Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Riding in Idaho: An Interview with Nicole Brass

 Nicole Brass Horsemanship. Photo by Kelly Powers

Riding in Idaho: An Interview with Nicole Brass
By Gina McKnight
Archived from the December 2022 issue of Florida Equine Athlete
No duplication without permission.
 
“True horsemanship is what I aspire to and
there are far fewer horsemen than there are
people who ride horses.” ~ Nicole Brass
 
From riding in the rodeo to the high mountain trails of Idaho, Nicole Brass knows horses. A seasoned rider, Nicole trains many breeds, integrating the whole horse and natural horsemanship methods into her training. An all-around equestrian, Nicole knows what it’s like to be in the barrel arena, through the jumper’s course, and Miss Rodeo Idaho! Her history with horses is impressive. She has sound wisdom for every horse owner and those looking to become one.
 
Welcome, Nicole!
 
GM: It is super nice to meet you and to introduce you to our readers. Congratulations on your success! Every cowgirl has their first encounter with a horse. When did you meet your first horse?
NB: My dad carried me in a pack on horseback when I was a baby and at the age of three, I was given a pony of my own. My first show was on my first ‘big’ horse when I was five and he was aptly named Pistol. Pistol taught me how to stay on! I went on to show Arabians (I showed a beautiful stallion owned by Wayne Newton when I was 11), Jumpers, barrel racers, was named Miss Rodeo Idaho and from there rode Reiners for years, where I learned so much from my mentor, Al Dunning. My parents began breeding Peruvian Horses in the 1970’s and I also grew up riding and showing them.
 
GM: Your horsemanship resume is impressive! It is obvious you have a passion for horses. Tell us about your go-to horse and your personal stable of horses...
NB: I train Peruvian Horses for River Grove Ranch in Hailey, Idaho and have a top tier of a few favorites owned by the ranch, namely a stallion, LAG Triturador, who is extraordinary in the show arena, in the mountains and working cattle. And a gelding by the name of RSTD Manolo has been one of my greatest equine teachers. He catastrophically shattered his shoulder last year and by all accounts should not have survived. We were out of state for a show when he was injured and, as he couldn’t be moved to a vet clinic, I stayed with him day and night for four months until he was stable enough to stand in a sling and I could trailer home. I’m now riding him, and aside from a slight mechanical difference in his gait, he has fully healed. During his intense healing period, he taught me that, even though I’ve spent my life studying and learning animal behaviors and communication, I had only scratched the surface of their true ability to communicate, connect and teach. Manolo’s heart, will to survive and subtle communication for what he needed opened my mind to another realm of what the majestic equine has to offer humans.
 
I have four ‘keeper’ horses of my own. Among them my two ‘heart’ horses, Peruvian stallion JBS Suspiro, a magnificent, statuesque black stallion who I refer to as the Godfather of the ranch. He is my training partner for all the young horses. And then my gelding, KRA Patron. I imported Patron from Peru four years ago in a completely impulsive, intuitive and nonsensical gamble. He was an inexpensive, unaccomplished, plain brown gelding with no particular outstanding trait other than my heart knew he was special. In the past three years he has been a multiple champion of champion gelding in performance and luxury divisions, Laureado, Best Gaited Horse of Show, multiple times National Champion in different divisions and National Champion of Champion gelding. In 2021 he was also the Medallon de Plata gelding, an award given to the high point gelding in all of North America. He is quirky, funny, hardworking, honest and a true partner of mine and one of the top horses I’ve ever been honored to ride 
 
GM: Amazing! KRA Patron sounds divine and we are now in his fan club! Can you take us through a day in your life with horses?
NB: We live near the ski resort of Sun Valley, Idaho, so winters are tough with a lot of snow. During the winter, we have 25 horses kept in heated barns and I am fastidious that all of them get turned out and groomed every day, along with either being ridden or spending time on the EuroXciser. A large part of my program is ensuring that all horses, including the stallions, are fully socialized and integrated into ‘play groups.’ I believe in a whole horse approach and that to have a happy, willing equine partner, we need to honor that they are herd animals we have brought into a human world and it is against their nature to be cooped up in stalls or kept separate from others. During the winter, I’m grateful to have an indoor arena to work in and spend my riding hours working on basic training, problem solving and fine tuning or advanced training.
 
During the summer months, I get horses out on the trail as much as possible and enjoy taking clients and the owners out for rides in the mountains. I also spend hours ponying and handling the weanlings, yearlings and 2 yr olds, starting the 3-4 yr olds and getting the show horses prepared.
 
