We are excited to share this interview with one of our brand reps Breann Heatherington. Breann is a horse trainer and social worker. You’ll enjoy hearing about her insight on training, riding the stride, a horse that helped shape her, working with people and how it all ties together for her in life.
SW: Breann, you stated in your application that you grew up with a horse trainer for a Mom! What about watching her made you pursue your passion with horses?
Breann: Well, it certainly wasn’t for the money! You have to do something because you love it and it is something you believe in. For me, I think I was born this way Haha. I don’t remember a day of my life that I wasn’t roaring around with my cowboy boots and cowboy hat on, playing with my farm sets, roaring around bareback on the horses in the pasture playing tag with my younger sister, or studying all aspects of farm and ranch operation as I grew. We did not grow up on a rich or large operation by any means, but being horsewomen was just such a part of our lives and how we grew up.
I grew up learning to ride on my mom’s nice old mare that she had trained herself. My mom said that was her first well-bred papered Quarter Horse. Bonnit Mist “Bonnie” had Doc Bar right on her papers, and was a great granddaughter of Three Bars which at that decade was a really big deal (as we all know Three Bars and his son Doc Bar were foundation sires who made the Quarter Horse breed what it is). Bonnie was always a very kind horse. She was a gift from my late grandpa (her dad). She told me that her dad could see the passion she had for horses also, so he bought her this horse to go on with. I remember thinking as I was learning “wow, it must have been alot of work to train a horse this good.” The way that horse knew how to use her body and carry the bit around, I knew they don’t just come like that because they sure didn’t move or act that way in the old westerns I watched with my grandparents! I wanted to know how to do that. I was very lucky I got to learn on a horse like that because I developed a good sense of feel for complex maneuvers and biomechanics early on and how to ride that. Bonnie taught my mom how to train and my younger sister and I both how to ride before she passed on at 31 years old.
My mom was a single mom, so I was around helping her alot. When it came to horse things, we always did this together. Anywhere my mom went horse-related, I was going too. I remember when I was about 11 years old or so, my mom was starting a horse in the roundpen. I was there watching of course, and she got me to come in and help her that time. I learned how to start a horse at 11. I distinctively remember this, so I would say being involved like that is probably what really took things from an interest for me to a passion. After that I learned colt starting, I was riding younger stock, and I began to develop my own kind of ways of doing things. I spent most of my teen years starting horses, and taking those horses I trained off to the shows. I paid for my Undergraduate degree with the horses.
SW: As we all know and you shared, trainers work hard, long hours, for small cheques and our patience is constantly tested. As a trainer, what keeps you going and helps you remember to #ridethestride?
Breann: This is a pretty loaded question. Like Winston Churchill said “no hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” There are several components for why this can work for me to #ridethestride.
First, I know what my values are. I am just greatful I get to still have horses as part of my life. It isn’t easy, and in a world that is so industrialized it can make it hard to still co-exist with horses. However, when you study the horse-human relationship across time and history it is pretty significant. Horses and humans have a very powerful relationship together. What horses can do for humans is very hard to describe, but we all know it. I like to think about that. I keep focused on the bigger picture of why I do what I do, which drives me. I always remind myself that these are skills that I have, that people are out there who want to learn/who don’t know, so this being of myself is needed. For me this is a passion so it never feels like work. Even though it is long hours and there is overhead costs to cover, horses have a way of making us better people. I think that is a pretty rewarding way to live ones life. Even if it is long I reflect on what I learned that day or my own growth which helps. I have learned to try to always stay open to what I am learning and what they are teaching me. I think that helps to keep oneself in the #ridethestride mindset. I really encourage constructive reflection. I just really keep focused on the bigger picture, my values, and I just really make sure to stay present and process and weigh out my thoughts. If I don’t know something I am going to figure out how to do it.
