Category Archives: General

stuff that just doesn’t fall under any other category!

Horses and At-Risk Youth

For the past several months I’ve had a great opportunity: working with a group of teenagers; showing them how to train, work with and ride their horses at a ranch operated by the Poteet family in west-central Alberta.

at risk youth

Brielle Poteet works her horse.

This is a great group of kids who enjoy having fun and learning with horses. The work that I’m doing is no different than I teach in my clinics or individual lessons. We focus on clear and concise leadership, learning the language of the horse and then having fun with our equine partners though the connection that we build.

Coralee Poteet explains their operation and discusses why they chose to integrate horses into their program. “We are a specialized foster home working with at-risk youth. We run a live-in program that works with teenage girls to give them the foundation for a healthy life. We teach life skills, self-care, healthy social patterns and help each person work through family of origin behaviour patterns and belief systems so that they can form their own healthy style of living.

at risk youth

Learning the basics of space and energy.

Originally we chose horses because we were working with a number of kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Kids with RAD have trouble forming attachments and maintaining even superficial relationships; however, there have been many studies done showing that if a child with RAD can form a connection with a horse they can then use that connection as a bridge to form attachments with people.”

Well these girls are certainly forming connections with horses. What I’ve witnessed in the past few months is that they’re also growing in other ways: developing leadership and experiencing pride in their accomplishments with the horses. A few students tended to hide within themselves when in the group with horses. But I don’t see that anymore. Those that were staring at the ground and shy about coming out of their shell have found internal strengths and leadership skills that really work for their horses…and undoubtedly other facets of their lives.

at risk youth

Scott demonstrates with one of the school horses.

When horses experience concise, positive and consistent leadership, they love it. They’ll relax. They’ll lick, chew and yawn.

Why ?

Because we’ve addressed and answered their questions and concerns about the herd and where they belong in it. Muddy and grey interactions with humans drive them nuts, because the herd dynamic isn’t clear.

The great benefit is that the students can SEE and FEEL these amazing results in their horses and KNOW that they are the ones that caused it.


As a trainer and instructor, nothing makes me more happy than to witness students realizing that what they have done has taken their horse to a new level of peace and athletic ability.

Coralee adds some other understandings regarding the relationship with horses. “We have taken many different training courses that highlight the benefit of regular interactions with horses. at risk youthThey are a somatic reconditioning agent- their breathing, heartbeat, and electromagnetic field are so strong that they can influence and regulate people and animals standing within a 15 foot radius. Horses are a mirror for what’s going on internally- they reflect whatever mental and emotional process is going on inside the person that is working with them, and their responses to their worker’s requests directly correlate with what the trainer believes.”

at risk youthThis is really the essence of leadership isn’t it?We desire that our followers emulate us. In order to have the occur with a horse, we have to present ourselves – both physically and emotionally – in the way we want our horses to follow. We want our horses to be a mirror of us. My most recent article on leadership speaks to this as well. I find it not only intriguing, but refreshing, that the training that the Poteets have received so closely

mirrors our style of horsemanship.

at risk youthCoralee explains, “Since working with Scott it’s become easier to see the relationship between the inner process of the human and the outer response of the horse. Everyone involved is learning how to be a supportive, compassionate, and firm leader; and understanding that it’s not about getting the horse to be perfect, but to do everything well- even fear, frustration, and anxiety- is reflected in the way that our girls treat each other and themselves.

at risk youth

Pass the ball!

Our horses are also more relaxed. They have more try and more to give. They are better and more clearly understood by the people working with them, and I think that promotes an atmosphere of calmness and forgiveness on the part of the horse.”

at risk youthOne of my fundamental principles of horsemanship is that our job as trainers and riders is to focus on the success of the horse, not the success of ourselves. In developing our skills and producing successful horses, we realize incredible benefits: we hone our leadership skills. Our timing becomes more precise. We truly learn how to communicate with a horse and we progress to higher levels as a result of a real connection that we’ve produced through our own efforts.

at risk youth

Shaelynn Poteet navigates her horse through an obstacle.

at risk youth

Coralee Poteet and her horse.

This is a fun dynamic group to work with.  The girls are progressing in leaps and bounds. We’ve recently started introducing obstacles and games to our training.  Just like our clinics, it’s great to develop these essential horsemanship skills, but putting them to practice in a way that produces fun and success for all is truly the icing on the cake.

Here’s a big “WAY TO GO” to the Poteet family, their girls and their horses!

Thank you for the opportunity to work with you and share in your success!

Scott Phillips, May 2016

Goodbye to a Horse

In a discussion I once had regarding losing horses I was told, “Sometimes I wonder how we continue to bear loving horses. It seems they have so many ways to break our hearts.”  True enough, but the opposite side of the coin is that they have the ability to fill our hearts with passion, excitement and appreciation for life. Personally, the reward I get out of working with, riding and owning horses surpasses anything else I have ever done.

A good friend of mine called me today after returning from a vacation. She informed me that shortly after her return a few days ago, she lost a good friend: her main riding horse. Her horse had developed an intestinal tumor resulting in a colic. She was rushed to the vet for emergency surgery; unfortunately the surgeon wasn’t able to correct the problem, and the horse was lost.

My friend and I are similar in many aspects when it comes to our philosophy on horses and horsemanship. We develop intimate mental bonds with them. We have the ultimate respect for them as intelligent animals. They are a part of our daily lives and even more than that, they define our lives and who we are.  Our horses provide us with knowledge, incentive, motivation and happiness. They are responsible for our laughter, fun, adventure and so many incredible experiences.

