For this story, I need to set the scene. Imagine, it was two years ago and if you were anything like me (and Amanda), you may have downloaded TikTok to pass the time while being holed in your house. Now, also at that time you either jumped on the bandwagon and started creating content (like Amanda) or you just thoroughly enjoyed watching content created by those you share similar interests with. This was how I was first introduced to Amanda’s content. Since then, I have been following her story on TikTok and relating to her stories of travel and horse training from afar, until last month. On a whim, I dropped in her comments and asked if she’d be interested in an interview and she graciously obliged.
Fast forward to last week, I packed up my interview gear and headed out to the ranch where she was staying in Maricopa, Arizona. At this point, there were some butterflies in both of our bellies. Me because I was meeting someone who I had solely been following on a social media platform and for her, because she hadn’t done a whole ton of interviews before this one. So we pulled up some camping chairs, sat in the shade of her weekender horse trailer, and got to know each other a little better before jumping in. Once the nerves had passed, we dove right on in and I started the interview by asking her,
Can you tell me a little bit more about your background with horses and how you got started?
Amanda: It’s kind of a long, roundabout story, but I didn’t grow up in a horse family. I grew up in a capital city in Canada so I didn’t ride or have horses until I was a little older. Originally, it started when we had a cabin on a lake and there was a horse on the way that was always by the fence so we’d stop and pet it over the fence. Then one day, we were driving by there and the people who owned the property were out in the yard and we stopped and talked to them. They mentioned that there was a local auction and invited us to come along just for the experience. So we went that week, and there was a mare and her foal that went into the auction ring, and they were going very cheap. My dad and I were sitting together, then my mom and my sister were sitting together, and the pair got bid up to $200 bucks, and my dad’s like, “This has got to be a good deal!”. We didn’t know anything about horses, but we’re like, this seems cheap. So we bid on them, and it ended up going up to about $400 bucks for the pair of them, then we won the bid. Then the auctioneer was like, “Oh, that’s gonna make one little girl happy!”. My mom was looking around thinking, there are no little girls there, there are only old men except for me and my sister. She was looking around thinking, “Did I accidentally bid on these horses?”, then she looks over, sees me and I’ve got the biggest smile on my face. The horses ended up being completely wild and it took us months to even be able to catch them or touch them. We ended up boarding them at the place where those other horses were. We definitely did a lot of things not textbook back then but we didn’t know anything about horses and ended up learning as we went.
Do you remember the moment that you realized you could make a living training horses?
Amanda: When I was 19, it was my first university summer, I applied for a ranch job knowing I had zero experience with cattle. Literally, I had not worked with cattle a single day in my life, but I wanted to cowgirl. I applied for several jobs but there was one where I was the only one that applied so they hired me and took a chance. It ended up being everything I had ever dreamed of and absolutely fell in love with it. Then the following summer I worked at a different ranch, finished my degree, and then after I graduated, I worked in a lot of ag research and ag consulting jobs. I ended up flip-flopping every other year between having a professional job and pen riding. While I was pen riding I would take some outside training horses just for extra money but even then, it was trial and error. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I was pretty successful with them.
Then this past summer I started training full time. I left my ranch job in July and was planning on coming south for the winter, so I knew I had about four months to kill before I had to leave. At the time, I was thinking maybe I can make this work just to carry me through. Then, in my first month of training, I ended up getting a bunch of client and consignment horses that ended up going really well. Then when I worked it down to an hourly rate for the time I was putting in ranching versus training, and then what I was making versus ranching and training; I realized that I had just given myself a 450% raise, going from ranching to being self-employed. That was the first month and I realized that I can eat off this. The way it started was definitely encouraging to keep doing it and made me see a bit of a future in it. I still go back to ranching here and there just because I really like the cattle, that’s where my heart is. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy working with horses, helping horses and people but I really, really love cattle, so I could never give that up.
For the folks that’s don’t follow you on social, you live in your weekender horse trailer, what are some of the biggest lessons or blessings that have come out of that?
