The Highline Blog
The Sound of the Wild
I don’t know what part of the nation or world you are reading this from, but here in Montana in the middle of February days can be warm with the longer, more penetrating sun or grey, listless and snowing, but regardless, nights are chilly. This morning it was about twelve degrees. Waterers needed to broken. As I was carrying my shovel up to one of the waterers, I was stopped by a sound. A distinctive, ancient sound that generations before me knew well. Up on one of the ridges, a lone wolf was howling. To whom, I do not know.
For about 5 minutes, this magnificent creature of our woods, let me know that he was there – present and powerful. For the remainder of the day, I carried within me a touch of the wild and a reminder of the blessings that surround me here at the ranch. Some people wake to sirens or the hum of traffic or the pressing headline news. My morning started with the sound of a wolf and ended with star-studded skies. Maybe one day you too will walk these woods and hear ancient sounds and see the unaltered portraits of God alone. To Him be the glory for what we get to appreciate out here in the wild country.
I witnessed something remarkable two days ago. I was out in one of our pastures in the late afternoon to treat a horse with an ulcerated eye (his eye is healing nicely). I heard an elk calf calling to its mother over and over.
I have heard this high pitched, rhythmic succession of calls often in the winter when the elk come to eat thrown down hay with our horses. These numbers can be between fifty to one hundred and consist of bulls (young and old), cows and calves. But, two days ago, something was different. The calf I heard and quickly located in the pasture was intent on finding only mama. At first I thought he might be in distress, but no, he (or she) was simply hungry. Hungry for milk. With awe and wonder I watched this calf get on its knees and bump his mother’s udder until the liquid gold flowed.
As I type this, I am still fluttery inside knowing that I was witness to something that is innate among mammals and yet so remarkable. Life giving life.
Even amongst the colder days of winter here at McGinnis, there are still gifts that God drops in our lap to help us carry on and wait patiently for spring.
Reminders of Summertime
I figured this week I could just share some very pretty photos of the ranch in the summer that we are all dreaming of. Especially today since we got covered in a foot or so of snow overnight and the next few days will be in the negative temperatures at night. I always forget how beautiful the summer colors are until I see pictures. I figured these photos will cure anyones winter blues and get you pumped up for some warmer weather!
I promise next week we will have some good horsemanship updates and photos of what we’ve been working on. We have certainly been busy with 12hr days and lots of riding. Hopefully if you’ve seen Facebook or Instagram and witnessed Shayne’s dance moves. If you haven’t, you need to. But now for some dreamy pictures, enjoy!
Creativity to Create Confidence
This week we had a theme come up working with our horses that involved our creativity or lack there of. What do I mean by this? Well each of us were in the midst of challenging ourselves of how we can better our horses without boring or unnecessarily stressing our horses. The goal was to be able to find ways to engage the horses’ minds, look forward to the job, all the while gaining confidence in what they are doing.
Some of our creativity related to how we go about achieving groundwork that boosts the confidence of a timid horse. We also challenged ourselves in the saddle as well. In the words of Shayne, don’t keep coming back to the same thing day after day and make them sour to it. Instead mix up the routine, eventually you’ll get to where you want to be, but pounding on the same topic with your horse over and over may in fact make them dislike their job and merely accept what you are asking. We want more than our horses begrudgingly accepting what we are offering. The goal is a horse who looks forward to the job while gaining skills. That may in fact sound simple, but it’s not.
One horse this week, Max, gets stressed when he’s pushed out of his comfort zone. In order for our horses to learn, we need them to be relaxed, rather than in an internal state of panic. Des found with Max that he was struggling to not get sweaty and lathered by the end of a ride. Finding that sweet spot in the training where he could be pushed but also not get overwhelmed was a fine line. Needless to say, by the end of the week Des had a dry horse from the beginning to the end of the ride. To get Max to that point in his riding, it required a lot of creativity of Des’ part to get him there. She knew the end result needed to be a horse who improved mentally and physically even if it didn’t come easy. The only way this would happen was to continue taking different approaches to the same goal until there was a positive change. No matter how far each of us are in our horsemanship journey, we have to keep adding tools to our box so we can continue to address each problem with the right solution.