In 2010 I wrote an article called A Life With a Horse. As the title implies, the article is about how horses become part of our lives. In that article I mentioned that the average lifespan of a horse is 28 +/-5 years.  However I know many people who have ridden and are still riding healthy horses in their 30s. Considering that the average lifespan of a human in Canada is slightly over 80 years, the odds dictate that we are going to outlive our equine friends. What really strikes me about these numbers is this:

It is entirely possible to be partners with the same horse for more than 50% of your adult life.



That really is something to think about, isn’t it ? If you’re like most people, you have moved a few times and accept that friends come and go. We lose touch with family that we don’t have daily contact with.? It’s true that a relationship based on daily, personal, one-on-one interaction is stronger than any other. Therefore our relationship with a horse is unique, because the only other relationship that that we can describe in those terms is that with a spouse or child.  And children eventually leave the nest, at least we hope!

And so, while our relationship with a horse may not be as strong as that with a spouse, it certainly has the potential to rank right behind it. Regardless, the horse has the potential to have one of the strongest relationships you share with any other living being.

Unfortunately, due to their shorter lifespan, at some point we will have to say goodbye to an equine friend. That is not easy to do. We have all lost friends and family members…we know what that feels like.

A few years ago, I spent a week riding in the mountains up the Elbow River. On the return ride my mare cut her front leg.  It wasn’t a mortal wound by any stretch, but I did clean it up when we got back to the trailer. While I was doctoring her, a fellow rider walked by and said, “if you love her, she will die.” At the time I thought it was a fairly shallow and insensitive remark. Considering it now, however, it contains a lot of meaning. It could easily be reworded to say, “You have become attached to that horse. If you lose her, it’s going to hurt.”

I am however, addicted to becoming attached to horses. I don’t think I’m alone in this. As a trainer, its part of my philosophy; I strive to attain that intense mental connection when working with a horse. It is in the ability to bring a troubled mind to a state of peace and then go forth with try to produce something tangible, that the horse and I find success; there are many euphoric moments. Horses have an innocence; a method of communication which is incredibly moving and passionate when you open yourself up to it. They have a pure spirit and life that we humans can and should envy…and thankfully can share.

Think about it: a horse is a greater-than-thousand-pound animal that permits us  a born predator – to sit on his back and share his space. Hopefully we are in that space because we have earned it: he trusts us to be there as a true leader. And in being there, that animal gives us speed. He gives us strength. He gives us a passion and an experience unlike any other. On the back of our horses, we fly. We experience courage, trust and partnership. With that and through our mutual learning and our shared experiences we have the potential to develop an intense empathetic connection.One that is special, intimate and unlike the bond we share with other animals and even people.

Thus the horse becomes part of us; we a part of the horse. And in losing a horse, we feel that a part of us is lost too. It’s inevitable. It’s tough. But it happens. The converse, but positive part, is to look at what we gained. What we have learned from our horses, the fun and enjoyment that they provided…how we have grown and changed simply by experiencing the horse. It’s an empathetic and spiritual sharing that, while shaping them as horses, also shapes us as human beings. Thus our horses live on in us through what they individually have enabled us to become.

Nothing can ever take that away; they are a part of us.


RheaYes, horses can break our hearts.

Is it worth it?

Without a doubt.

Because if we, as horse-people, don’t go down that road of exploring a true connection with a horse, we have missed out on one of the most incredible experiences that life has to offer a human being.

Goodbye Rhea.

You will be missed.

Scott Phillips

August 2015

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That Special Horse – Story Contest Windup

Amazing Backcountry Contest Image

I felt connection, saw progress and was fueled by hopes, dreams and belief in goodness.

Pistol felt my vulnerability. My weaknesses. She never took advantage of them. I forged a new kind of trust with her.

That pony taught me so much about horses, their language, their deep hearts and emotions…their overwhelming desire to be accepted and respected.

She is a healer for other humans too, besides me, and seems to be drawn to comfort people carrying deep sadness.

I saw and felt his comforting presence and told my horse we would be just fine because Big John would look out for us. I believe he still will from his endless pasture in the sky.

There are so many good lines in your stories.  I could publish pages of quotes. Everyone who has owned or experienced a horse has a story. I’d like to thank you for sharing yours. We will have the winners list up soon (Easter weekend was perhaps not the best time to end a contest)

In reading your stories some aspects of your relationships really shone.  Some of you had life altering experiences with your horses.  Some of you sacrificed countless hours, not to mention dollars, pursuing goals, dreams and even extensive rehabilitation.  Some of you defined horsemanship as you had come to understand it: your horse as a teacher. Some of your stories echo the unfortunate heartache of losing your equine companion.  Some of you discovered that, in the horse, you found someone that understood you without prejudice or condition.

Amazing Backcountry Contest ImageJust what is it about horses that evoke such deep emotional responses ?  Is it their power, energy…their life?  Do we envy their freedom and strength and bask in our ability to share in that with them?  I have my theories.  Despite the fact that the possible answer is undeniably poetic and beautiful, it is also at its core quite simple and sensible.

I believe it is important for us to share our stories. As we share and learn with each other, not only do we make evident the importance of horses in the lives of people, we validate it. I have many of my own stories to tell too. They will all be in the book, if I ever get it finished…You may have already read some of them on the website or in magazines, generally as educational pieces. In order to touch briefly on the horse-human equation I’ve already started writing about, I’ll brush the horse hair off my keyboard and recount a personal experience.

