My Horsemanship Background

While in high school, I trained with PHBA multiple 1st in the Nation Reining Honor Roll Award Winner and Reserve World Champion, and Color Breed Congress Reining Champion trainer Richelle Beene. From Richelle, I learned to treat every horse as an individual-there is no “cookie cutter” training method to force a horse to perform. Richelle also introduced me to natural horsemanship, teaching me to make the right thing easy, the wrong thing difficult, and to reward the slightest try. To learn more about Richelle and equine opportunities in the Northwoods of WI, visit Richelle let me show her horses at PHBA shows (Youth riders do not need to own a horse to show PHBA.) I earned ROMs in Reining, Horsemanship and Hunt Seat Equitation. In 2005 I was 3rd in the Nation-Youth Reining 14-18. I also showed my horse, Tin Tanker, in AQHA shows earning points in Novice Youth Horsemanship, and 4H shows earning multiple Top 10 Awards at the WI State 4H Horse Expo.

WI State 4H Horse Expo with Tank

After High School, I moved away from Rhinelander, WI to attend college at UW-River Falls. There I continued learning through the Equine Program, competing on both the English and Western Intercollegiate Horse Show Association teams. I completed the Colts in Training Class in 2008 and 2010. I took every equine management and western riding class offered, including the Equine Reproduction class, breeding mares by AI, collecting stallions, and foaling care. I graduated from UW-RF in 2010 with a major in Biology and a minor in Animal Science.

My College Graduation Photo

I have applied my “book learning” to the horses in my care. I have worked with horses of all breeds and disciplines, from Quarter Horses to Welsh Ponies and even some gaited breeds. In January of 2009 I was chosen as a trainer for the 2009 Midwest Extreme Mustang Makeover, receiving two wild Nevada Mustang mares that I had 100 days to tame and train for the competition. “Renegade” and “Revolver” tested everything I thought I knew, and taught me a lot in the process. The biggest thing that they gave me was confidence-if I could teach two wild mares to not only accept human contact, but to trust me enough to actually allow me to ride them, and trust me through the commotion of the people packed Midwest Horse Fair and still concentrate enough to compete, then I could accomplish anything.

Competing with Reva at the 2009 Midwest Extreme Mustang Makeover

After graduating from UW-River Falls in May 2010, I went out on my own training horses. I became an IPHDA Professional Trainer, utilizing the IPHDA Patterns to teach both horses and riders basic body control for success in many different disciplines. Horses that I trained were successful as recreational trail horses, in 4H Shows, and at Foundation QH Shows. My biggest successes were with Welsh Ponies-Ponies that I have trained, shown, and/or coached earned over 1,300 WPCSA points in events ranging from Halter, Western Pleasure, English Pleasure, Trail, Low Hunter, and Ridden Welsh Classic, including multiple Top 10 in the Nation and North Central Region Grand Champions.

I continued my equine education by attending clinics with World Champion trainers including Sandy Collier, Richard Winters, and Mike Major. I have become a Protege member of Al Dunning’s Team AD International, to further improve my horsemanship. In addition to riding with other trainers whenever I can, I also am an avid horse training dvd and book learner. I believe that we never quit learning, and since every horse I train is different I find it to my advantage to learn a bunch of different methods and approaches to training.

Riding with Richard Winters at the 2011 Midwest Horse Fair.

Riding Mike Major’s AQHA World Champion mare Black Hope Stik at the 2011 Midwest Horse Fair.

Riding Lesson with Al Dunning Summer 2012.

In the fall of 2012 I relocated to Reedsburg, WI, to my fiance’s farm, and quit taking in training horses.  In January, 2013, I became the luckiest cowgirl on earth, and married the cowboy of my dreams. Special thanks to Mr Dunning, who not only introduced us, but allowed us to have our wedding at his beautiful ranch.

Wedding photo taken by the amazing Charles Brooks.

Since getting married, I have learned a lot about cows and am very involved in running our registered Hereford cow-calf operation. I am enjoying the resulting shift in my horse training too, instead of focusing on show pen goals, we instead focus on training our horses to work our cattle. In July 2014 we welcomed our own little cowboy to our family, which has added another set of tasks to my list, and we are expecting little cowboy #2 in 2016. I enjoy every day working with my family, taking care of our animals, and wouldn’t trade my farm life for anything different!