The most difficult part of the ground work and in the saddle, is understanding which tools you have will accelerate the horse’s learning with the least resistance and maximum effect. Sometimes its a combination of things you know that you’ve not put together before or its an entirely brand new idea, that may fail. We don’t know until we try, and connecting the dots may in fact be the part that requires creativity. To be creative and build confidence in ourselves and our horses we have to understand the nuances of how each exercise we use connects to another. We always start with the foundational building blocks of Buck’s groundwork and progressions under saddle. The creativity comes in when you understand at each level how everything interconnects at it’s foundation. You have to know why you do what you do. To just do something without understanding why defeats the purpose of doing. Understanding and then building upon the foundation you have to create a large tool box of exercises will help you attain the goal at hand.
Relearning the learning
We’ve had a lot of conversations lately on learning and trying to learn better for the sake of ourselves, horses, and the team. These past few weeks, I have been reflecting quite a bit on what goals I want to set for this upcoming year, both inside and outside the arena. The list includes everything from studying all the nuances of how to reach for a horse in a soft feel to taking time to snowshoe some of our grazing allotments so I can become more familiar with them before cattle arrive in April. All of these goals require one major shift in thinking and action — to be creative and do something different. Sounds simple, but I have found creativity and changing routine are the crux of most mountains I have to climb.
On a regular basis, I fall into this pattern of doing the same thing and expecting a different result. For those that have read Des’ blog, this is my “default response” or automatic thing I return to when I am at a crossroads. Rather than pulling a different arrow from my quiver, I reload the same arrow time and time again hoping that it will somehow hit the target. In the arena, this lands me with horses that become resentful or bothered because I am expecting them to search for something different while not being willing to offer something different.
At its core, this idea of change and doing something different might start with cutting ties with patterns we have adopted that no longer serve us. To me, being a horseman means to give. I am in the process of becoming a horseman, but at this point in my journey I am finding that I need to give up something in order to have something to give. I want to give up the fear of failure so that I can see it more as an opportunity to grow. I want to give up this idea that repetition and drilling on an exercise will help refine it. I want to give up the habit of staring down at my horse’s head when I ride and start changing my perspective to ‘look up’ in all areas of my life.
In essence, its expanding learning to all areas of my life and re-learning wherever needed. Sometimes habits, ideas, and processes have to be let go in order to learn something new. Its a true re-learning how to learn. Learning is not linear and that reminder has to stay at the forefront so that I can remember learning is a dynamic process of picking up, balancing, and dropping many things to create the whole picture. Here’s to painting the picture unafraid of the mistakes along the way.
From Hunters & Jumpers to Ranch Life Pt. 3
We jumped right into riding and working with the horses this week and got a lot done. It was so refreshing to be back in the arena this week learning from Des and riding with Brenda and Jenna. The goal this week for me was to get Rocks going under saddle with the flag in hand as well as introduce him to the cattle paddle. He still does not have much appreciation for the flag, but he has come to get more comfortable with the flag in his groundwork. His trickiest place is anything coming up over the front of his head and ears. When he came to me you couldn’t get a halter or bridle on him without a fight. He wouldn’t let you brush his mane, touch his ears, or rub his upper neck. For him these areas were a no no zone.We have done a lot of work with haltering and bridling and he is now soft a relaxed with his head low to the ground for both. Our struggle came when I started working him from sitting on the fence with the flag. He got a thousand times better after about five sessions having him stand with me at the fence with the flag as it rubbed and waved all over him. The largest mountain for him to climb is changing direction and having to walk under my arm and the flag to get next to me. We finally got there with the flag both directions. For Rocks everything on the left he is much more comfortable with compared to the right initially. I’ve had to work harder on that right side with the flag. Of course the most difficult direction to change was from left to right coming under the flag. Once that place became better for him and he would walk under my arm and the flag with less coercion I knew we were ready to ride with the flag!
Our first ride back I worked him through his ground work with the flag and then we did our work on the fence with the flag. Once he checked all of his boxes with the flag in the groundwork without being anxious or flighty about it. I knew it was time to get on! Des had me work on small circles while rubbing him down with the flag as soon as I picked it up. That way if he got nervous or wanted to scoot off I would still have control and be able to keep the flag on him. After about 10 minutes working both directions Rocks settled in like he had been ridden a million times with it. Then we rode off walk, trot, and canter with the flag waiving with rhythm all around him. He worked both directions through all of his transitions completely relaxed and blew us away with how he handled his first ride. Rock’s finished his ride with the flag being rubbed all over, including his ears!
