Red Horse Mountain Staff: Meet Sarah Dunbar, Wrangler and Guide

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Sarah&Hawk

Sarah and Hawk, photo taken by Ramona Swift

Sarah has been here at Red Horse Mountain Ranch for several years as a seasonal and year-round wrangler, and she has a unique bond with horses.  When guests come to the ranch and head out on trail rides, they expect knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides, and that’s what they’ll get with our wranglers!  Sarah has a great way of sharing her horse knowledge, and this not only spurs fun and great conversations, but it also makes a few horse-shy guests feel at ease.  She has been working with horses for over 11 years, and her career began at age 16 by learning pole bending, relay racing, and barrel racing; she also spent time as a horsemanship instructor and trail guide.

A couple of years later, Sarah got her personal horse, Hawk, and the two have been bonding ever since.  Shortly after her newfound friendship with Hawk began, she continued trail guiding in Stehekin, WA, before finding her way to beautiful northern Idaho, to apprentice with Kathi (she and her son Danny are the RHM farriers); and now we are lucky to have her as a wrangler! Sarah not only guides trail rides, but she teaches arena lessons, and guides many other activities such as hiking, kayaking, and challenge course.

What are some of the things you have learned from your experience regarding horsemanship?

An important point in learning natural horsemanship for me was when I realized how it changed the way I think when interacting with a horse. There is no right or wrong way. I just love how it refocuses my intent. For example, instead of trying to “make” the horse do something, I like to think of creative and fun ways to get the horse to “want” to do something, such as crossing a creek.  Also, I find it a lot less stressful to think of giving a shot or paste wormer as doing these things “for” the horse rather than “to” the horse, and by helping them get comfortable with me by gently poking their neck, or having my fingers in their mouth first. Horses can sense your intention while your approaching them.  Hawk and I learn a lot from trial and error, but mostly from just spending ALL my free time with him.  I trailer him to every job I go to, and if the job doesn’t allow my horse, I wont take it. 

What is your favorite part about working at Red Horse Mountain Ranch?

My favorite part of Red Horse is the variety of activities. Working at the ranch has seriously brought me out of my shell. Horses used to be the ONLY thing I did. Challenge Course, I believe, comes second to the horses. That is something I never thought I could do before Red Horse. It’s so fun to see people come around and get past their fear the same way I did when I began learning “the ropes”, and to see them beaming with joy afterwards! Time flies when I get to be up there because I enjoy it!

What advice would you give to a first-time ranch goer, or a guest that hasn’t had much horse experience?

My advice to someone just getting into horses, or who is riding for the first time, would be don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you aren’t sure of something whether it’s about riding or horse behavior, ask. You should be comfortable and relaxed. Any horse that is allowed to carry a beginner rider should be quite capable of taking pretty good care of that person. And don’t be afraid of wearing chaps to stay dry and warm, or a helmet for safety.

The guests always enjoy your morning hikes and come back to share things they learned from you along the way, what is your favorite aspect of hiking here at Red Horse?

I used to be that person that never hiked because “I RIDE HORSES!”. But I’m addicted to it now. I mean, what’s better than getting paid to walk around in the woods, take pictures of the scenery and share the local flora with friends? The adrenaline rush of hiking up a good mountain is just as good as, if not better than a cup of coffee at 7:30am. What’s super cool is when the return guests come back and point out a plant or flower that they learned from one of my hikes the previous year!

What are some of the key points that you include in your horseback lessons here at the ranch?

Horseback lessons can be quite satisfying to me to watch a principle sink in and click. The majority of lessons I teach are beginner lessons. Though, I really enjoy the more advanced ones too. In my lessons I just like to see that horse and rider understand each other. That the basic start, turn, speed up, slow down, and stop are quiet and not jerky. I like to see the rider relaxed but not riding like a “sack of potatoes”, because a horse doesn’t like that and it leaves them sore. Also, it is important that the horse and rider match each other in skill level and personality=horseanality.

Thanks Sarah for sharing your horse knowledge and insight regarding your work here at Red Horse Mountain Ranch!