Cowboy Colton


Performance Horsemanship or Natural Horsemanship? My Performance Horsemanship Philosophy in Detail

Performance Horsemanship or Natural Horsemanship?
My Performance Horsemanship Philosophy in Detail

In simple terms, I strive to follow natural horsemanship principles when training my horses, while keeping the big picture in mind that my horses have a job-they have to be broke enough to work cattle.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? However, I am somewhat reluctant to call what I do natural horsemanship.

Why? Because I understand that not all of what I do is considered “natural horsemanship” by some people.

What I have found is that the word natural has been taken out of context by some natural horsemanship enthusiasts. What should be simple has been made complex. In some people’s eyes, you cannot be a “natural horseman” if your horses wear shoes, if you ride your horse in any sort of bit, or if you feed your horses grain. Do a google search for Natural Horsemanship, and you will see what I mean.

I ride with spurs. I will use a curb bit on my horses. I will use a training aid like a german martingale if the situation warrants it. Sometimes our rope horses are rode in a tie-down. Currently none of my horses have shoes, but they will be shod if they need it. If we really think about, nothing that we do with our horses is natural!

I still like to think that I am a Natural Horsewoman. I own and have read all of the books by the “Fathers of Natural Horsemanship”: Tom and Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, etc. I follow their principles of making the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. I strive be gentle as possible, yet as firm as necessary with my horses. I am constantly learning, researching, and expanding my horsemanship knowledge. I want what is best for my horses. When I hit a roadblock with my horse, I try to think what the horse is thinking, and feel what the horse is feeling, to understand the cause of the resistance, so I can fix it without causing my horse undue stress. I want my horse to think for himself-if they notice a bear in the woods, I want them to get us outta dodge! I want my horse to be my partner-not a machine-because at the end of the day, my horses are not show horses. They are ranch horses, and we have a job to do.

So that is why I like the label of “Performance Horsemanship” better. In training my horses I strive to develop control the five main body parts of the horse-the head, neck, shoulders, rib cage, and hips. When I can independently control the different body parts of my horse, we can be more successful at working cattle. How I develop that control might not be considered natural by all people, but I never use fear, intimidation, or force to get the control I need. If a job is too much for a particular horse, I admit it. Putting a horse in a situation that they can’t handle would only cause injury to human, horse, or cattle. The most important thing at the end of the day is that everyone: human, horses, and cattle, are handled without injury and/or undue stress. It may not be natural, but it gets the job done, and my horses are sound and happy, so I must be doing something right.

Molasses Cows

Becoming a Horseman: Understanding the Social Hierarchy of Horses; and How it Affects the Horse-Human Relationship:


Even domestic horses still have the herd instinct.

We’ve all seen it happen-a new horse owner, or even someone that has had horses for awhile, with a horse that is buddy sour, pushy, biting, kicking, bucking, bolting, or generally misbehaving. Sometimes it is simply because a green rider bought a green horse that was unsuitable for them. Other times they buy the right horse-an experienced, older horse-and gradually the horse’s behavior turns bad.

What happened?

The rider hasn’t earned, or kept, the horse’s respect. The rider hasn’t proved to the horse that they are a worthy leader. So the horse, lacking leadership, becomes the leader, and no longer respects the rider. The horse does what it wants, when it wants, and ignores the rider completely.

In this article, I will discuss the horse’s herd instinct, and the social hierarchy in a wild herd. By understanding this instinct, and “speaking horse” by acting as the boss mare, we can become the leader in our herd of two with our horse, earning their respect. And a respectful horse is a safe, fun horse to ride.

The Herd Instinct:

Horses are herd animals. They need social interaction to thrive. In a herd, the horse that can make the other horses move is dominant and the leader. Herd members respect the herd leader; the herd leader doesn’t get crowded or chased away from food. In wild herds, the herd leader (usually a boss mare) is responsible for finding food and water, deciding when the herd moves and rests, and determines who gets to eat and drink first. The boss mare can decide who gets to stay in the herd, and she will chase away unruly herd mates. Since there is safety in the herd, horses want to belong. The lone horse without a herd is more likely to be eaten by a lion. The horse is comfortable with the social hierarchy, they are ok with following a leader, as long as they feel that they belong, that they are safe in a herd.