I also had the fortune to start him on the cattle paddle this week. And anyone who knows Rocks, knows he’s a spook with sounds. The cattle paddle is very loud and make a lovely rattling noise. I introduced the paddle to him the same way I originally did with the flag, on as much of a united circle as we could muster. He just needed to hear it and feel it while maintaining a good walking rhythm as it worked all over his body and around him. For the most part, he understood the game from the times with the flag. Our struggle came when we got to the fence work changing directions on the fence. Des was super helpful, by coming in to support him on another horse by sending him forward with the flag anytime he wanted to leave. He eventually realized the sweet spot was when he got back to the fence next to me by coming under my arm. We didn’t let off the pressure until he would stand quietly with in that space. Once he understood his feet would have to keep moving and that there was no rest except when he found this spot, it became easier for him to relax where he was at, rather than be defensive. We still have much work to do before riding with the paddle, but for two sessions in, I would say he’s doing pretty good! Till next time…
From Hunters & Jumpers to Ranch Life Pt. 2
Better late than never, we’ve been a little busy through Christmas with our lovely -40 degree winter weather and snow we’ve had. Plus everyone went home for the holidays except a couple of us holding down the fort. Now for a continuation of the story so far. The last 5 months have been the most challenging. I brought my two most quirky horses as the testing ground of, if I can get through to these boys in this program, I know I’ll have achieved what I’ve set my sights on. The best laid plans…well you know how that goes sometimes. The boys were both acclimating well and were only going out together and not with any other horses. Now it was time to introduce them to the smaller herd of 15 or so horses.
Well Cat never went out with more than one friend at home because he never could figure out how to be in a herd and not run into the fence. Rocks had been out with a few buddies, and generally in the herd was always pretty sure of himself. The day came to turn them out and I can tell you I was slightly terrified for Cat’s well being because as I’ve said before, red headed high anxiety child. I went out the next morning to bring them in to feed and Cat of course managed to mangle his front leg in the fence. Praise Jesus the vet was already going to be here that day for dental work, because Cat managed to do a special number on his front right cannon bone. Then there is Rocks, with not one mark on him and perfectly content. Cat got 15 or so stitches in his leg and was put on stall rest for essentially 6-8 weeks. The one advantage to this, is now Rock’s needed to step up to the plate and ride like a big boy with guests. For him, that did not blow over well initially. I had very few rides on him prior to coming, and he had some baggage that I didn’t know about yet. I found out very quickly that he didn’t like horses in volume riding at him or coming up behind him. He would scoot off or spin. He especially disliked anyone riding with a flag near his general space, then he was just going to leave town. These struggles proved to be difficult for him to get past. Over the September and October guest stays, gradually his problems with traffic in the arena got much better with the guidance of Des and Shayne. His concerns about the flag were later addressed once we wrapped up the guest stays for the season. Then Des had time to help him and help me to get him more comfortable with the flag. Rocks was very much the flighty and offended type with the flag. We got there, and it still a work in progress, but now someone can ride by with one and he’s ok with it. We are no longer looking to exit the arena.
