to us to figure out how to be important enough, interesting enough, and trustworthy enough, to deserve them.

Here's Slim.  Taking an interest.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dog Life

Took a little break from the horses yesterday afternoon and got to work this troubled pit bull that is in training with Kelly Engel over at Know Thy Dog training. Here a couple shots where I am working on getting him to let go of a thought and pick up one of mine. He has a really hard time with this and freezes with very heavy thoughts. When one of these heavy thoughts is interrupted in a big way...well that's when it gets exciting. This situation is very much like many horses that buck, and I handled it similarly, though with some dog specific moments.

Please note he is safely muzzled. This was great because he and I could work through those troubled moments safely