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Natural Horsemanship 101

For a college degree in Natural Horsemanship, check out the University of Montana Western’s Equine Studies Program.

Student Charissa Glander, 21, with a horse at the Universtiy of Montana Western.
Photo by Kent and Charlene Krone

Did you gallop across the kitchen floor until you drove your mother nuts? Did your dad peel you off the family horse so your siblings could have a turn?

If you have a passion for horses and would like a hands-on experience in Natural Horsemanship, the University of Montana Western's Equine Studies Program may be the perfect fit for you. (For details, see "Program Particulars," below.)

Unique Program
On campus, we had the pleasure of visiting with Iola "Olie" Else, instructor of Equine Studies, liaison of Natural Horsemanship to LaCense Montana Ranch, and head rodeo coach for men's and women's teams.

Cheerful and charismatic, Else helped found the Natural Horsemanship Program at Montana Western, along with Karl Ulrich, PhD, the university's provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, and William Kriegel, owner of La Cense Montana Ranch, a world-renowned 88,000-acre horse-training and Black Angus cattle ranch (www.lacensemontana.com).

According to Else, the Natural Horsemanship Program is unique in two ways: One, it has the support and partnership of La Cense Montana, and two, it's the only public school program of its kind to offer block scheduling. (For more on block scheduling, see "Students Speak Out," below.)

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Kriegel is personally involved in the Natural Horsemanship Program, because he believes strongly in his two passions: education and horses. He generously shares La Cense Montana's facilities with the program. These include a classroom, indoor and outdoor arenas, and a 200-foot round pen.

Gentle Methods
The overall purpose of Natural Horsemanship is to make the world a better place for horses by teaching people how to work with horses using cooperative, not coercive, methods.

The method taught by Montana Western's Natural Horsemanship instructors is the La Cense method, developed by Haras de La Cense of France and the La Cense Montana instructors. The American Quarter Horse Association recognizes and promotes this method, known as "Fundamentals of Horsemanship."

The program is academically and physically challenging. Classes are small: only eight students per class in the arena, and approximately 110 in the entire program. Students come from all over the United States and seven countries.

Students Speak Out
Block scheduling, one class every 3½ weeks, helps students master scholastic material. According to student Jamie Hansen Mehlhoff, block scheduling allowed her to get "totally immersed in one subject."

This view was enthusiastically echoed by fellow students who rallied around Else, eager to share their thoughts about the Natural Horsemanship Program.

The entrance to the Unversity of Montana Western. Photo by Kent and Charlene Krone

Many students in the Natural Horsemanship and Equine Studies programs are also involved in the university's rodeo team and equestrian teams.

"Doing equestrian team has made me a good rider, a real rider," says Amanda Stephson, a Natural Horsemanship student. Like many others, Stephson heard about this program from a friend. "I love it up here!" she adds.

Tyler Wines of Gooding, Idaho, is president of both the student body and the rodeo club. He's planning on eventually pursuing a career in medicine.

Spunky, 21-year-old Charissa Glander from Lake Tahoe, California, exemplified the typical female Natural Horsemanship student. She has a '98 Dodge diesel pickup truck with a standard stick shift. She cleans stalls, bucks hay bales, and has stars in her eyes when she talks about horses. Her goal is to manage a horse facility.

We were struck by the amount of joy and enthusiasm shown by the students for their instructors and school program.

In years to come, horses all over the country and around the world will have happier, more productive lives because of these young people and the University of Montana Western's Natural Horsemanship Program.

Program Particulars
Location: The University of Montana Western is located in Dillon, west of Yellowstone National Park in the southwest corner of Montana, about 60 miles south of Butte. Area activities include skiing, climbing, hiking, rafting, and fishing.

Core studies: If you're interested in obtaining an equine-related degree, you're required to take core classes in biology, math, English, and equine studies.

Equine core studies: Equine core studies consist of comprehensive basic knowledge of horses, breeds, equine-related career options, health care, nutrition, anatomy, and physiology, and equine-facilities management.

Degree options: After completing core studies, you then may pursue a bachelor of science in Natural Horsemanship, with an emphasis on management, science, or psychology. At this time, students on track to obtain an associate of applied science degree in Horsemanship or Equine Studies have the management option only; however, electives can be tailored to interests in science or psychology.

Application: The Natural Horsemanship Program requires a separate application to the program; the Equine Studies degree does not.

Your horse: If you sign up for the Natural Horsemanship program, you'll need to have a horse to work with as part of the hands-on curriculum. You may either bring your own horse, or purchase or lease one locally.

Contact: Catherine Redhead, director of admissions, (877) 683-7331; admissions@umwestern.edu; www.umwestern.edu/programs/equine-studies.


Kent and Charlene Krone combine their interest in photojournalism with a passion for horses. They've sold photographs to magazines, books, calendars, postcards, and video producers for more than 20 years. (For a sampling, visit www.superstock.com, and type "Kent and Charlene Krone" in the search box.) They enjoy sharing their horseback adventures in the United States and Western Canada. Reach them at kentandcharlene@gmail.com.

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