How does this herd instinct apply when we are working with our horses? To put it simply, we must understand and use the horse’s herd instinct and need to belong, to ensure our safety. To be safe around these large and flighty animals, we need their respect. We need to be the leader, the boss mare, in our herd of two with our horse.

The Boss Mare:

The lead/boss mare is the boss because she makes the other horses move-first by snaking her head and pinning her ears, then by biting, and if needed, by kicking or striking. The lead/boss mare ups the pressure until the less dominant horse moves. She does not yield, or move her feet. The horse that moves is the less dominant horse. The lead/boss mare only uses as much pressure as necessary-she doesn’t go around kicking other horses just because. She gets the respect of her herd mates without causing them fear.  However, the boss mare has to earn the respect of the other horses. The other horses will test the boss mare, to see if she really is the strongest horse, the best horse for the important job of being the leader. The boss mare must always be prepared to defend her position as the leader, to prove that she is worthy of being the leader. Some horses will test the leader daily. This is a normal horse behavior-and they will test humans too, to see if the human is worthy of being the leader.   Don’t be offended by it-it is just how horses are-but you need to be prepared to be the leader, and be prepared to have your leadership tested.

Earning Respect Without Causing Fear:

To ensure our safety, and to earn our horse’s respect, we need to show the horse that we can make them move their feet, and that they cannot make us move-that we are the boss mare. Once the horse respects us by understanding that we can make them move their feet, then they can accept us as the leader. They key here is to use as little pressure as possible, but as much pressure as necessary, to get the horse to move it’s feet without causing fear. If we can gain the horse’s respect without causing them to fear us, then we have earned the role of the leader. If we earn the role of the leader, then the horse will be able to trust us, and with the horses trust we can achieve great things. I want my horses to trust me so that we can work as partners. I want their respect without fear.

Sleeping Mustang

The sleeping mustang trusts her herd mate to watch for danger.

Can’t I Be Friends With My Horse?

I find that many owners want to be friends with their horses, and that is great. However, they tend to think that they will get their horses to like them by bribing them with treats and making excuses for why they are pushy and run them over, saying “Blackie is just scared, he doesn’t mean to run me over.”  The problem here is a lack of respect. How much would you like a friend that has no respect for you and runs you over?

We all want to be “friends” with our horses, but we need to remember that our horses are big animals that can and will hurt us. Your horse will still be friends with you if you earn the role as the leader in your relationship, and you will have a much safer experience.

Does Your Horse Respect You?

So ask yourself-does your horse respect you?

When you lead him in from the pasture does he try to run you over, or follow quietly?

When grooming him does he move into you or away from you?

When you ride your horse does he neigh and whinny and worry about where his friends are, or does he listen to you?

These simple little tests can tell a lot about your Horse-Human Relationship.


Useful Ranch Horse Skills (That are also handy if you need to run away from a posse)

(Please Note: This post is for entertainment purposes only. I do not actually advise running away from the law.)
Listed below are some useful ranch horse skills that are also handy if you ever find yourself in need of running away from a posse.

1. Wait patiently saddled and tied.


A good Ranch Horse will stand saddled and tied, waiting patiently until they are needed to work.

This trait is also useful, just in case you need to get outta Dodge quickly-you can’t be wasting time saddling your horse!

2. Walk through water.


Whether you are out in varied terrain rounding up cattle, having a horse that is willing to cross water is very useful to be sure that you don’t miss any strays.

If you need to outrun a posse, being able to walk your horse in the flow of the creek is even more useful for making your trail hard to follow.

3. Lean off the side and pick up objects from the ground.


Dismounting to pick up a dropped object takes time, so being able to lean over and pick up and item from the ground is super handy when you are running short on daylight and still have a lot of work left to do.

It is also handy if you are trying to outrun a posse-you can’t let dropped items leave a trail marking where you have been!

4. Stand on their back.

Zeb Standing On Molasses

Ok, so this really isn’t safe horsemanship, but it can be useful! Standing on your horse’s back increases your field of vision, allowing you to more easily look for strays.

Or, to allow you to check if a posse is chasing you!

Kids-don’t try this at home.