Recently, I spent an extended period of time in the hospital, mainly due to the mistakes of some doctors which resulted in unplanned surgery and subsequent recuperation. Through the struggles and discomfort I had, I was able to keep an excessively positive attitude. This was noted by nurses, doctors, friends and family alike; I could not help but be positive and joke around. Why? Because I had a goal that I was getting closer to being back with my herd.  Every day that I felt better was another step closer.

At one point the physiotherapy crew was coming to my room, with the intent to get me up and moving around using a walker.  I was not aware that they were on their way, and by chance, met them in the hallway. I was energetic, happily scooting around on crutches with IV machine and various other tubes barely under control.  The walker had lost its appeal before I left the door of my room.

Well so much for that plan, they joked.  One of them followed up with, With most patients, we have to work to kick their butt out of bed and get them moving.  With you it’s the opposite: you’re the type of person we tell to slow down!

I will tell you why.  It was because of my burning desire to be with my horses. Even from a distance their influence on my daily life tugged at me constantly, but positively. I joked quite a bit about kicking out my roommate in my hospital room and replacing his bed with a stall so I could bring in a horse to replace him. Farfetched, yes, however I was absolutely serious about spending time with a horse.  I make no secret of the fact that I feel better and heal better around horses. Obviously many of you do too– your stories…well, they tell the story!

Amazing Backcountry Contest ImageHealing with horses is well known and common.  Horses are part of therapeutic programs; some even government funded.  What many people don’t realize – something that is a core of my training program with people, is that just as a horse can create a positive dynamic for a person, a person can create the same dynamic for a horse. And once the horse buys into your ability to offer that, (and this doesn’t take long) well then you have just opened up the door to a whole new level of understanding horsemanship. From the horses perspective.

From my hospital room I thought mainly about Ty.  A 20 year old gelding that I have nursed through many life threatening injuries including a broken neck. It is not possible to express our bond within the limits of the English language.  Ty reciprocates energy in a natural way of a herd leader by providing a space full of peace and positive energy. I was looking forward to healing in that space.

Unexpectedly Spud, my 10 year-old-ish paint horse, filled this role.

A quick aside: Spud and Ty are joined at the hip.  Although Ty is the leader, Spud will go to bat for him in an instant. Most recently when Ty was injured and in a pen by himself, Spud wouldn’t leave the area.  So I put the two of them together. Spud stood by Ty’s side for weeks. At one point, one of my rascals unlatched the gate: Ty got loose!  Spud was in a panic.  Ty and the herd were in the pasture well out of site. But Spud stood at the fence near my house calling until I came. I had no idea Ty was loose until I walked to his paddock and found the gate swinging in the wind. Still excited, Spud took me out to the pasture and – no word of a lie  helped me lead all the horses back. It was more than obvious that Ty was not going to be caught and the only way to get him back was to take the entire herd.  Spud did this for me, and only settled down once Ty begrudgingly following the herd back – was safe and secure. Spud seems to be exceptionally alert to the mental and physical state of horses and people.

Back to the near present.  I had waited a long time for some horse time. Hobbling on crutches on the ice, I carted a lawn chair out into the paddock. Immediately Spud trotted up to me, assuming a comfortable spot by my side, and put his head down by my shoulder. He stood by me for the better part of an hour, until I had to get up. Exactly like he did when Ty was injured.  A protector? A source of strength and healing energy? A shared place of peace?

All of the above, most likely.  I had been in a lot of pain, but sitting there with Spud,  I felt none.  None. I was surrounded by the positive energy of those horses.

I was at home again.

Amazing Backcountry Contest ImageA herd leader like Ty can create a space of peace around him that the other horses want to stand in. We can do this too. How ? Think about it. What does a horse really need?

Freedom from fear/predators, freedom from hunger/thirst and freedom from herd related stress.  What remains is peace. It is as simple as that.  What makes a horse special is their natural ability to share and communicate that.

Part of my training methodology involves emulating the horses natural behaviour, particularly how they communicate through energy and feel. And of course putting that to good, productive and most importantly fun use for the mental and physical benefit of both horse and rider.

Amazing Backcountry Contest ImageWhat I believe I, and many of our story authors have come to realize here, is that the horse is entirely capable of sharing their peace, energy and emotional strength intimately – with a human.  I also believe, amongst other things, this is something that draws us close to our equine companions. ??Closer on some levels than we are sometimes willing to let ourselves be with other people. The ability for us to let down our guard and energetically, empathically and emotionally share our very selves with an animal that instinctively communicates that way is an indescribably incredible gift. It’s encouraging to me, as a trainer, to see that many of you have discovered that.

Once again, thanks for entering the contest.  I hope you enjoyed writing your stories as much as we enjoying reading them.

As you know the Grand Prize of this contest is a spot in one of our clinics this summer.  The goal is to develop your horsemanship skills in a fun and supportive environment, and put your learning to the test on the obstacle course. With nightly campfires, free camping for you and your horse, an exceptionally reasonable price and generally just a darn good fun time….

…why not join us? For more information on the clinics and to register, just click here.

Stand by for a BIG announcement on the contest winners and our Amazing Sponsors!

Christmas – 2014

Seasons Greetings from Amazing Backcountry !

No doubt everyone is familiar with being busy this time of year.  I recently spoke to someone who dreads this time of year because it becomes hectic; malls are crowded and people are, for lack of a better word, intense.

But stress isn’t what the season is about. The season is traditionally about celebrating the birth of Jesus, and in that we celebrate family, friends and togetherness. In my sometimes naive way of thinking, Christmas is like Thanksgiving. In the eight hours I put on the highway the other day hauling horses in two different trailers–both of which were loaned to me, I had plenty of time to contemplate what I was going to sit down and write this morning. Invariably my thoughts kept drifting to the people that have helped me out this year.

