How to Row a Boat

While the Northeast part of the U.S. is being covered by a massive snow fall, we here in the Northwest are beginning to wonder if its time to brush up on our nautical skills. If you feel the need to  review your boat rowing, here is an excellent link to show you how: How to Row a Boat

Yesterday was beautiful. As we were driving to Post Falls, Landon kinda reminded me of a happy lab that has been stuck in a dark house for a week straight and then gets taken out into the sunshine for a ride in the pickup with the windows down. He was that excited about the sunshine. Which brings me to this:

Roley and Chrome

My Professor the Horse

By Guest Writer: Roley Schoonover

My Professor the Horse

In the summer of 1991, three years after graduating from college, my wife and I started out on an adventure that would change our lives forever.  Janice took one lady out for a horseback ride on the family ranch and a new way of life began.  It was the beginning of the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch. It wasn’t long after this new adventure began when I met my new professor the horse.  Janice and I decided that to sustain a string of willing horses we wanted to raise and train our own.  Even though I would start out trying to teach these new young horses what they needed to know about their job, many times they ended up teaching me about what I needed to know about me.  It was life-changing because to be successful I had to take principles I learned and apply them.  I think they call this wisdom and here’s where it began.

Groundwork Professor

Groundwork Professor

Communication.  Ever travel to a foreign land?  It’s kind of handy to know the lingo.  When I opened the gate to go in the pen with my horse, I crossed a boarder metaphorically as much as physically.  Horses speak using their own dialect of sign language. So, as soon as I enter the pen, I’ve communicated something to the horse.  More than likely the Professor of the pen has said something back if I am not visibly deaf.  My horses have taught me volumes about how my body language communicates and what they are saying in response.  As I have learned to pay attention to their language the training process has gotten better.  While I won’t profess to have graduated “Summa com laud”, I have seen positive results as we continued our “class time”.



When our family traveled, I was accused of taking everything but the kitchen sink.  I also have a tendency to do that when I start training.  Again, my professor, the horse, would tell me, if I’m listening, that I need to slow down and work in the moment.  I had to remember what I went in to do and leave the tax preparations for the ranch, the family that is checking in with the dietary needs, and the kindling that needs to be cut, at the gate.  I could pick them back up when I left the pen and likely I didn’t have to worry about anybody stealing them; they would be there when I returned.  I had to focus on one thing, my prof would remind me.  Like my old football coach would tell me, “Do one thing well, instead of a bunch of things poorly.”

Finally, the professor is seldom ever wrong.  He is who he is.  I have learned they really are pretty simple creatures who operate on their need to survive.  My professors would learn from the release of pressure.  Once I understood this point, next was to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.  With consistency, creativity, and these two principles, we began to achieve some neat results.  Horses will do anything to squirm away from pressure.  So I applied a reasonable amount of pressure, watched for the desired reaction, and rewarded them for a reasonable response.  I did this consistently over and over and I was training horses.

These have been some valuable lessons from Equine Communications 101.  With the help of some great advisors along the way, we have had some really satisfying results.  Mostly it has helped make something we love to do into a living with people we treasure.  Happy Trails and never take your professor for granted.




Roley and Chrome

Roley and Chrome

Hind End

Hind End

Groundwork hip yield

Groundwork hip yield


The Bosses Are Back


The bosses are back at the ranch after heading to Arizona one week ago for the annual Dude Ranchers’ Association Convention.  They like to take the opportunity to go to this convention to stay up-to-date on industry trends, marketing, products, problems, and to get a bit of a jump start to the guest ranching year.  Getting to spend a week in sunny Arizona sitting next to the pool sipping ice tea and going on desert horseback rides may be a small reason they go as well. But now that they are back, they have set right to work on a list of projects they compiled while at the convention. I can’t give away all the things they are working on but I can let you in on a few.