5. Run. Fast.


Having a fast ranch horse is handy if a heifer decides to break loose from the herd and make a run for the back section.

Having a fast horse is also handy when out-running a posse.

6. Ground Tie.


This is a handy skill, having a ranch horse that will patiently wait for you while you fix fence so that the heifers don’t become bovine escapees.

It is also handy if you horse will wait patiently for you to wipe out your trail with a pine bough, so that the posse can’t track you.

Hope you enjoyed this fun list!

Becoming a Horseman: The Top 5 Qualities That Separate Riders From Horsemen

What qualities do the top horsemen share? What separates the “riders” from the “horsemen”? I have come up with a list of the top 5 qualities that I think separate riders from horsemen.

5. Balance

A Horseman is balanced, and not just in the saddle. A Horseman has learned how to balance their emotions, to never get angry with the horse, to remain calm, cool, and collected in every interaction with the horse. A Horseman strives for balance in all things with their horse, from their position in the saddle, the horse’s balanced way of moving, to balancing the horse’s training to provide variety and prevent boredom.

4. Timing

A Horseman has great timing. They know when to apply and release pressure/aids to the horse to maximize the horse’s learning and understanding. The understand that the horse learns from the release, not the application, of pressure. They take great in the timing of their aids when they ask the horse to do something, and do not ask the horse to perform a maneuver they are not ready for.

3. Feel

A Horseman has great feel. They know where the horse’s feet are at all times, at all gaits. They ride in rhythm with the horse, using their hands, legs, and seat to communicate with a “soft feel.”A Horseman is also aware of the horse’s mental and emotional states, and can feel when to ask for more, and when to quit for the day.

2. Experience

A Horseman is experienced. They have spent a lot of time, with a lot of different horses, and usually spent a lot of time with a mentor, to become the best horseman they can be. Through their experience they have learned how horses think, and how to clearly communicate with the horse.

1. Dedication

A Horseman is dedicated. They never stop learning, and are constantly striving to become a better horseman. They are dedicated to the welfare of the horse. They work consistently with their horses, to ensure that the horse is capable of performing the requests of the rider. They expect 1% improvement everyday.

A Horseman is constantly working to improve their horsemanship, constantly working on these 5 qualities.

I am always working on these 5 things, from balancing the demands of life and work and family with my horsemanship, to developing my timing and feel, always increasing my experience by working with my horses and expanding my knowledge by reading books, watching training dvds, and spending any time that I can with mentors and trainers that I admire. It takes a lot of dedication to keep working on improving my horsemanship!

I would love to hear from you! Do you possess these qualities? What do you do to work on these qualities? What qualities should be added to this list? What do you think separates Riders from Horsemen?

Performance Horse Development and The Training Scale

Some of you might be familiar with the Dressage Training Scale. Pictured below, I have the Dressage Training Scale with my notes on how a Performance Horse Development Horse, or PHD Horse, should display the parts of the Training Scale.

We start at the bottom of the Training Scale, and work our way up. Like the foundation of a house, if the base of the Pyramid is not solid, the parts at the top will fall apart.


So what does Performance Horse Development have in common with the Dressage Training Scale?

A lot!

IPHDA has created a set of progressive patterns that increase the physical and mental demands on the horse and rider as they move through the levels. Each level is designed to make sure the horse accepts the cues from the rider, allowing the horse and rider to perform the gymnastic and control maneuvers of each level in a manner that develops the horse’s strength and suppleness.

Let’s take a look through the progression of PHD patterns and how they relate to the Training Scale.

Level 1A: These patterns are to establish the rider’s balance and rhythm and the horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance to a point where they can:

  1. Walk and trot with forward energy.
  2. Transition down from trot to walk, and walk to halt, while maintaining longitudinal balance. Transition up from a standstill to trot and walk, and walk to trot, without losing longitudinal softness.
  3. Start to develop some lateral softness by being able to perform circles with an arc in their shoulders and hips so that the horse’s feet follow the arc of the circle.
  4. The horse will start to listen to the rider’s rhythm as they begin to become supple at this level. Listening to the rider’s rhythm will help the horse maintain a steady cadence and smooth transitions

Level 1: These patterns are to establish the rider’s balance and rhythm and the horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance to a point where they can (in addition to the level 1a requirements):

  1. Transition from a trot to a stop while maintaining longitudinal balance.
  2. Back while maintaining longitudinal softness.
  3. Perform 180 degree turns on the haunches while maintaining longitudinal balance and with forward energy. It is the forward energy and longitudinal balance that allows the 180 degree turns to have lateral balance.

