McLeod Creek Shetlands

McLeod Creek Shetland ponies out enjoying the sunshine and new grass. The ponies are in the process of losing their winter coat, shedding their warmer layer as the days get longer. /SUBMITTED

By Andrea Arnold

Leah Peterson of McLeod Creek Shetlands near McBride is doing her part to keep the Shetland Pony breed in existence.

These small horses are listed by Rare Breeds Canada as critically endangered in the nation.

“We had dead-ended on several bloodlines,” said Peterson. “ I was fortunate enough to be available to work with two other breeders to bring two stallions and one mare back to Canada in 2019 from Shetland Islands, Scotland.”

Her focus is on the traditional Shetland Pony, but she also has a small group of Welsh Mountain Ponies (Welsh Section A)

“I wanted a pony when I was 5 and my dad bought me a Shetland,” she said. ”I still have Shetlands, so I can confidently say you never outgrow them.”

Peterson brings a lifetime of experience working with ponies and horses. She has competed in various events including English/Western riding and cart driving. She has even competed at the Internationally-known venue Spruce Meadows. 

Peterson works with the ponies, training them for skijoring – pulling a person on skis, kick-sled and Quebec racing sleds.

“I would love to have a winter driving club with a gang of ponies,” she said. “Winter is my pony time.”

The Shetland Ponies are bred and trained on the Peterson ranch before heading off to their new homes. Two ponies have found their forever home nearby at Cimarron Way. Many of the ponies that go through Peterson’s care are sold to compete in Combined Driving Events in Canada and the US. Others go to homes where they become kid’s ponies and companions.

For more information, Peterson can be reached at 780-668-2490.

Cowgirl Up Adventures

Katy Elliot takes clients on hour-long trail rides from the Cowgirl Up headquarters in Tete Jaune. /SUBMITTED

By Andrea Arnold

Cowgirl Up Adventures is a small equine adventure business located in Tete Jaune. It is home base for Katy Elliot, 23 horses, two donkeys and many other smaller critters.

Elliot offers hourly trail rides from the ranch, and pack trips up the Moose River in Mount Robson Park. She also offers lessons, but at this time is booked for the foreseeable future. 

Elliot has been obsessed with horses since she was very young.

“I have been riding most of my life and have done a variety of English and western riding,” she said. Before she started to ride, she would borrow every horse book from the library, watch every horse movie repeatedly and knew the name/breed and age of the horses between her home and her grandparents home about 24 hours away. 

In an act of what he hoped was reverse psychology, her dad signed her up for lessons. 

“He thought that once I knew how much work it was to ride and take care of a horse, that I would lose interest,” she said “However, it was quite the opposite… I was hooked” 

Elliott is a certified Horsemanship Association Instructor. She has been teaching lessons for eight years, and guiding trail rides and training horses for 14 years. 

In 2008, Elliott moved to Valemount and began working for Tony Parisi. In 2016, she started a business of her own: Cowgirl Up Adventures. 

In addition to the riding available at the ranch, Elliot is offering rustic accommodation this year in walled tents. The tents have a floor and come with a double bed and rugs. Drinking water, basic shower, outhouse, shared cooking area and fire pit as well as a lawn game area are included in the experience.

“My primary focus is raising horses and outfitting,” she said. “I really love horses and the outdoors and sharing my passion with others. This is a good combination of both worlds. I picked up where Tony left off.” 

Willow Ranch Sanctuary

One of the exercises that the horses work on is navigating obstacles like this small bridge set up at Willow Ranch Sanctuary. /SUBMITTED

By Andrea Arnold

Willow Ranch Sanctuary in Valemount is a horse training facility in Valemount run by Lissy Hendriks and her sister Claire. 

The pair follow the Irwin Insights Method of Training as they work with not only the horses that they rescue and bring to the sanctuary, but also other horses that come in for training. They currently have 30 of their own horses on site that they are working with.

Hendriks rode dressage in the Netherlands but fell in love with Valemount after completing a working holiday experience in the area. Her sister, Claire, along with their parents, and Willow the horse—the ranch’s namesake—made the move along with her.

