Talented and upbeat only begins to describe Mary Miller Jordan

Talking with Mary Miller Jordan, you can’t help getting inspired. A premier competitor at next month’s American Horsewoman’s Challenge, she

Mary and her daughter, Filleigh Kay

Mary and her daughter, Filleigh Kay

perfectly oozes energy and positivity. I reached her at her Kelly, North Carolina farm, where she was juggling horse work, chores, and minding her four-year old daughter, Filleigh Kay.

Miller Jordan has a long list of accomplishments to her credit, including training and competing with several mustangs and traveling as a motivational speaker.

The accomplished 33-year old was more than seven months pregnant with Filleigh Kay when she competed in the Extreme Mustang Makeover finals with “Lindsay’s Faith” a Wyoming mustang.

“I think some folks thought I was getting a beer belly,” she laughed. “But honestly, emotionally, I think it would do more damage if I stopped riding. Emotionally, I had to ride.” She was riding the day before delivery and hopped back on a week afterwards.

In 2011, Lindsay’s Faith and Miller Jordan were featured on America’s Favorite Trail Horse. Soon thereafter, the mare was immortalized as a Breyer Model Horse and became the subject of a children’s book, written by Miller Jordan.

Now, Miller Jordan is preparing “Line Dancer,” a Utah mustang, for the AHC on October 3-5. “Dance,” as she calls him, came to her from a family who couldn’t handle him, after acquiring the dun gelding through a satellite mmj 1adoption.

“He’s so sensitive, extremely intelligent, and was as wild as could be when we first got him,” she said. Progress with him has been “like molasses…thank goodness this competition is not a Mustang Makeover (which has a time limit of 100 days) It took so long for that first touch. He doesn’t melt.”

Miller Jordan particularly appreciates the liberty component to the AHC competition and it seems she and Dance have the necessary connection. She was near him when we were chatting and the mention of his name got his attention.

“I have to be careful,” said Miller Jordan with a chuckle. “When he hears his name, he flips his head and comes my way.”

Miller Jordan wrote a poem about her struggles as a school girl and how horses helped her reach for her potential. She feels an affinity with horseman Guy McLean (who has shared the arena with Miller Jordan). recites her poem, on Line Dancer, here.

“Guy believes so sincerely in his journey…Horses are where his confidence came from. And horses are where my confidence came from,” she added.


Miller Jordan works with Line Dancer

Miller Jordan works with Line Dancer


DIY Round Pen

In the beginning, there was just a big pile of wood.


I thought that I was handy and strong and that my DIY accomplishments were pretty impressive. Check out DIY saddle racks and headstall holders.

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Nelson stands behind a finished section. Story poles are red and vertical.

Then, I met Raechel Nelson.

The young dentist lives down the road from me. I met her through her dog, Pebbles, the cutest cowdog ever. One day, as they were headed out to the neighborhood trails, I stopped to tell her so.

Then I noticed all the pine poles and cedar posts in Nelson’s yard. She told me she was building her own round pen.


This slight woman (5’2’’ and slim) is going to construct a 50-foot wide round pen with foot-wide cedar posts and five-inch wide rails? Those cedar posts are more than double her weight. The top pine rails would run well over her head.

I asked her why not buy metal round pen panels and be done with it?

Nose meets hammer

Nose meets hammer

“It’s stronger, cheaper, and matches our surroundings better,” said Nelson, who grew up on a Colorado ranch before attending the Universities of Nebraska and Colorado. (Kacy Catanzaro ain’t got much on this gal.)

First, using a spud bar and a post hole digger, Nelson dug three-foot holes to sink the tree-like posts. She muscled the 15 posts into a perfect, pre-measured circle, 50-feet wide.

Next, she built two story poles and drilled holes for five rails in each of the 14 sections (leaving one smaller section for the gate). She rae 3secured each rail to the posts with 10-inch nails, a feat requiring fortitude, pre-drilling, and a four-pound hammer. What’s a story pole?

The work was hard and not without some missteps. Once, she had to re-dig one of those huge post holes. Another time, her nose had an unfortunate run-in with her hammer. Happy to help with such a fun, albeit arduous task, I joined Nelson to assist with some rail nailing.


After about 50 hours of planning and work, the round pen is ready for Nelson’s beautiful cremello buckskin, Maggie, and Maggie’s new colt, Gunner.

Check out DIY saddle racks and headstall holders.


DIY Cement Donut

do it 0The problem:

A gate fixture that gets muscled around by six curious equines. On a daily basis, this gate becomes hard to open and hard to readjust when horses mess with it.

The fixture is actually a post embedded in a cement-filled tire. It weighs 80 pounds. Heavy enough to be a pain for me to realign every day. Light enough for the horses to have fun pushing it around every day.

The added problem:

Extensive ledge prevents digging (except with dynamite), and therefore precludes the option of securing the gate with a conventional post.

do it 4The solution:

Make the movable gate unmovable without using dynamite and without breaking the bank.

Since I can’t sink a post, I stabilize the existing one by building something around it that the horses can’t budge. It has to be really heavy, but still horse-friendly.

  • First, I measure for and build a four-sided box to fit snugly around the tire. It’s so snug that the tire can barely move within it.
  • Second, I measure for and build a larger four-sided box. When placed one inside another, I have a square, wooden donut.
  • Fill the donut with rocks and concrete, making a 200-pound, jumbo donut. The horses won’t be able to move the donut. Nor, will they be able to nudge the fixture out of it.

do it 1All told, it takes more than a day to buy material, measure and remeasure, cut the 2 x 8 inch pine planks, prepare the ground, mix the concrete, and set the gate fixture in the center.