Ever heard of Fodder Feeding systems for horses? Neither had I, but everyone here is very interested as several other ranches have implemented this system with great success in their horse herd. More to come on this later.

My husband, Landon, works at Keokee in Sandpoint as a web developer. Lets just say that Landon is going to be working on a project for the ranch starting tomorrow.

I am looking forward to posting a guest blog topic coming up very soon. Any guesses who the guest writer will be?

I even got a little project of my own schemed, planned, booked and mostly organized while the bosses were away.

I look forward to sharing the finished products when all of our projects are completed.

See you down the trail!



Christmas Tree at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch

Goodbye Mega Tree

Today we dismantled Mega Tree. Goodbye Mega Tree. It was a bittersweet goodbye and ultimately we couldn’t say goodbye just yet to the awesomeness that was Mega Tree.

Mega Tree standing proud in the Great-room of the lodge.


The dismantling of Mega Tree
Mega Tree preparing to exit the lodge.
The top of Mega Tree making it’s exit.
We liked our Christmas tree so much we just couldn’t say goodbye yet. Meet our
New Years tree (aka the bottom of Mega Tree)!
To see the process of getting Mega Tree into the lodge and decorated click here.
If you would like more information on Western Pleasure Guest Ranch visit our website:

Urgent News Bulletin

Urgent News Bulletin: Santa’s eight tiny reindeer have all contracted Arctic Reindeer Fever and will therefore be unable to pull Santa’s sleigh to deliver toys for Christmas.  The backup team has been called in from the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch.  Santa’s team this year will be as follows:

Andy- 31 year old, veteran team leader.
Larry- Wheel horse and Veteran team member.
Lady- A new recruit just in from Michigan. Wheel horse.
Taga: She is here to add some color to the hitch.
Dazzle: The hungry one. She will only be participating if we can get her away from the hay.
Love Bug- The cute one.
Flash – Rudolph’s replacement.
Friday- The grumpy one.
No, now she’s the happy one! Maybe its the pregnancy hormones.
As an added reminder, please do not be alarmed if, instead of the pitter patter of eight tiny reindeer hooves, you hear the clip clop of 11,000 pounds of horse flesh on your roof Christmas morning.
From all the staff and horses at  Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Winter Arena Exercises: Part 2

Little Horse the fluffy, fuzzy oh so comfy POA mare.
Let’s focus on legs!
I have never been a very athletic person. I was at the back of the line when they handed out the athletic DNA. Things like running faster, jumping higher, getting on my horse bareback (see previous post here) and posting without stirrups have never come easy for me.
I remember one particular horse show in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho that I was competing in and Barbara Tibbs was judging.  I had been doing quite well that day. JR, my Quarter Horse gelding, was performing beautifully and I was proud of our partnership. Then came the Hunt Seat Equitation class.  JR tolerated my riding him in English tack but getting a ground covering trot out of him took a valiant effort.  He was predominantly a western horse. Some days the best he could muster was an extended jog. JR was not made for English.  However, despite JR’s decidedly western way of going, we usually placed well in Huntseat classes.
The class began. I knew what Barbara would be looking for in a Hunt Seat Equitation rider. I had taken lessons from her and I knew what was expected. I also knew that she knew I knew how I should be riding and my placing in the class would reflect her expectations.  The class was going well. Walk, trot, lope both directions and the line up.  Apparently it was a close class because she pulled several of us back out onto the rail to perform more rail work. I love competition, so knowing I was one of the top in the class drove me to really do my best.

Off we went at a posting trot.  We hadn’t gone far when the dreaded words came from the announcer, “drop your irons” (that’s the stirrups on an English saddle). Ugh! Posting trot with no irons.  Yes, I had done it before and practiced it but I was not good at it.  My competitive spirit drove me on. I gripped the saddle with my legs with all I had in me and attempted to rise as high as my pathetic legs would take me,  This particular exercise usually didn’t last long in a class like this so when I finished one lap around the large rodeo style arena I was sure we were nearly done.

