Horse Country

Saddle up for adventure

“Stop. Watch. What is Custom saying to you when he flicks his ears like that?”

My daughter Hadley listens to trainer Jeanie’s counsel, carefully analyzes the Quarter Horse Gelding’s body language and adjusts her actions. Custom hesitatingly approaches and once a mutual understanding of trust is reached, he closely follows her through a series of companionship interactions. Her slightest motion, he responds in perfect symmetry. It is synchronized dancing under the North Fields’ autumn sky. 

Hadley has enjoyed horses her entire life but has never interacted with them like this. She has only known Custom for an hour but she has already started to unlock the mystery of the bond between horse and rider. She goes on to throw an oversized soccer ball to Uri, a jet-black Friesian, who dribbles the ball around the ring with the enthusiasm of a FIFA Club World Cup player.

Brent Logan and Jeannie Parkinson are two equine behavior experts who graduated from Parelli University, one of the world’s top universities for equine psychology. They have taken their combined 34 years of experience to create the “JP Method Liberty with Horses” with the goal to teach, train and inspire people and horses to experience the fun of Liberty Training.

According to Brent, “Liberty with horses is to play and dance with your equine partner unbridled, without ropes or any means of control; it is an art that connects horse and human through strength of bond and trust.” Think: Cirque du Soleil’s “Cavalia” with a lot less acrobatics but a whole lot of magic.

Dance and play, unbridled! The Heber- and Kamas-based company offers private and group lessons from beginner to advanced and you don’t need to have a horse to learn the Liberty method. Their horses also perform for corporate and private events upon request.

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The Modern Trail Ride

The Heber Valley’s turn-of-the-century ranchers would puzzle over today’s incarnation of this once-feral valley. Guided horseback riding and floating the Provo River? ATVs and trail rides? Fly fishing trips and yoga? Yet that is exactly what Rocky Mountain Outfitters offers in its modern twist on the classic Western experience at its Soldier Hollow and Sundance stables.

My kids and I skip the adventure packages and opt for the two-hour trail ride. We relax as our guides Jackson and Will lead us away from the stables at Soldier Hollow and through a scrub-oak-studded forest, clip-clopping along 2002 Olympic venue ski trails. We are stalked by a curious deer and chuckle at a ninja squirrel precariously perched on the tip-top of a brush.  

All the while, our trusty horses breathlessly climb. Their reward is the swaths of grass along the way and ours is our destination: The Crow’s Nest. We marvel at the snow-capped Mount Timpanogos backdrop to the west, and to the east, farther and sharp against the clear morning sky, the ragged peaks of the Uinta Mountains.

In between, tucked between Deer Creek and Jordanelle Reservoirs, is our beloved valley.

Whether you’re a traditionalist or a bit more modern, Rocky Mountain Outfitters offers a beautiful slice of Americana for everyone.

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Horse Painting 101

Painting on horses’ bodies is nothing new. Native North Americans used natural paints on their horses to mark the achievements and exploits of the rider.

For KB Horses owner Brenda Metzger, horse painting is a way to connect. “A lot of people are afraid of horses because they’re big, powerful and strong. Through art, we want to break down that fear and teach people that knowledge is power,” she explains. “As long as the horse feels safe, a partnership based on respect can be built.”

This mantra carries over into all of the equestrian company’s services. From start to finish, everything about our ride is different – from the comprehensive riding lesson with leadership and trust exercises in the arena, to tackling the mountainous terrain above Red Ledges.

Sometimes we stick to the trails and other times we bushwhack, allowing our horses the freedom to explore on both of our terms. At the apex of the ride, we are all rewarded with a dramatic overlook of the Heber Valley with the Western wilderness stretched all around us.

Two hours later, Hadley and I are painting Annie, her white hair the perfect canvas. As our fingers trace her slides with the non-toxic tempera paint she initially twitches, but with each stroke she relaxes and so do we. She is the recipient of our comforting touch, we are the givers, and a masterpiece is created.

When we arrive home, my husband asks, “So, where is your painting of the horses?”

I laugh. “It’s not the kind of canvas you bring home with you.”

We did, however, bring home memories that will last a lifetime.

KB Horses personalizes each experience according to the rider’s abilities and comfort-level. Rides are private — which means an increase in price-point but also a more customized experience for each group.

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