GM: What training methods do you use? Do you follow a specific method, or does it depend upon the horse?
NB: Horses learn as differently as children do, and to try and put them all in the same learning box isn't fair to them or you. I cater the lesson plan to how each horse learns best. I learn a great deal about then and how they will learn by observing them freely interacting with others. By truly understanding their personality I can know what is the best way to teach them, and what the limits are in each of them. I always say that it's our job to put each of them in a position to succeed, not to set them up to fail by asking what they aren't capable of. 
 
I start horses very lightly (10-20 min on their backs) as 3 year olds and wait until they are 6 before pushing them. My focus is for the long term physical and mental health of each horse. If a 3 year old isn’t mentally mature enough, I’ll wait until they are four. In addition to handling and ground work of the youngsters, I pony them around the ranch trails and though streams and the river. While some of the horses are ‘show’ horses, they all are trail and mountain horses first. I believe that the best equine partners aren’t the ones who are dominated or forced into submission, they are instead taught to respect me and my space and give from the heart. 
 
GM: As a competitor, your history is award-winning! Let's talk about barrel racing. What are the qualities that create a winning horse-rider combination? 
NB: I have competed in several different equine sports, including barrel racing, and the winning combination that spans all disciplines is always the same; it comes down to the horse and rider that have connected on a deep level due to many hours spent symbiotically together. The relationships fostered though countless hours of work to understanding one another becomes apparent at the highest levels and is a dance which requires the slightest cues and an energetic communication. A true partnership with a horse is deeply rewarding and involves mutual respect from both.
 
GM: I know you are an advocate for rescuing horses and rehabilitating the lost, an honorable mission! What are your thoughts about the BLM and their current policies on America's wild horses?
NB: While I appreciate that the BLM has now set up an adoption and incentive program instead of just sending rounded up horses direct to slaughter, the current policies regarding the management of our wild horse herds has, at the core, lost focus as to what is actually best for these horses. I encourage everyone to educate themselves as the harsh reality for thousands of horses each year who are rounded up and/or sold to kill buyers. There are only around 30,000 horses left in the wild due to aggressive elimination policies and around the same number stuck in government holding pens. Above all, the horses deserve better and it is up to us to educate the public, and focus on transparency and more humane methods of population control, such as sterilization. I encourage everyone to read up on and support groups such as Return to Freedom and American Wild Horse Campaign.
 
Throughout my life, I have taken on rescue horses as I am financially able to do so. The way I look at it, horses have given me a life richer and more rewarding than any I could’ve imagined and I owe it to them to give back as I’m able. This year I took on four rescues, including two BLM mustangs. The goal is always to train them and then find them their perfect person. The greatest gift we can give to horses is to train them and find them a job they enjoy. This is the best we can do to ensure them a life of being cared for.
 
GM: As a trail rider, which breed of horse do you find is more suitable for rugged and tough terrain?
NB: I’ve spent a lifetime riding all different breeds of horses in a variety of disciplines. My breed preference for riding in the backcountry of Idaho is, hands down, the Peruvian Horse. Not only are they the smoothest riding horse in the world, they effortlessly cover ground at a speed equivalent to a long trot and are very agile and hardy with incredible heart and a willingness to please. I ride up to 10 horses a day and am never sore from riding at the end of the day, thanks to their smooth gait. After riding them, it’s hard to go back to a trotting horse for an all day ride
 
GM: Do you have advice for novice riders and those looking to purchase their first horse?
NB: I work with several amateur and novice riders and am passionate about matching up good horses to good riders. A true partnership is a relationship between two different personalities. Over a lifetime, I’ve honed my skills for picking good horses and for matching up riders. I think it is vitally important for those looking for an equine partner to spend as much time as possible with the horse and look outside of color or bloodline preferences. Similar to online dating, it’s hard to find a perfect match just by reading a bio or looking at pictures. Sometimes what is perfect for someone isn’t what they imagined, so it’s a process that requires an open mind and heart. If I’m asked, my ego would say that ‘red’ is my least favorite color. And yet all my personal and favorite horses, save for one, are red. A good equine partner transcends color preferences.
 
GM: What does horsemanship mean to you?
NB: True horsemanship is what I aspire to and there are far fewer horsemen than there are people who ride horses. For me, the horseman puts the best interests of the horse first. They don’t just use a horse as a means to their end, they strive to work in a partnership that honors the individuality of each horse. It is the lifelong study of the equine language and knowing that we learn the most through listening to horses and being with them, rather than doing.
 
Connect with Nicole:
Facebook Nicole BrassHorsemanship 
Instagram Nicole Brass

 Nicole Brass Horsemanship. Photo by Kelly Powers

 Nicole Brass Horsemanship. Photo by Kelly Powers

 Nicole Brass Horsemanship. Photo by Kelly Powers

 Nicole Brass Horsemanship. Photo by Kelly Powers

 Nicole Brass Horsemanship. Photo by Kelly Powers

 Nicole Brass Horsemanship. Photo by Kelly Powers



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