“I couldn’t get it out of my mind and heart,” she said. “I have always had a passion to make the world better for horses. To create a safe haven for rescue horses. We put everything into rescuing more horses and making their lives better.”

Willow Ranch Sanctuary brings clients horses in for training and provides lessons. They offer intensive learning holiday opportunities. These are immersive experiences that include onsite guest cabin accommodations. People can stay at the ranch, and experience full days of learning, and have opportunities to work with different horses. The length of stay is customizable to the requests of clients. People can leave with certification in the Insights method as a trainer or a coach.

The Hendriks also run mindfulness retreats. 

“I find that mindfulness and horses go well together,” she said.

More information can be found at

Equine behaviour and body language

Birgit Stutz has a personal connection with her horses. It takes hard work, training and trust to build a lasting bond between horses and humans. /SANDRA JAMES

This information came from Birgit Stutz at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC during an equine behaviour and body language workshops. She is an Irwin Insights Level 6 Master Certified Trainer.

By Sandra James

Stutz believes in developing a true connection instead of habituation (conditioned response) or flooding (haphazard, repetitive exposure). Horses communicate through body, ears, tail and head movements, so being around horses it’s important to know what signals they are giving and what signals you are sending to the horses. Your safety depends on it and it’s a tool to get horses to respond in the way you desire.

As you approach a horse there are certain no go zones. You need to be sensitized to the horse’s signals. One of those zones is a triangle zone around the horse’s head and neck which is part of its sensitive area. This zone is from the point of the shoulders ranging out and around the horse’s face in a triangle shape to the other shoulder. Never approach a horse head on. Always approach from the side at an angle. Do not make any sudden movements around any horse as this may startle them.

In order to keep our bond and respect with the horse we must be aware of our own energy as the horse reads this. Remembering to keep our own boundaries is also key. 

There are three types of energy when it comes to horses. Impulsive/pushing/herding energy. Blocking/ boundary/neutral energy. Passive energy/ opening drawing. It is also important to adjust these energy levels to your horse’s disposition. There are three types of horse dispositions. Some horses may be more passive; there are also passive-aggressive and aggressive horses. 

Body language is of utmost importance. Similar to its human counterpart, a horse requires his or her personal space. We need to read the body language of the horse and its signals as this is how they communicate. The tail for example can have six messages, curled-relaxed, swishing-annoyed, wringing and twirling-anger/aggression, stiff and sticking straight out-excited, as well as stiff and pointing down to the ground at a 45 degree angle-apprehensive/fearful.

Having 16 muscles in each ear, horses also use these to give us signals. Ears can be straight back if a horse is threatened or angry or the ears can be held forward which means the horse is being attentive, and is listening. If the ears are tipped forward and stiff and the nostrils flare, it means the horse is scared. Horses with their ears extended are relaxed. Happy horses will have their ears forward and alert, engaged in their surroundings and moving towards where they are listening.

We can also take a look at the facial muscles and see if they are relaxed or tight, are they yawning, licking, or chewing. Some of the messages given through the horse’s head are that if the nose is flipping up this can be taken as an indignant challenge as to who pushes who and twirling the head and neck can be seen as aggression. 

Reading the horse’s stance, as to shoulders, hindquarters, and direction the rib cage is bending; if it’s away from you or towards you will also tell you what they are communicating. 

For example if a horse dislikes you they will refuse to walk any faster when being led, drag you to a patch of grass in order to graze, jerk their head when you are asking them to lower it, refuse to move over when you groom them, pull back on the lead rope when tied.

Horses can also be disrespectful in many ways, some examples are; grazing while being led or ridden, bumping into you, dragging you or walking too slow when being led.

Signs that a horse trusts you are; they come up and greet you, they nicker or whinny for you, they rest their head on you, they nudge you, they are relaxed around you, they groom your back, they breathe on your face.