The announcer came over the loud speaker, “Extend the trot”. Oh please no! Keeping JR at an acceptable English trot was proving difficult already and now I had to extend?  I glanced across the arena and noticed a girl on a little white Arabian.  She and her horse were usually one of my close competitors. She was gracefully rising and falling in the saddle as if she had never left her stirrups and her little mare stretched out and extended beautifully at her rider’s cue.  Oh help me! My effort to extend my devoted western horse’s trot felt, to me, pathetic. After a second time around the arena the announcer called for us to return to a regular trot, but still we continued iron-less.  My legs were burning; screaming at me.

Shall I remind you that I am not athletic? I counted our third lap around the arena.  Its funny how just when your pride has swelled in you so that your hat is getting a little tight on your expanding head, something comes along to remind your pride that your hat size doesn’t need to grow.  Four times around the arena. I didn’t recall having signed up for a stirrup-less endurance class.  At four and a half times around that huge arena the announcer finally said the words I was desperate to hear; “walk your horses”.  Sweet walk. Wonderful walk. Glorious walk! We lined up again in the middle of the arena.

I think I got third in the class that day so my performance must not have been as awful as it felt. Looking back on this story, two things come to mind.  First, thank you Barbara Tibbs for putting my teenage pride in its place. Second, practicing riding without stirrups is something I should do more often.
This leads me to the topic for today: riding without stirrups. I rarely ever ride without stirrups anymore unless it’s on a long trail ride and I am stretching out my sore knees.  This is partly due to the fact that I spend most of my time riding young, green horses or with my two year old son in the saddle with me. I also rarely ride without stirrups because no one makes me.  When I was young I had instructors who regularly made me drop my stirrups. My winter riding exercise this week for you and me is to ride without stirrups.
Here are a few tips before you lose the stirrups:
1. 10-15 minutes a day is just fine. I have heard of some people going all in and actually removing their fenders (Western) or leathers (English), but I am definitely not going there.
2.  Start slow. Your horse and your body will thank you.
3.  This should go without saying but I will say it anyway.  Don’t balance with the reins when you drop your stirrups.  Do not attempt this unless you have good, quiet hands.
4.  Don’t let your legs dangle lifelessly (see image 1). your seat and legs will not be doing the work that they must to keep you from bouncing all over your horse’s back.
Image 1- Too relaxed. No leg and seat contact.
5.  Keep them in the same position they were in when your feet were in the stirrups (see image 2).
Image 2- Correct leg position
with foot in the stirrup.

6. Don’t scrunch your legs up as this will cause you to pinch your horse’s sides causing you to miscommunication to your horse that you want more forward motion.  Scrunching your legs up may also cause your heals to come up and your upper body to be thrown forward out of balance (images 3 and 4).

Image -3 Too much bend in the knee.
Heal is coming up and pinching horse’s side.
Image 4- Way too much bend in the knee.
Heals are up and pinching. This is survival mode.

7.  The purpose of this exercise is to develop balance. Stretch your legs down and around your horse’s barrel and balance with your seat not your hands or knees (image 5).  Engage those core muscles.

Image 5- Stretch your legs down and
around your horse’s barrel.

8.  Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.  Ride correctly. Don’t ride in survival mode and expect your seat and balance to improve.

If this winter arena exercise sounds just a little too scary and you would like to keep those stirrups thank you very much, start slow at a walk or jog. If this sounds super easy and somewhat pointless, I am guessing you were somewhere closer to the front of that athleticism line than I was.  For those of you like me, just think of the great leg muscles we will be building!

This blog is written and maintained by Danielle Otis, one of the wranglers (one job title among many) at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch.  It is a collection of tales and stories related to the ranch that come straight “from the horse’s mouth”.

The oh so fluffy horse that is featured in the pictures above is Little Horse, my POA mare. I don’t really have long legs, just a small horse.