I was in fact, almost six hours late on my drive home. Given the events that delayed my departure: truck troubles, trailer troubles and an impromptu three hour horse training session, I was prepared for another disaster or delay on the way home. Bring it on, I thought.  But I had a smile on my face; I was heading home. My drive was uneventful, save for a highway closure (police all over) and some patches of dense fog. Thinking of hungry horses and a dog in the house whose bladder was probably aching, I called a friend of mine who lives nearby. He didn’t hesitate to drive all the way over to my place and take care of things.

horsemanship obstacles bridge

Groundwork with Spud on the new bridge.

This past year has been busy but exciting.  Amazing Backcountry has big plans to restructure in 2015 to offer some great new services to members, including 2-day horsemanship / obstacle course clinics in the summer…but more on that later. The home ranch is coming along with new fences and paddocks, landscaping, a new roof on the barn, a new horse obstacle course, an arena, new flooring in the house and of course…more horses! Given the age of the property, renovations take much longer; starting one project inevitably means the start of many other projects which must be completed before the project of your original intent can even begin.

If you’ve renovated an old place, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

vintage barn

Vintage barn with a new roof.

The construction zone, which basically covers the entire property, is also my home and home to all my horses, boarded horses and horses in for training.  It takes a bit of coordination to keep all things flowing smoothly.

More than that, it takes help. There is no way I could have accomplished the things I did this year by myself. I would still by hanging fence rails, pulling old barbed wire out of the bush and pounding fence posts if it wasn’t for the support I received.  I’d be using my cell phone as an internet modem if I wasn’t able to borrow a bucket truck to mount the dish on the barn.  My sheds would still be leaking if I didn’t have help re-roofing them.

But it doesn’t stop there.If you read my last article, Bonds with Horses, you’re familiar with how poor Ty has struggled this year. Honestly, I don’t think he would be around if it wasn’t for the folks that supported me in his recovery: rushing over to provide emergency therapy, offering guidance and supplement suggestions.  Not to mention the folks and the vet that attended him when he was discovered on the ground. Nor the long list of veterinarians, nutritionists and therapists that have supported us over the years.

horse playing with hat

Chip is ‘re-purposing’ my toque.

And as I mentioned above: trailers.  My trailer has decided it doesn’t like me any more. Now that I think about it, I believe it made that decision 10 years ago when it rolled out of the factory. Twice stranded in Athabasca, I’m only home with the horses I was hauling because of some great people that were willing to lend me their trailers to get home.

And I think that is a key word: home.

I was smiling during the long drive because I knew what awaited me: a dog jumping around with joy at my return, sharing space with relaxing horses that simply ooze peace and contentment  save for Chip, who, when I’ve been gone for a while wants nothing more than to play with me.  But that just makes me laugh; he’s a character, and quite possibly an equine mirror of me. Those animals make our home a warm, comfortable place.

kananaskis powderface horse

The year also welcomed some great new friends, and great mountain riding.

I’ve been on the new property now for a year and a half. I’ll probably be the new guy on the block for the next 30 years, but when I went into the local hardware the other day I realized that the staff and I know each other on a first name basis.

I never leave that establishment without sharing a coffee and a joke or a laugh.  It is comfortable, and little things like that makes home, well–home.

In the end, it comes down to horses.  Ty, Belle, Spud, Chip, Ponkey and Bailey provide the framework that I exist in. If it wasn’t for those horses, I’m really not sure where, or what, home would be. Of course the new property and all the construction is part of a business plan, but it also provides a needed home for those horses. Their safety, comfort and well being are, and will always be, at the top of my priority list. That work pays off because on a daily basis those horses provide hope, understanding, fun, play and laughter, trust, faith, joy and peace.

And that’s a fairly accurate description of Christmas too, isn’t it?

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas,

Scott Phillips

December 2014

Bringing Home a Feral Horse

Natures role in shaping the horse has long been a loved topic of reflection of mine. Recently, I’ve become even more fascinated because I’ve had the privilege of working with a feral horse. I say privilege because this mare has caused me to re-examine what I’ve learned from working with free ranging domesticated herds in ways I could have never imagined. She’s become the horse I’m most grateful to have met.

When I first saw Sera (as I’ve come to call her after the song,(Que Sera, Sera by Doris Day), she was wearing a rope halter with the lead rope dragging behind her on the ground of her paddock. There must be quite a story behind how she came to wear that halter because Sera is untouchable, equally afraid of adults and children alike. By the time I came to know her, she had learned to nimbly navigate the impediment the lead rope created for her. I was impressed by how easy it was for her to work around that rope at any pace.

In fact, it was her careful sense of her body that led me to take a chance on her (that, and her willingness to take dewormer down with her feed!). My concern in bringing a horse like her home largely centered on what I would do if she became injured. After watching her for several days, I discovered that I believed in her ability to take care of herself. While afraid of people, she was sensible and didn’t have a mean bone in her body. I was also struck by her willingness to investigate new objects, suggesting that she’s naturally curious. My belief is that this quality will enable her fear of people to wane over time. My job is to pave the way.

After we got her home, the first thing that struck me was how quickly she could coordinate her limbs across new terrain. As soon as she had a bigger space to work with, she exploded into a gallop and tore around the perimeter to establish her new boundaries. I’ve turned countless horses into this same small pasture, and they always run about in the open center, taking the path of least resistance. Sera’s route led her straight through a crop of trees along the fence line that she handled like a gymnast. I can’t stress enough how uniquely she can move at break-neck speed over and around trees.