Amanda: The biggest thing that plays a part in it is the weather because I have to shower outside so I either use like one of those black camping bags that heat up in the sun, or find a water trough. So being in a colder climate is cold when you’re living out of a trailer. When I was in Oklahoma, it was cold there, like several days that were below freezing. To shower, I had to take a dish tub, boil water, then put it in there and that’s what I used as a bath…for too long. That’s been the biggest challenge is just the lack of amenities and lack of counter space. That is what I miss the most probably.
Krysta: This life isn’t for everybody and from what you just explained, there are a lot of folks that would be like “Nope, I’m done. Walking away. Like I need a hot shower, I need a heater…I need…I need…I need but what do you think living like this has given you character-wise? There are things that you learn living in less-than-ideal situations that make you appreciate life a little bit more.
Amanda: You really do end up appreciating things more. I’m going on month nine of living in my weekender now and here where I’m at, I’ve got friends on the next street over and I’ll go borrow their shower. Every hot shower you have now is the best hot shower you’ve ever had. You just appreciate things a lot more, like being able to eat real food. They say the less you have, the happier and more grateful you are. I definitely think there’s some truth to that. And especially with having left Canada, I’m traveling down here partially because there are so much more freedoms compared to how things are going in Canada right now so every day I’m so grateful for that too.
How did you develop your training style?
Amanda: I’ve taken a little bit from every single person that I’ve met. Most of the southern Alberta cowboys that I’ve learned from and worked with, go back to that Ray Hunt style. So if you follow the lineage back, that would be what my style resembles the most just because of the people I’ve learned from. I’ve never worked under a specific trainer or anything so I can’t say that there’s one person that has influenced me. It’s been a lot of trial and error since day one. I enjoy asking questions and enjoy watching/attending clinics. I’ve never been in a riding clinic but I love bringing a notebook and coming out of there with pages of notes. I think I prefer watching clinics because if I was riding in them, there’s no way I’d remember everything.
I also think that not growing up in this industry and lifestyle has actually helped me because I came into it with no knowledge, expectations, or guidance so there wasn’t a way that my family did it. When I came in and started, I had to take what everyone said and try it then sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. But that was the only opportunity I had to learn because I didn’t have a parent or mentor to set me up in it.
What are some of the biggest things that horses should have as part of their training foundation?
Amanda: For me, there are five exercises that I start with and it usually takes me half an hour to run through them, get an idea where the horses are, and teach the exercises to them if they don’t know how to do them already. These five exercises can also be applied via instruction to anyone who messages me a question or goes on a FaceTime session with me. Most of the time, I let them know that you can find the problem with a horse in these five exercises and you’ll figure out where their holes are.
I start by getting them used to the flag and get them thinking. The first exercise is lunging. The horse needs to be able to lunge respectfully, not drag me around the pen but pay attention to me and not be so worried about what’s on the outside, being able to switch directions and disengage their hips by me just putting pressure on with my eyes.
The second one is disengaging their hind end. You can incorporate this one with lunging but I also do it on its own. They need to be able to move their hind end independently from their front feet. What you’re looking for in this exercise is their hind foot that is closest to you, crossing over the other foot.
The third exercise is disengaging their front end. It’s the same idea as the previous exercise but you want to free up their front feet. This exercise is a tough one for a lot of horses and a really common foundation that people miss. You need to be able to free up those front feet on the ground otherwise you won’t be able to do it in the saddle.
The fourth exercise is getting the horse to change eyes where I bring the rope on their off-side, then get them to turn away from me so that I switch from one eye to the other. Each eye is a different side of their brain so when you swing a leg over and you just appear in that off-side eye, and if they don’t know how to process that it can surprise them. This exercise also helps me see if they’re halter broke, just because a horse can follow you on halter doesn’t mean it’s halter broke. I want them to follow that feel in the opposite direction and give to it lightly. This one is hard for a lot of horses too and I’ll keep doing it until they do it nice and soft. A lot of them scoot real fast around the turn and I want them to just walk like slowly and evenly through the turn.