The number one trust builder is to be predictable by being consistent. Be consistent with your energy level, emotions, and how you show up around your horse. Stay consistent with communication, always sending and receiving messages in the same way, a way that both you and your horse clearly understand.

Frame of body is frame of mind. 

Horses live in a hierarchy and it is important that we understand their ranks. You need to earn their respect and your position within the herd. Feeding time can be one of the most dangerous times as you do not want to be in the wrong place in the herd. Stutz’s dog Skidboot sits in the back box of a quad during feeding time as he knows this is his safe zone. He has actually become quite protective over it.

In the end a horse will always tell you how they feel as they don’t separate feelings from actions.

Falling Star Ranch

Birgit Stutz works with a young horse at Falling Star Ranch, getting him used to objects and movement around is back in preparation for under saddle training. /SUBMITTED

By Andrea Arnold

Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship trainer Birgit Stutz, helps her clients establish a relationship with their equine partner based on mutual trust, respect and confidence through non-violent methods.

“I enjoy working with people who have a true love of horses and who would like to truly understand horses,” said Stutz.

Stutz offers horse training including colt starting, horsemanship lessons for all levels of riders, mentorship programs, workshops and demos, intensive, equine behaviour workshops, and horse whispering demonstrations.

Stutz, an Irwin Insights Level 6 Master Certified Trainer trains with an emphasis on equine communication, psychology and biomechanics. She also uses the principles of classical dressage.

Stutz’s love for horses started very early and she has 40 years of experience in the horse industry. Over the last 25 years she has been training horses and coaching riders. She continues to attend clinics to learn and develop her methods.

“I’ve been passionate about horses and riding for as long as I can remember,” said Stutz. “In fact, it was my love of horses that inspired me to start my business in 2006.” 

At the ranch Stutz offers limited horse boarding, haul-ins and arena rentals. She also is available to travel to clients, upon request.

More information can be found on her website 

Some of the horses at Falling Star Ranch take advantage of a beautiful day as they race across the field in the sun. /SUBMITTED

Cimmaron Way

Cimarron Way offers group sessions. Last week, staff from the Valemount Health Centre spent several hours at the ranch. Cimarron is the Spanish word for wild or untamed, which is what Cinnamon hope people can discover about themselves at her ranch. /LAURA KEIL

By Andrea Arnold

Cimarron Way at Mica Mountain Ranch, located in the heart of Tete Jaune is run by  valley resident Tamara Cinnamon and her husband Ken.

They work with clients using three horses and two Shetland Ponies through horse-facilitated therapy, equine-assisted learning and equine-assisted personal development.

“We partner with horses using non-verbal communication to reflect growth and transformation in the human,” said Cinnamon. “Horses act like a giant mirror, mirroring what is truly going on for the human, not what the human wants us to think.”

She says following sessions, clients often leave with a newfound sense of clarity and the ability to consciously move towards growth, confidence and personal leadership in their lives.

From this newfound place of clarity, the person can choose to take tangible steps towards growth, confidence and personal leadership in their life. Equine therapy is a great alternative to traditional methods, she says.

Cinnamon has observed that their current clientele is 60 per cent adults and interestingly more men than women. 

“We work with everything from diagnosis such as PTSD & ASD to trauma & those simply needing clarity on what they would like next in their life,” she said. “We do both one-on-one sessions as well as numerous group team building and retreat style events.” 

Cinnamon grew up with horses, and she always had a desire to work with them beyond the traditional ways. After six weeks at a therapeutic riding centre in the Okanagan, she was hooked. 

“The growth I saw in our students with all varying abilities was exponential— unexplainable really,” she said. 

After volunteering at the centre for a few years, she and husband Ken returned to serve the valley through their own horse facility.

Cinnamon admits that the people at the ranch are no therapists, but that they stand behind the fact the herd provides absolutely incredible therapy.

“The herd are professionals at what they do,” she said. “They have an incredible ability to crack people open really quick and get to the heart of what’s truly going on for the person and provide the needed clarity to move forward. I always say no one leaves Mica Mountain Ranch the same person they arrived as!”

For more information on Cimarron way, visit