What are we looking for in a Level 1A & 1 PHD Horse?


A Level 1/1A PHD Horse should have a steady, consistent rhythm at the walk, trot, and back up.
A Level 1/1A PHD Horse should have lateral suppleness to be able to walk and trot circles, to change bend, and to perform 180 degree turns on the haunches.
A Level 1/1A PHD Horse should have longitudinal suppleness to be able to transition up and down between a halt, walk, and trot.

What about Level 2A/2?

Level 2A: These patterns are to establish the rider’s balance and rhythm and the horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance to a point where they can (in addition to the Level 1 requirement):

  1. Lope with forward energy.
  2. Transition down from lope to trot while maintaining longitudinal balance.
  3. Transition up from a standstill, walk, or trot to a lope without losing longitudinal softness.
  4. Start to develop more lateral softness by being able to perform circles at a lope, and smaller circles at a trot, with an arc in their shoulders and hips so that the horse’s feet follow the arc of the circle.
  5. The horse will further develop their willingness to listen to the rider’s rhythm as they begin to become supple at this level.

Level 2: These patterns are to establish the rider’s balance and rhythm and the horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance to a point where they can (in addition to the Level 2A requirements):

  1. Have control over the horse’s stride length at the trot,
  2. Stop from a long trot, while maintaining longitudinal softness
  3. Back up, and then turn, 180 on the haunches without a hesitation, this requires maintaining longitudinal softness while changing the amount of lateral balance and softness required.

What are we looking for in a Level 2A & 2 PHD Horse?


A Level 2/2A PHD Horse should have a steady, consistent rhythm at the walk, trot, lope and back up.
A Level 2/2A PHD Horse should have lateral suppleness to be able to walk, trot, and lope circles, to change bend, and to perform 180 degree turns on the haunches.
A Level 2/2A PHD Horse should have longitudinal suppleness to be able to transition up and down between a halt, walk, trot, and lope.
A Level 2/2A PHD Horse should accept the rider’s contact and connection to change between a regular jog and an extended jog.

Levels 3A through 8 continue on with this gradual progression up the training scale.

As you can clearly see, the PHD Progression starts at the bottom of the training scale, and works its way up. If you take the time to work through the PHD Patterns, you will develop your horse into a solid, well broke horse that can go on to excel in other disciplines.

Why does the PHD Progression work?

Because by working through the PHD Progression you are ensuring that a solid foundation is laid in your horse’s training-there will be no holes or skipped steps.  The PHD Progression also gradually develops the muscles in your horse’s topline, making it a great exercise program and reducing the chance of injury to your horse, because you are not asking him to perform maneuvers that he is not ready for.

Using the PHD Progression:

When I got a new horse in for training that was “broke”, the first thing I would do was ride a Level 1/1A PHD Pattern. These patterns are a great diagnostic tool, and quickly helped me determine where the holes in the horse’s training were. By riding the patterns throughout the horse’s training, I could easily see where the horse was improving, and where the horse needed work, for example, if the horse was stiff to the left, I would have trouble with circles. If the horse was ignoring my forward cues, my upward transitions would be rough, etc.

By continuing to test the horse by riding the PHD Patterns, I was a lot less likely to ignore or cover up holes-the PHD Patterns are great truth tellers!

So if you have a broke horse at home, start with Level 1A. Film the pattern and submit it in a V-Show, or send it in for Video Coaching with one of the IPHDA Professionals. Then listen to the feedback, and work on the areas where you have trouble. You will be amazed at how quickly your horse improves at other events when you use the PHD Progression to find-and fill in-the holes in your horse’s training.

So go over to the IPHDA website (, download the PHD Patterns, and get to work!

You already own a PHD horse-you just need to get out there and develop it! 

Becoming a Horseman: The Importance of Consistency

One of the great mistakes people make is to not ride often enough and to try to accomplish too much when they do. -Ian Francis

Strive for 1% Improvement Every Ride. 100 Rides, 100% Improvement.

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