If you’re envisioning this scene akin to anytime you’ve seen a horse in flight mode running haphazardly, with what appears to be little regard for their well-being, I wouldn’t blame you. This, however, is not how Sera moves. She currently runs with our herd on the quarter and sometimes cuts through the trees,  leaving the other horses in her dust. In over six months, she’s never had so much as a scratch or caused a single twig to snap or crack. She’s a picture of quiet moving, self-aware agility.

Sera is also the only horse to have successfully ambushed our lead gelding. When Sera first met Skyler, she spotted a moment when he wasn’t paying attention and lunged at him intensely, nipping at his neck. She took no hair but made her point memorable. He was quite shook-up but hasn’t been caught unaware since. This story may give you the impression Sera is something of a dominant personality, but she’s actually far from it. She’s a mid-ranking horse that stays out of the way of the dominant temperaments and exhibits the subtlest social cues in the herd. Even before she joined the herd at large, Sera was equally cooperative with a horse named Roamy in the small pasture. I’ve nicknamed her the diplomat as a result.

So why challenge the lead?  Sera has become so wild, I believe nature has had the opportunity to condition her to pay attention to the things that matter to her survival. One of those key behaviors is to maintain eye contact with herd mates while simultaneously keying into the surrounding environment. Even when engrossed in grazing, a horse has to be able to join the school of fish movements herds follow at the drop of a hat. Sera’s challenge to Skyler was to improve his focus, a social skill that ultimately shapes the group to be able to flow in concert. It’s likely her upbringing produced a sharper focus than Skyler’s domestic home created for him. Fortunately for Skyler, he’s a quick study.

feral horse


As I mentioned, Sera is much less demonstrative with the other horses. Perhaps she didn’t grow up jockeying for a place at the water trough or securing a flake of hay? I suspect that the pecking order we are so accustomed to in domestic horses is largely invisible within wild bands. The contrast between Sera and my domestic horses highlight how housing and feeding practices can unintentionally strengthen the fight/flight response, even so far as to disconnect it from it’s counter-weight in nature: the need to conserve energy. I believe that the more we design environments for horses around the needs of people, the greater the likelihood this effect will be magnified in our domesticated horses.

You’re probably wondering how Sera’s battles with that lead rope ended. All on her own, under the cover of night, she slipped out of the halter. We found it on the ground of her paddock, knots intact, the following morning.

Bonds with Horses

Most, if not all of us, have horses that are, or have been, near to our hearts. For reasons that are generally personal, these horses endear themselves to us and we form bonds with them that are different and in many ways exceed the bonds we permit ourselves to form with other people.

Why is this?

I’ve spent many years working with groups of people and have had plenty of opportunity to observe how they interact with one another.  And my conclusion is this: humans are good actors.  We play the part to fit the situation.  For example, we can be in a bad mood, but show up at work and pretend to be happy.  When someone asks, “How are you?” ??we automatically reply “Fine, how are you?” without a second thought, even though we might not be fine at all.

In our interactions with people we’re continuously, and usually subconsciously, analyzing the reactions and expectations of the party we’re conversing with. We might not answer honestly, instead choosing to answer what the other person expects in order to steer a conversation in a certain direction.  We use sarcasm. We cause others to think, “What does he really mean by that?”

We act. What this means to me is that people are seldom 100% honest. We go through our lives playing this game. But without 100% honesty there can never be 100% trust. We question, suspect.  We talk about people behind their backs. We write things in emails and text messages that we wouldn’t dream of saying in a face to face conversation.

Humans, as social animals, are horrible!

chip and scott

Chip on his 3rd day in the world. Our close relationship has opened so many doors to fun, productive training and enjoyment for both of us.

Horses on the other hand, are like a breath of fresh air in a world stagnant with pretense. They are intelligent animals incapable of deceit. I know you’ll have some story about a dishonest horse. But think about it: a horse can only be a horse. A horse can only think like a horse. A horse can only act like a horse. So calling a horse dishonest, manipulative or my favorite: my horse has a behavior problem, is simply a method people have of personifying their horses to explain behavior they either don’t understand, or that they feel is amusing.

Horses are honest. As such their trust must be earned. Horses are capable of forming bonds with other horses and people which can be extremely close; you’ll find many examples in my writing to back that up.  What makes a horse honest is that he cannot act, pretend or fake a mood. A true and honest relationship with a horse extends beyond actions. It goes into a realm that is, in it’s own way, spiritual.

I had someone say to me recently, “Animals are so awesome, they love us unconditionally.” Generally, I disagree.  Most dogs I’ve ever met initially trust you until you give them a reason not to (predator-predator relationship). Horses are the opposite. They will not trust you until you prove you can be trusted (predator – prey relationship). There are obvious and overt conditions and actions that preclude a relationship with a horse. Additionally there are a multitude of subtle conditions that must be met before a horse will form a deep connection with a person. 

I’d like you to consider this.  People form bonds with horses because in the horse they find a trust and honesty that is pure.  And that bond must be mutual; if you are honest with your horse and provide leadership in the way the horse understands and requires it, you can have a lifelong partner. What makes this bond so special is that it requires effort to achieve; it isn’t given unconditionally. You can’t be a human actor around a horse and expect to have a true connection with him. Forming a connection like that requires that you understand what his mental needs are and provide them. A bond like this requires that you are able to feel your horse on a deep psychological level, and in turn communicate empathically with him.

A relationship this honest and open will never exist until you can let your guard down and be honest and open with yourself.