The last exercise is lateral flexion. In this one, you want them to give their head to each side without moving their feet. This is going to be pretty important if you need to stop them if they’re fighting you. If a horse has all five of those exercises down, I feel pretty confident getting on them. The most common problem I see whether it’s a problem horse or an unstarted horse is either they’re not halter broke and they don’t know how to give to pressure or their feet are sticky, which often causes them to buck because if they can’t move their feet in the direction that you’re asking them, the energy goes up.
In addition to those exercises, what is something every horse owner should be doing with their horses?
Amanda: I’d say just set your expectations higher. People don’t think their horse can stand tied, but they’re also not willing to leave them tied for half a day. Or they don’t think their horse can self-load in the trailer but they also aren’t asking that of them. Or the horse is pushy when you lead, well are you being firm, making them back up and get out of your space? They’re really, really smart animals. If your horse isn’t making your life easier, then you need to put in some work. We have horses to have fun, so if they’re not helping you with the workload and not having fun, there’s something that needs to change there. I’d say set your expectations higher because they can do a lot more than you’ve probably given them credit for.
Most horse people would agree that horses teach us as much as we teach them. What are some things you’ve learned from training horses?
Amanda: I think a lot of it has to do with keeping your emotions in check. TikTok has helped me a lot with really having to pay attention to what I’m doing while filming and also being more focused on the little things. In addition, I have to think about how to get my point across to both the horse and the people watching. It just makes you a lot more present and aware. Horses have saved me in a lot of ways and given me a purpose.
What are your goals for the next 5 years?
Amanda: So much has changed already this year, it’s hard to say. This time last year, I was still working on a ranch in Alberta and I would have never guessed that this is where I’d be. I hope to keep heading south for the winter. I feel like I’ve done my time in Canadian winters so I could have warm winters for the rest of my life and I would still have had my fair share of cold. I’d really like to go check out California ranching, like the California Buckaroo style. But we’ll see how things go in Montana. I really like Montana because it’s so similar to home. I could see myself spending a lot of time there. Of course, I want to keep growing my business as I’m hoping to do training more full-time and then just ranch when I feel like getting the horses out.
What is some advice you would give to someone who might want to become a horse trainer?
Amanda: I think the biggest thing is you really have to love it because it’s hard. You have to be able to deal with unpredictable situations whether it’s inconsistent paychecks, horses getting hurt or sick, or trucks breaking down. If I was going to do it again, finding a trainer to spend some time under would have been really helpful. I can think of a lot of good ones that if I had spent the time with them, it would have changed a lot for me. I’d probably recommend if you want to get into it, that’d be a good little taste test. I would also say, keep an open mind, never stop learning, and take a little bit from everyone. A lot of people lately have been asking if they should get an equine degree or animal science program, but personally, I don’t see the value in it. I have an environmental degree with an ag minor but it’s such a hands-on industry that unless you’re getting hands-on experience, I don’t see the value in a degree or certificate. I would say go find some hands-on experience, get your hands and boots dirty and see if you like it.
After our interview, Amanda went and tacked up a four-year-old buckskin gelding she lovingly refers to as “Brumby” because he looks like a wild Australian brumby horse. He was a little watchy on the ground and she had told me ahead of time that there was a chance that we might see some action from him. Ole Brumby wasn’t a huge fan of my being on the ground taking pictures, but he settled right in and I was able to snag some awesome shots of him and Amanda working together.
A huge thanks to Amanda’s sponsor, Fast Back Ropes. She was also sporting all Cinch attire for this interview, so if anyone from Cinch is reading this, she’d be a knockout ambassador for ya’ll. In addition, as mentioned in the interview, Amanda will be heading north to Montana in just a few weeks and will be taking in additional client horses. Make sure to follow her on social media to catch any openings or reach out to her on Instagram to get on her books.
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