A Kalispell horse trainer plans to bring a national riding club and competition to the region, offering her knowledge and home to anyone wanting to take their riding to the next level.
Stacia Stevens, owner of Gentle Persuasion Horse Training, teaches and trains both horses and riders, correcting problems like loading, bucking, bolting and overcoming obstacles.
The other half of her job involves creating a connection and developing trust with each horse, and passing that connection on to the owner to maintain after they leave her ranch.
Even her spare time goes to horses as she and the other members of the Montana Mountain Riders compete in local riding competitions, which Stevens plans to build upon by establishing the region’s first chapter of the Extreme Cowboy Association.
Getting to the professional level as both a rider and trainer took years, according to Stevens, and she had a long way to go when started around 28 years ago.
At 20 years old, Stevens said she took her first riding lesson on a borrowed horse, hoping to learn how to compete in barrel racing.
Instead, she was taken off the horse at the end of her first attempt and told not to come back until she learned how to ride.Devastated, Stevens went home feeling like she’d failed, but refused to give up on her dream of working with horses.
“I said to myself, ‘OK, Stacia, how bad do you want this? Are they really going to get to decide whether you ride a horse in public or not?’” Stevens said.
She bought her first horse, an ex-race horse with a collection of problems and bad habits, at 21 and worked three jobs to save up enough money to pay for a $3,000 weeklong training course.
Eventually that training clinic and problem horse became the launching platforms for her career.
A few weeks after returning home from the course, Stevens was out riding and practicing her new skills when someone offered to pay her to train their horse as well.
Thinking she could put her new knowledge to use and make some of her $3,000 back, she accepted the challenge and has been training horses ever since.
She continued her education, spending an estimated $40,000 on her own training in order to safely and effectively train others, and has made her home among the horses she calls family.
Two of her most prized horses, stallions named Jess and Hollywood, were raised and trained with a focus on safety and respect.
Her training methods revolve around techniques that focus on communication between horse and rider with a reward system based on pressure and release rather than treats and kisses.
“Horses learn through conditioned response. So if I ask a horse to do something and put pressure on until they give me the response I’m looking for, the moment it does what I’m looking for I relax…and it’s easy for them to repeat that,” Stevens said. “If we’re too wishy-washy and don’t have clear boundaries, then the horse ignores us. If we’re too strict they’re going to be abrasive and ornery. So there’s definitely this phenomenal balance of raising children that is well observed in horses.”
Her training resulted in Jess and Hollywood’s abilities to perform a plethora of tricks and commands. Both have worked cattle and ridden in competitions.
Much like any other pet, Stevens said each of her horses has its own personality and quirks, and after putting so much time and effort into each, she said she loves sharing them with others.
Both Jess, with his laid back, cautious personality, and Hollywood, with his high-energy, enthusiastic character, show an eagerness to enter the ring with their “mom.”
Stevens spends between four and seven days a week working with horses, and now she hopes to create a community of like-minded horse lovers through the Extreme Cowboy Association.
Riders age 7 and up can compete at their own level in an event that tests their horsemanship, cadence, control, attitude, position and execution.
Riders must attempt to complete an obstacle course as judges look at each of the criteria to name a winner.
The association has chapters in 14 regions around the country, and winners of each regional competition get the chance to compete on state and national levels.
Stevens will host an open house at her home for anyone interested in joining on April 15 at 2:30 p.m. at 304 Batavia Lane in Kalispell.
There she will give an overview of the association and release a tentative schedule for practice rides and future races.
The club will need both riders and judges, and Stevens encourages people of all skill levels with an interest in joining to attend the free event.
For more information about the Extreme Cowboy Association, visit www.extremecowboyassociation.com.
For more information about Stevens and Gentle Persuasion Horse Training, visit http://montanahorsetraining.com/.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.