Learning a horse on this level is a journey that might take years, but the payoffs are profound, moving and generally life changing. At least they have been for me.

horse broken neck ty

The author and his gelding, Ty, beginning to ride again after he broke his neck.

Several years ago my gelding, Ty, broke his neck.  We went down a long road of rehabilitation; initially he could barely walk as his spinal cord was compromised. As the years went by, he progressed: I have worked cattle on him and ridden him to the top of a mountain.  We share a mutual understanding.  I know, without a doubt, that he is aware that I’m responsible for saving his life.  I see that in his eye.  I feel it from him.  In turn, that horse has taught me how to create a peaceful space for horses – an asset a herd leader must have – and a skill that I now employ when working with any horse.

Ty has taught me that faith, honesty and trust are real. Our relationship is deep.  Ty probably understands it better than I do because his understanding isn’t clouded by guesswork, philosophy, reasoning or personification. It simply is what it is, and it’s pure. It’s that purity that takes my breath away when he, or any other horse, shows it. When working with horses I find that purity is an addictive component; it’s exhilarating.  It’s energizing. It’s life.

But there are downsides to a relationship like that.  The potential for worry.  Loss.  Guilt.  On average our lives are longer than our horse’s lives by a factor of at least three.  I was told by someone once,  “If you care for that horse, she’ll die.”  Well, she’ll eventually die anyway.

So will I.

And that said, there is a window of opportunity where our lives intertwine, intersect and even merge to an extent. It’s up to us how we use that window because it is of finite duration. It truly is an opportunity if you choose to take it.  It’s  an opportunity for us to explore, to learn.  An opportunity for us to feel and experience the uniqueness of the horse that extends so much further than just riding, competing or working.

Careful, though, this is an addiction. But it’s a healthy one. It’s also not for everyone. People involved with horses run the gamut from those that put 100% priority on the horse to those that put 100% priority on themselves. The former are horsemen who are content to let the horse speak for their skill. Their efforts are reflected in the obvious connection they share with their horse, who is smooth and fluid and entirely content – no matter what the task. The latter would be people for whom the horse is a tool to advance them to a certain competitive level. They might employ a trainer for their horse and seldom interact with the horse between training sessions or shows. Most horse people will fall in between somewhere. Hopefully you find a spot where both you and the horse realize mutual and lifelong benefits.

The reason that I’ve been contemplating these thoughts is that several days ago I almost lost Ty. And it’s caused me to think about not only how special he is to me, but how much potential all horses have. They have the potential to be our most trusted friends. Our most honest friends.  Whether we compete, trail ride or train, we are always building and exploring our relationship and commitment to each other.

While I was away, Ty was discovered by my house-sitter.  He was lying on his side, unable to get up. He was shivering.  She put a blanket over him, and called me and the vet.  While the vet was on his way, I called him to discuss Ty’s previous neurological injuries so that he had a basis to treat him. Not being at home and not being able to provide help and support was a sickening feeling.


The vet asked me over the phone, “Is this horse special to you?”  Meaning: I don’t like the look of this. I can euthanize him right now, if that is your choice. My response was simply, “He is.”

jody and ty

Jody works on Ty after a mishap this summer.

The vet was able to get Ty up and with the aid of good friends, put him in the round pen and treat him for colic. I now know that he didn’t colic and go down – he went down and colicked because he couldn’t get up. When I returned home the next day, I immediately called Jody – an incredible equine therapist and a good friend of mine. Jody spent an afternoon working on Ty and found two vertebrae and four ribs were out. Subsequently he was in a lot of pain. To compensate he was using his body in such away that he appeared to be a neurological disaster.

However, after treating him, and with subsequent daily treatment from me, Ty is getting noticeably better. Are we out of the woods?  Not yet. But I can see the edge of the trees from here. In hindsight, what strikes me about this episode is that I feared the worst. Watching my equine mentor struggle to move and get up. Watching him lose his balance and fall over, but just keep trying…it was hard. I wasn’t going to give up until I had exhausted every possible attempt at helping him. Inside, though, part of me was preparing to say goodbye to a beloved friend. Ty however, had no intention of giving up. He is a source of strength to the herd and also to me.

Part of my mantra for life is: I will never have regrets. Part of ensuring living with no regrets is taking every possible opportunity, exploring every avenue, and more than that, I’m realizing, doing something to enrich the lives of others. I think that is a basic human instinct – probably instilled in us to preserve our species. With horses, I am convinced that is my purpose: through training and working with them, I can enrich their lives. The results speak for themselves: horses have more confidence, ability and freedom in motion. They realize success and reward, peace and contentment. They develop an attitude of try and want to work for you, no matter what your discipline or event.

It’s an amazing feeling to be able to provide those things to another living being. Oddly enough, now that I think about it, they have given me the exact same things.

When Ty eventually passes, I know that I will have done all I can to make his life the best it could have been. I know that he is aware of that. I will have made the best of that window of opportunity: we have learned from each other, and we have helped and supported each other. We have existed in a space of peace that we are able to create and share with each other. One look in his eye tells me that.


Ty in 2014

Ty in his typical pose in the fall of 2014.

It’s difficult in our lives to devote enough time to the things we care about. It’s also easy to take something or someone for granted. And it’s understandable: we are busy with jobs, raising families, maintaining the farm or any number of countless tasks. It’s so easy to spread ourselves thin. In our busy lives it’s important to find valuable time to spend with our horses. To learn from them. To share with them. To give to them. They’re not dirtbikes to be used at an event and then put in the garage until the next race. They’re living, thinking, intelligent beings that have many many lessons to teach us.

