All posts by keithw

Brianna Heilig’s Personal Horse Story

Brianna Heilig

My name is Brianna Heilig and I am currently sitting at my barn looking down my shed row at my crew of horses. I am being given the task of summing up in words why it is that I love horses and do what I do. For me, putting that kind of emotion or rather part of who I am into words is a bit of a challenge. I believe for me it started when I was 8 years old and my family had just moved to a cattle ranch in Montana. I had ridden a little bit before we moved there, but honestly I was a little intimidated by horses. I can remember following my mom down the trail and my horse would break into a jog to catch up and I would bust into tears because I felt like I couldn’t stop him. Then moving to that ranch changed things for me. I had to swallow my fears a bit because riding a horse was the only way be out there where I wanted to be. But there were two horses in particular that I will credit to really starting me on this journey, one of which some of you will know or maybe have even ridden. His name was Pal and he was genuinely the kindest soul I have ever met. I spent hours on that little horses, most of the time without a saddle, and he and I would go everywhere. From checking cows, to jingling horses, to carrying buckets of frogs I’d caught in the creek back up to the house. He had endless amounts of patients putting up with me, but I trusted him implicitly.

The second horse I should give some credit to would be a little sorrel Arabian mare named Emma. She was assigned to me as a bit of a project and boy was she ever. She was independent, stubborn, had lots of energy, and didn’t hand me much of anything. She would run out of patience with me and just lay down where ever we happened to be at. I laugh now because I realize that she was me in horse form. I have to credit her for teaching me how to just let go and have fun with a horse. But also how to just be in the moment and how to be determinedly patient. I think that is why I love horses, because they try me and test me every day. But their tests are not on world history, or math, or which actor played in what movie. Their tests are on the nature of your soul and your character. They keep me honest and humble and yet demand me to have some self confidence and to go with conviction. They demand mental, physical, and emotional balance. But most of why I love them is because there is something in their joy that feeds mine. Feeling them light up when their galloping down a track, or chasing a cow, or jumping a fence, or even leaving the arena for the their first ride outside. That’s what lights me up. That’s why I do what I do every day. It’s not an easy life style to choose regardless of what avenue you take with horses. There is a constant supply of hay that has fallen down your shirt, bruises on your legs from who knows what, early mornings, late nights, and a modicum of tedious chores that have to be done every day even if you have a massive cold or want to sleep in. But when I feel my horses light up about something, that just pure uninhibited joy, I get up in the morning for that.


“Without Life you have nothing”

“Without Life you have nothing”

Usually this isn’t something that I have to deal with. My horse is very forward, Lise has the other side of the coin. Her boy would be more than happy standing around than working.

Thanksgiving was one of those quiet rides. Did a bit of ground work, Guenzler’s life was a bit down, but ok, so I let him stay that way. Everything was a bit off, slow to offer his hind, sluggish walk, like pulling taffy to get a trot. Ears told an entire story about how surlery was brewing inside him.  Even bordered on refusing my leg. Got a trot but he came out of it. If I asked for a down transition to the walk, it was like tossing an anchor out, but not in a good way, and a stop wasn’t what I asked for.

This quote kept going through my head, couldn’t seem to get him through the front of the rectangle so grabbed a flag and set my sights on life. I won’t say it was stylish or classy riding but when I asked for a trot and he plodded along. It didn’t take much, a touch with the flag on his hind and we were trotting, asked up and down between walk and trot. He was there again, ears not so good. Asked for left lead, and I got it, with one of those , ok, so you want this , I’ll show you a lope, lunges. I ignored his expression, and carried about 10 strides, and asked for a trot. His ears came forward! Stoked his neck at the change of expression. He did a few more transitioned between trot and lope, snaked around the jumps. Stroked his neck whenever he was soft, made sure I wasn’t behind the motion, which I was. I’ll not say it looked pretty, but as his life came up, his expression softened and he became light and his balance came back.

A nice soft stop, the lightest of backs. Then I let him stand and soak a bit, chewed, and I could feel his skin relax a bit more. I soaked a bit on things as well.

To gage where we were, I asked for collection, a bit of left flexion, and he quietly backed a light half circle, allowing me to lift and place each of his front legs. Ok, that have to has to have looked nice! Was a nice deal the rest of the day together, he was back with me and his expression stayed good.