Round two came with Cat going in the herd at the end of October, and he made it a whole two weeks before finding the fence a second time, and of course it was within 24hrs of me being gone to Georgia for the celebration of life for my trainer Sunny. We landed on stall rest for most of November, but once again it gave me time with Rocks. His riding and ground work has come much further. Once Cat came off rest in December I finally was able to get him going on his groundwork and help get him more caught up to where Rock’s was at with the flag. At this point, Cat hadn’t seen a flag or been touched with one since July. Initially the groundwork was ok, and he was tolerant. Then Des was kind enough to work with him and then we found the spot. You couldn’t touch his legs with the flag. He was ready to stomp and strike at it like a snake. Cat was very defensive over the flag being anywhere on his body that he did not want it. Des was very patient and consistent with him until he accepted that the flag was there and not going to cause trouble for him. Since that first day, Cat came quite far, he now accepts the flag on the ground and from the fence. Rocks has become much more comfortable with the flag from the ground and the fence as well. Rock’s still has a few moments with the flag being above his head when I’m on the fence, but that funny spot is getting better. The hope here is that in the next couple weeks the boys will be riding with the flag as well as being able to introduce them to swinging a rope. As long as the weather fairs well and everything here goes smoothly we’ll be picking up more time in the arena again, hopefully have some good updates on the boys! In the meantime I’m waiting on Cat’s custom saddle to arrive, because my high maintenance child needs a tree that is an exact fit for him. He’s one of those kids. I went through it with his jumping saddle, and I had him measured before I left so I could get a tree ordered for him and my saddle maker on schedule to build for me. I must really love him, but at least only one is high maintenance. Bless Rocks for being an easy keeping, low maintenance kinda guy. He helps balance out Cat’s menagerie of bills and drama. Till next time…
From Hunters & Jumpers to Ranch Life
The perspective and topic will be a little different this week, primarily through the lens of me, Sami. I’ve been here since August and come from a very different background. Currently I manage the office, help shoe horses, and am a wrangler here at McGinnis Meadows. My profession has been in the hunter/jumper/equitation industry and show world as a rider and trainer in the southeast. Primarily I’ve focused on re-training a lot of off the track thoroughbreds for my lesson program and show program. I’ve specialized in the fixer uppers of the horse world, many times being given show ring failures to fix or thoroughbreds who needed a new job. Beyond that, I was teaching and running a full time lesson and show program in the local Atlanta area. I loved it! I’ve been in the industry for 14 years as a pro and have enjoyed the majority of the journey.
In 2021 I came across Buck Brannaman’s clinic schedule and rode with him on my personal horse, Cat. Cat is one of those high anxiety, hot, red headed thoroughbreds, and was a stallion until he was 7. If you know, you know. Cat was always the crux of my training program, I could never unlock his full potential like I had so many others. There were many moments of beautiful dancing, but it never translated to his jumping. Riding with Buck opened my eyes to another way, and I was hooked. I took everything home that I had learned Horsemanship 1 & 1.5, over a period of months I saw major change. In the next 6 months or so I came upon two more horses that I couldn’t get past a certain point mentally or physically in their riding. I had a trainer friend of mine give me a lovely 1.40m horse, Rocks, who was a show horse flunk out. I really wanted to produce him to his potential. I just knew I needed more, there was more to learn and understand. I didn’t know how I would do that with a full time business and program that was consuming my life, in a good way. The desire to engage in learning Buck’s horsemanship so my horses could move with ease like his horses in the dance, never left me.
Here comes summer of 2022. I found myself burnt out on my own riding discipline & teaching; shockingly without a job on my own farm and now a free agent. With the encouragement of a long time friend and mentor Sunny Stevens, I applied to McGinnis Meadows as an intern. Sunny was top top in our industry, and even she knew, there’s always more to learn, even if it wasn’t conventional. With her encouragement to jump way outside the box, I did it. After one phone call, for some reason, Des hired me on as a wrangler instead. If only I knew exactly what I had just signed up for! After driving Cat and Rocks 2500 miles from Atlanta, GA to Libby, MT we made it. Little did I know, I was in for a serious learning curve. Within my first three weeks I had worked under the ranch farrier and helped shoe 80 horses, I was decently versed in shoeing…but not like this. Second week was spent learning the ins and outs of the office to where I could independently run it by the time Janice left after teaching me. Bless her, she was patient. My third week I was broken in on my first guest week, I thought horse showing was exhausting with long hours and clients galore. Nothing compared to a 10 day guest week, but I survived and so did Cat and Rocks.
They went from stalled horses with 12hr turnout to permanent outdoorsmen. That did not blow over well with Cat, but shockingly Rocks the ‘boujiee’ European import decided he was game for the outdoor life. Cat made it to the top of Pier Mountain on his first time out with guests and Rocks got to hang out. All three of us stepped into a whole new world, and it came with a curve. Especially for me, every facet of my horsemanship was challenged as well as an entire lifetime of riding & teaching skills. Even now, 5 months later, the challenge is still present but the pursuit of higher horsemanship never leaves. The love of the horses and the gift of riding God has blessed me with never fails, just keep pressing on. In the midst of life’s lemons and adversity, the pursuit of honoring Him with my life and my horses remains the same. In this, I can honor the people around me and do my best for this ranch, Shayne, and Des. For a continuation of the journey, read next week!