Lessons about how to be a human being.

If you’re open to allowing yourself to make positive changes in your life – a horse has a wealth of information to show you how to do that.

It’s right there waiting for you. Make the most of it.

Scott Phillips, November 2014

Buying your first horse. Finding the right match for you.

Here is a scenario: You are established in your career. You are a parent. Your kids are all going to school or in university. You have always loved horses but just had to put that dream of owning one on the backburner for a few years. Now you have decided it is the time to follow your dream. Where do you start?

First off you need to have some great professional advice. Refer to my last article Great Trainers and Horsemen -How can you tell? If you are one of the privileged few to already be working with a great trainer you are off to a good start. A great trainer knows you and will be honest in finding the right match, not just make a sale.

Your skill level and needs.

Be honest with yourself on what you are comfortable with. Do you want to ride in an arena, hit the trails, work cattle or learn dressage? A horse with good experience is essential. Keep in mind that a competition horse who has a trough full of ribbons is not necessarily the right match??for you. Owning a horse is a big responsibility. Large amounts of your time will be spent training, caring and mostly spending positive time with your horse. Make sure this can fit into your lifestyle. This is a relationship that takes time to nurture and develop and is extremely rewarding when done well.


Set your range of a purchase price, and keep an open mind – there are many considerations here. The horse with experience and a healthy mind and body will be more costly. The older horse is not to be dismissed as they are some of the greatest teachers and as such, are invaluable. A young horse will be challenging; a support group of educated horse trainers and caretakers is absolutely necessary to take this challenge on. The initial price of the young horse may be less but you will need to budget for training of the horse and yourself for the long haul.


Who is that going to be? If not you, then this person should have years of experience in caring for horses well. Their understanding of diet, exercise and the herd mentality is absolutely necessary to the health of your new horse. The stable where your trainer works is a good start. If your trainer runs the stable, even better. Trainers and caretakers can be a great team and support to you and your horse. The property your horse will call home should be clean, fencing safe, shelter, ample water,hay quality good, pasture available and healthy herd mates for your horse to call family.


Viewing the sale horse.

Take your great trainer along with you. They have the experience in knowing if this horse is a potential match for you. They will also know what questions to ask of the seller and give you great feedback. Keep an open mind, listen to comments and conversation, and ask your own questions. This is a great learning experience for you – how to evaluate a horse for purchase – even if you are not the right match for this horse.

Try out period.

When you think you have a potential match, a try out period is essential. This can be in a lease agreement, a commitment to lessons or other contractual agreement. If leasing is not an option the next best thing is taking lessons with your trainer and new horse candidate. Horses have their own personalities as do we. It takes time to develop a relationship and find the right match.

Karma (4)


You have found the right match. Your great trainer is supporting you. Now its time to take the plunge and make an offer. The right partnership is crucial and a fair offer is necessary. Health records and a buyer/seller agreement are the next step to obtain. The seller may want to buy the horse back if you decide to sell in the future. Each agreement can be tailored to both parties. Get advice from a trusted source like your great trainer.  A pre-purchase exam by a vet is helpful information and a good idea for the first time buyer.

Congratulations on finding the right match for you. Now you have your first horse. Dedicate as much time as possible to learning and building a positive relationship with your new friend. The more you know your horse the better you can tell when things are emotionally and physically well – or not – with him. Your great trainer will encourage you to do lots of groundwork and can help you with this. Your life will never be the same. Enjoy!!

Trail Rangers – Rebuilding Kananaskis Trails

Hello back-country users, I would like to share with you a unique project taking place in the southern portion of Kananaskis Country.

Last year the heavy rains and flooding that destroyed so much in towns and cities of southern Alberta also did a lot of damage in the high country. I had the opportunity to see some of the destruction last year with Dewey Mathews of Anchor D Guiding and Outfitting, and it was suggested that is difficult to repair trails and follow the rules of  No motorized vehicles.

Trail Rangers – Rebuilding Kananaskis Trails

As a partner in Alberta Carriage Supply, I am always looking for ways to help people put their horses to work.  This seemed like a perfect opportunity rather than an obstacle. I proposed repairing the trails with draft horses.

This may seem like a good idea, but is it possible? I called Bill Graham of the Road Builders and Heavy Construction Historical Society of Canada. I know Bill and the RHHS from their participation in Draft Horse Town at the Calgary Stampede. Bill has been involved in heavy construction for most of his life (among many other ventures) and has a penchant for collecting old motorized and horse drawn pieces of construction equipment. He also likes to see it work and get dirty. Bill liked the idea.

Dewey, Bill and I had a meeting to discuss the project. As we talked about the project, the excitement grew as we realized it was possible. Our planned 1 hour meeting turned into 3.

As a partner in the venture, Anchor D will obtain the necessary permits, provide meals, accommodation, and back country knowledge. RHHS will provide horse drawn construction equipment and road building expertise. Alberta Carriage Supply is charged with finding teams, teamsters, labourers, training and co-ordination of the project.

Trail Damage

Trail Damage

The damage to trails is extensive. In some areas, bridges and crossings were washed away, some trails had water cuts in them 3 feet deep and some parts of trails sloughed away.  Debris of deadfall, rock and silt has changed the look forever.

Our goal is not to put things back as they were, but to make the trails safe for all back country users.

To accomplish this we will be using road plows, dump wagons, graders, fresnos, wheelers, and even a horse bull dozer. The equipment is all close to 100 years old, so does not have any safety guards and is inherently dangerous to man and beast. To ensure we have a productive experience, we require that all participants attend a 2 day clinic at Alberta Carriage Supply to learn how to safely operate the horse drawn equipment.