Another win from the quotes that always run though my head.

“Without Life you have nothing”. Pairs with “It’s the dull ones that will pull a knife on you”.

I own letting Thanksgiving and his lack of life and poor expression  happen. Knew it on the ground and let it slide. It didn’t serve anyone to do this. Especially my horse.

As with all these quotes, I didn’t invent them, my mentors put them in my head for a reason and its up to me to figure out what to do with them.


Who you follow

When I 1st started my riding I had so many thoughts about what the right way to ride and what it should look like. Books, articles, videos, and more, everywhere it seems there was an endless supply of folk touting that they have the answer. Lots of tools out there that you can buy that can make you a better rider. Just whip out that card and your on your way.

I was given this advice, I’m paraphrasing the message that I walked away with

“Don’t listen to what other people have to tell you about how you should ride and who they are and why you should listen to them. Watch them ride and then ask yourself if you want to ride like they do. If you do, listen to them, if not don’t, it doesn’t matter who they are or what everyone else thinks about them. You know what’s right in your heart”

Randy Bock


Changes fall brings

Its been a busy and event filled week for our boys.

As with most of the country our weather went from sunny and warm to unseasonably bitterly cold. Lise and I approach winters a bit differently.  Our boys grew up in the mountains of Montana, cold isn’t new to them and prior to coming to us, they weren’t blanketed and lived outside year round with a herd of 70+ horses.

In Oregon we have to deal with constant rain. The cold here is nothing like they knew, but here the rain starts and stops frequently. It starts raining in November and stops again around March. Does it every year so its easy to plan for. Soaking wet and standing in the wind isn’t the way either of us want them to spend their winter.

So this year we were waiting till the weather really set in, wasn’t the wet, it was the bitter cold. Guenlzer , my boy, has his best wooly coat on.  I tend to be one of the last to blanket, I need him to build up and maintain a good coat, otherwise he shivers non stop.  His coat grew in nicely, the rain started along with 20 degree temp and high winds to top things off. Blankets went on the day before it all set in.

Lise went to clipping her horse this year. She finds that he dries instantly after her arena rides. Then she is able to blanket right away. I like to let my boy cool down in his stall, enjoy a snack of oats, then blanket him up when he’s dried and let down.  The lighter blankets we have used in the past posed a challenge for Cowboy, being clipped, he needed a heavy blanket. Lucky, we had a spare that has always been too much in the past. This year just right.  Clearly lots of ways to deal with winter, but that’s part of the horse deal, there isn’t a single right way.

The rains let up, sun came out, and the cold stayed around. So the trails off the barn were calling my name. Yesterday we headed out to explore how much wind damage there was. I forget how just missing a couple of days riding effects a horse. He’s still awesome, but being on the trail by ourselves, he started out unsure. Its great that he gets strength from me out there. Sometimes I fail to appreciate that he leans on me. So that’s what the ride started out as. Lets get together and own the forest! This is part of why I’m a horse addict. We need that connection to make everything work and that relationship is what we build on every day. That puts a smile on my face.

Lots of trees down, which means off trail to work around the major trees, and lots of dismounting to clear large down branches. He and I both enjoy a job, so that made a great Saturday ride. But the end of the ride, the wind in the trees, branches, all those distracting things were nothing for him. I’d check it off as a great ride and we built another brick in our foundation together.

Later went up with a friend a chainsaw to clear the major trees. Seems that one large tree tends to take all its friends with it when its time. At least the trails Guenzler and I were able to work are open and I see others heading up today.

We shoe all summer, but like to have them barefoot through  the winter. Allows the hoof to strengthen. I know there are folks that like to run barefoot year round. We opt for just the winter when we are either softer trails or working in the arena. So much crushed rock here that it tears those hoofs up in a heartbeat.

Feet are a bit tender on the frozen ground, so they get one of the last sunny days of the year hanging with their friends in the pasture.  Blanketed up as the cold is going to really set in this week.



Welcome to our new blog

A horse coming into my life simply changed everything. In a good way, ok, I’m much, much poorer in $$s but my life has been so enriched in ways I couldn’t image.

Love of the horse grew out of this connection with a special horse. Over time we hope to share some of our journey with you.

Thanks for reading

Keith and Lise