Season of celebrating & learning
In the last week we’ve gotten to have two big celebrations here at the ranch. We celebrated Des’ birthday on the 21st with a fun birthday ride together. Des requested that we all ride together for her birthday which of course was a great time had by all. Especially since we have been busy with winter projects, we were all thankful to get back in the saddle after a few weeks. We even talked about our goals for 2023 as a team and what that looks like for us as a group. For each of us our goals were a little different. For Jenna, she’s hoping to get accurate enough with her roping to participate in branding in the spring. Brenda’s hope is to be able to ride her personal horse, Magoo, with more quality and precision to improve his general expression and see him truly enjoy his job. For me, I am hoping to have both of my personal horses handy enough to ride in and out of the arena for guest season. Shayne chimed in stating our primary goal should be for each of us to ride each the guest horses effectively enough that we are able to help do their pre-rides during guest weeks. We were all in agreement that this is something we are all striving for, that we’re able to help maintain, and better the herd for the program. Each of us are still very much learning how to ride with quality on any horse we get on, but nonetheless Shane’s challenge to us is a tangible one, which we plan on accepting.
Our second celebration was Thanksgiving, Shane’s favorite holiday, especially because of the delicious foods always offered! Thanksgiving was celebrated with a beautiful sunrise, feeding horses, relatively warm weather, and delicious food cooked by Holly! We are so blessed here with beautiful views, incredible horses, delicious food, and the camaraderie of friends/co-workers who love the horses. What’s not to be thankful for! While the ranch may be quiet this time of year, the space gives us all time to be thankful for the present and plan for the future. We hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and much to be thankful for.
Trading Cattle for Elk
The last few weeks have been noted with colder temperatures, filling up our 2023 guest dates, shipping our cattle out and winter projects here at the ranch. We are in full swing with winter weather as our mornings have dropped in to the negative temperatures, horses have been moved to the winter pasture, the elk herds are a daily sighting, and the snow is here to stay! Our days have been filled with indoor projects like deep cleaning & conditioning our beautiful Frecker’s guest saddles, winterizing the cabins, tidying up the lodge, and sorting through the collection of things we accumulate through the season.
Originally, we planned to ship our cattle out on November 8th, but due to the snowfall we received a few nights prior and the colder temperatures, the cattle trucks were not able to make it up the mountain until a few days later. The temperature that morning was just above 0 degrees. Normally we do not ship the cattle out so late in the season, but with the icy ground, we chose to sort and load on foot for the safety of our horses. Working on foot put our stockmanship to the test since we had to keep the steers quiet to prevent them from slipping on the ice. Randy, who oversees the cattle operation, had stressed the importance of pushing our cattle through the chute at different points within the season so there was no fuss in getting everyone loaded. Shipping day is always a bittersweet moment as we have put our heart and soul into caring for them over the summer, but seeing such healthy steers loaded in a gentle manner always puts a smile on our faces.
With the snowfall we are now putting hay out for the horses daily and the elk have volunteered to join in on the hay as well. Apparently we have traded feeding cattle for elk! We have a large herd of Elk who have come down the mountain with the dropping temperatures and the snow covered forage. They are a smart crew who await the feed truck’s arrival and join the horses as soon as the hay has been dropped! They manage to casually jump the fence or sometimes crash through it for fun to jump in and eat. Because of our frequent feeding of the horses and wildlife, all of us as staff are learning how to load the feed truck and fix fence so that we are never short handed if someone is off for the day.
We’ve been out checking on the horses every day making sure everyone is doing well in these colder temperatures as well as making sure the automatic waterers don’t freeze up. We’ve only seen a few freezing waterers, but we have see many cute icy whiskers out there. The horses are always up for some good pets and attention. Everyone has been settling into the winter reallywell with plenty of wooly coats as evidence. The guest horses get a nice break for the winter while the guests aren’t here while we book for next year! We are rapidly filling up for 2023 and already have some of our dates full or almost filled. We will be working hard this winter to make sure next season is a great one! It will be quiet here at the ranch without the hussle and bustle of guests, but there is a nice peace too of our smaller winter crew which gives us time to rest as well!