Wagons on the Trail

Wagons on the Trail

So who can be a part of this?  Anyone with a smile and a love of the back country! We need help, teams, teamsters and labour to make this a successful operation!

Trail Rangers Details:

Working Days: September 8 -11 in Kananaskis Country

Training Dates: August 17 & 18 (Alberta Carriage Supply)

Cost: $250.00 per person  includes 3 good meals per day, tent, cot & foamy, & training
$75.00 per horse for feed.


To sign up, or for more information, please contact Dale at:
Phone: 403-934-9537



Deb and her horse Sassy at Mesa Butte

Deb and her horse Sassy at Mesa Butte

I’m pretty sure that each of us taking part in the Amazing Backcountry Race for STARS has either taken a ride in the STARS helicopter or know someone who has. We all feel the ripple effects when someone is transported via the Air Rescue System, whether through being directly involved in the accident or seeing the red helicopter fly through the sky.

One of our riders, Deb Dombowsky, experienced the ride first-hand last summer when riding in the mountains west of Calgary.  She shares her story…

“It was a beautiful morning in the mountains in my favourite camping spot, Little Elbow Equestrian campsite. The sun was just breaking over the mountains with the promise of a warm day. I saddled up my young horse, Secret, for what I thought was going to be a quiet, short ride down to the river.

We set out just behind the campsite and I was pondering where I would take my brother when he got up there later in the morning. It was maybe a half hour into the ride when we came around a bend in the trail and were met with a black bear.

ABC Race for STARS

ABC Race for STARS

My horse stopped hard and the bear took off into the bush with my dog in pursuit. It happened so fast, when my horse jammed on the brakes I clinched my legs and unfortunately stuck her pretty hard with my spurs.  And then we were off to the races so to speak!

Next thing I know I’m out of the saddle, onto her neck, and then sailing through the air and right into a tree. I lay there on the side of the trail trying to breathe.  When I hit the tree I collapsed my lung and broke 10 ribs (5-11 were flail), broke my collar bone, and fractured my scapula in three places.

At some point I knew I needed to get out to the road if I was to get any help, so off I crawled.  I was very lucky to have a young man come along and he went to the camp attendants to get help.  Jim and his wife were with me right up until I was transported by STARS.  They kept my dog and horse safe until they could be brought back home. I am forever grateful for their help.

I heard the helicopter landing right there on the road and I thought, ‘how many times have I heard and seen STARS in the sky and never dreamed I would be in it one day.’ The crew was so fast and efficient, I truly believed them when they said, ‘you are going to be okay.’  As we made our way to Foothills hospital the voice that came through my headset kept reassuring me and walked me through all they were doing for me.

As I write this I need to include that it was barely a year ago that I watched STARS take my grandson, Tyson Hirbnak. We were camping in the backcountry in Dutch Creek and had a propane explosion which badly injured my grandson and my husband.  You can read about Ty’s story in the January 2014 STARS calendar. You can watch a STARS video featuring Ty here:

STARS has made a huge imprint in the lives of our family. Now when I hear and see STARS in the sky I have a flood of emotions, but mostly a deep gratitude in my heart for them and all they do.

Thank you STARS.

Deb resides in Calgary Alberta.


Emotional Health and your horse

We all have our own stories of a horse we have just loved and had great times with.

Then there are the stories of horses whose relationships have been challenging.

Some horses are easy to love and others seem to put us in a mindset of negativity.  How can we deal with this?

Lets start with the challenging horse.  It’s always a good idea to seek the assistance of a good professional trainer with this type of horse. This is a tough journey for most and a great support system where you can build on success is essential.DSC00439
In training horses and people over the years I have come to understand relational dynamics to a deeper degree.

The challenger horse is the type that requires clarity with consistency at all times. Emotional health, thought and space are the first things I would look at. Lets focus on emotional health.

The person who has the challenger requires an emotional strength of calmness, stillness and clear direction in space. Just think, if you are in the presence of an individual who is highly stressed you would most likely begin to feel stressed just being with them. You are taking on their negative energy; this is the same with horses. When you are with a highly stressed horse it is critical that you are calm and still emotionally. This is the first place to start. This will take practice and does not come naturally to most of us.

Start in the field or the round pen. It is crucial that you have no agenda. Breathing deeply, bring yourself to be in a moment of calm. You will begin to notice changes in your horse. His head will relax, he will take some deep breaths. This is a good time to leave your horse for a moment. Return again in a calm emotional state. Breathe deeply again letting the stress leave your body and mind. Repeating this will establish some consistency and begin a new basis of how your horse will see and respond to you. Apply your new mindset while you are leading your horse, grooming and make this the new standard.

Now for the easy to love horse. This horse also requires clarity and consistency. The difference is that if we do not attend to the easy to love horse’s needs through emotional health, thought and space they just fill in the gaps for us. This is no big deal to them since this horse is OK with taking care of us. These are the types of horses that will carry a beginner through their first creek crossing, jump a poorly approached jump with ease and let little girls braid their hair for hours.

This does not mean the easy to love horse will not teach us anything. Actually they will! Becoming emotionally calm and still with this horse and then tuning into their thoughts will be welcomed. For instance, when grooming are they asking for an itchy spot to be rubbed? Is this horse lifting a leg, swishing its tail or getting fidgety when being brushed? You may have touched on a pain issue.

Pay attention to the small signals this horse gives you and they will offer more of themselves to you.

The small things are critically important to all horses, we just need to listen.