It’s hard, dirty work.

But the reward is rich: No more shifting gate. No more hefting the misplaced post back into do it 5position, day after day.

Hooray for DIY solutions!

Check out DIY saddle racks and DIY headstall holders with Kicking Horse Coffee.

How about a DIY Round Pen?

Got a DIY project you’d like to share? Contact us!

do it 3

Trouble on the trail reveals holes in training

111All rides can’t be golden. When things go sideways, the goal may be simply getting everyone home safe and sound, with nothing too traumatic to remember. If you look at those rides with a big lens, you’ll see they are blessings in disguise, for they may reveal missteps and holes in your training.

That much became crystal clear on yesterday’s long ride with my favs, pony Pep and mule Jolene. Read most recent post on mule progress

It was a brilliant fall day as we set out for the radio tower – eight miles away with a climb of 2,500 feet elevation. My plan was to ride Pep all the way there, ponying Jolene. Then we’d stop, snack, and rest before putting the saddle on Jolene and riding her home, ponying the pony. Kip, who has become a great Ride-Along-Dog, joined us.

The trek to the tower was fantastic. We all worked hard, as much of the trail is rocky and steep. I got off and walked for two sketchy stretches that had us breathing hard and stumbling over football-sized rocks.

At the tower, I tied the girls to young aspens, took off the saddle, and let them graze. Green grass is a helluva treat as our pasture is little more than juniper and sage.

Things got awry when we started heading home. I had been riding a wave of confidence with Jolene’s progress and assumed that she’d be cool with ponying. Big mistake.

222At first try, she felt the tension of the line on her haunches and spun to get away from it. By the time she’d relaxed, her belly and legs were covered in small burrs (making her even more agitated) and Pep was loose. I got off, cleaned off the burrs, caught and tied Pep and got back on the mule.

For 100 yards, Jolene was ok. But with Pep consistently behind her, she felt pressured to speed up. Pep sped up to keep up. Jolene went from walk to trot to fleeing this pony-turned-predator. Again, I dropped the ponying line and got Jolene under control.

What to do?

Since Pep wanted to eat, stay with Jolene, and head home, I let her go free. There were no other obstacles (traffic, quad riders, barbed wire, gates or roads) to consider.

It was a quirky scene: Kip led the way, followed by me and Jolene, followed by Pep, more than a hundred yards back, grazing and having a lovely time.

With a mile left, we stopped to rest in a meadow. I switched mounts and saddled Pep since the trails tend to get busier here. We finished up our five-hour ride with hay and long drinks of water.

333It was a tough lesson. But I learn again that there were holes in our training and that I’d leapt forward without filling them in.

Next, we’re headed for the round pen. Thanks to a crummy ride, I know even better what work I have to do.

See more images from the ride on our Facebook Page.

Ol’ Timers weigh in on mules

The other day, I was chatting with friend, Elijah Moore, about my progress with Jolene, the new mule. He’s spent more time with horses than mules, but still had some amusing, insightful words:


Elijah Moore

“Mules are unique because they think. Mules are to horses as goats are to sheep,” he laughed.
That’s been my observation, too. The mule, like the goat, will stare at you or require further convincing and explanation. Once it understands, you may proceed.

Since the last post about progress with Jolene, we’ve ridden out solo a dozen times and have joined others on long rides, too. Saddling continues to be a sticking point. As Elijah taught me years ago, I employ the kinda-sorta tying method for her: I use a rope halter with a 20-foot line and never tie her hard and fast (even with a quick release knot). Instead, I loop it several times around the cylindrical fence rail. That way, when I show her the still-scary saddle pad, she can feel the tension on the line, move back ten feet to give it another look, and still be contained. She’s not ready for ground tying or being tied hard, in my humble.

joleneOn the trail, she’s steady as a rock. Except when she isn’t. Oddly enough, she tends not to balk or bolt at things my horses would initially consider scary – like dirt bikes or an odd plastic bag blowing by. But she has startled at random moments, as I’m learning mules tend to do more than horses:

  • When I checked the cinch
  • When, after a one-rein stop, I released the rein quickly
  • While crossing a stream, with steep embankments on both sides, she suddenly decided she wanted nothing to do with the process and bolted back up a near-vertical face, through thick brush and ledge. After returning (with a few scrapes and scratches on both of us) to the stream, she crossed it without incident.

Steve Edwards

I’m reminded of Steve Edwards, a mule man I met at the Equine Affaire years ago. Arguing against the overused, super-misunderstood concept of Desensitization, he writes:

We’re supposed to introduce everything we can think of – tarps, umbrellas, big balls, jackets, air horns, gunshot sounds, sirens, barking dogs,– my goodness, the list is endless. By desensitizing, many claim our equines will learn to tolerate things that can scare them.  But spooking is a natural reaction to something that they fear might harm them.

My counter offer is to establish a relationship with your mule that says to him, “Buddy, as long as you are with me and following my leadership, you are safe. I am the level head and the way to survival.”  If the mule gets even a whiff of doubt, he may try to make his own decisions about survival and trust me when I say, you may not like the result.

Remember, the actual “thing” is not what’s scary, it is your equine’s possible reaction that you worry about.  Take that out of the equation.

If everything goes as it should, it creates the illusion that your mule is taking care of you, but in reality, he is simply following competent leadership.   He is not “bombproof” or “desensitized” – he is well-trained and has a leader he can depend on.

Great points, Steve! Especially from my vantage point, atop a wonderful mule in the rugged Oquirrhs, where different, crazy stuff happens every day.

"I'm in the stream and I feel fine!" Jolene

“I’m in the stream and I feel fine!” Jolene

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