With patience, I think I am naturally pretty patient. My honey watches me and tells me that I have alot of patience. He always says most people would have gave up, but I am still there waiting for that horse to understand because I can tell they are going to. Sometimes you will feel like giving in forsure. I just stay present and rational, and always about the horse. The horse does not care that we have to make supper in 20 minutes, because there is a bigger purpose that is meant to happen anytime you are teaching that horse, so if you didn’t get it, you will be there until you do. It really helps to keep focused on the horses timeline not ours, so essentially that’s where you #ridethestride. If you are on the timeline, you are not with the horse. You can’t teach or learn if you are not present and connecting with the horse. Therefore I don’t focus on pressuring for an exact timeline. I’m in that moment and in that stride with that horse, and then it usually always seems to work out. It helps keep me going by being patient and keeping with this practice, because it is what leads to results for me.
Lastly, the other very important thing is the support structure that I have in my life now. Arguably this is probably the most important thing that anyone could ever do for themselves. At one time I didn’t always have people who understood me, and it made being a “trainer” or who I am really hard. A lot of people don’t know that this is a very difficult territory for alot of trainers because alot of people just don’t realize how much work and how much of a lifestyle it really is. It’s a job that doesn’t end at 5 o clock. Horses are living animals who have thoughts and needs just like humans. They require an intense amount of devotion to be successful just like kids. This business is more of a lifestyle, so if you don’t have someone who understands that it’s going to be really tough. My honey Eric grew up involved with horses and livestock his whole life also, so he really understands this life. He encourages me to help horses and is always incredibly supportive. We try to take time out to do things together (which are often just horse or ranching related things anyway haha), but if we can’t because the horse business or the farm is too busy we just work it together, so it never really feels like work. Together we make a really good team, and this helps make that a passion also.
SW: Breann, you touched on a “rogue grey” that helped start your rodeo career. What did that horse teach you?
Breann: The training barn has been pretty busy these days, so I spend more time training now than I do competing, but that horse was the greatest challenge and experience of my life so far. That was Scotty. He was a grey and white overo (paint). He was so beautiful. I might have been biased, but he was a horse that you remembered. He was a horse that sort of commanded the room a bit when he walked in. With his color, big tall legs, long stride, and arrogant stance he was an easy standout, and he is still well known and remembered. He wasn’t bred anything super fancy. His papered name was Arrow of the Devil, which was a name he lived. He liked running aggressively, he worked in his dry work aggressively, he treated the other horses and people aggressively, and the crappier the ground the more aggressively he worked. If it was a bad weather day I always knew I was probably going to pull a cheque on that horse. I think I was 14 or 15 or so when he came into my life. Alot of people didn’t get along with him. We (my family) didn’t buy him for very much…for obvious reasons. He was 2 at the time. I have never ridden a more challenging horse to date. As an angsty teen I was up for the challenge at the time, but the adult me now can see why so many people wanted to get rid of him then Haha. I decided he wasn’t going to be a very good resale project because of his attitude, so I kept him and this was how I got into the rodeo world. It was easy to see how athletic he was, but I didn’t know yet how fast he was until one day my sister and I decided to flat race for fun down the field. I thought he might like that since he felt compelled to challenge everything on the planet. With that big stride he easily topped that challenge. I knew I had a serious barrel horse athlete on my hands. Since I couldn’t sell him for fear that his crappy attitude would ruin my reputation as a trainer, I had no choice but to go on with him if I wanted to maintain his behavior. He was a 4 year old by this time. It was the fork in the road, and it would be another milestone in the training life that I felt drawn to live. He was not very good for the first season of rodeo, as he was pretty focused on being an ass. However, once he figured out that the competitions here at rodeos were a bit more demanding than at the local shows, he learned to save and channel energy and he started to get very tough to outrun. I remember winning my first CCA rodeo with him when I was still in high school then. I remember being scared and thinking that I didn’t belong there because I was from so far away, and we didn’t have fancy things. It gets hard to find belief sometimes down that road especially when you’re a teenager. I had mostly been at home training horses, and going to local shows with my family before that. Scotty was my first chance at bigger opportunities. Before that I didn’t even consider that I was worthy of something like that. He pushed me to grow my comfort zone. He showed me that I am capable of alot more than I think I am, that I am worth it. He pushed me to become a better person and a better rider. I think he was brought to me for a reason. I don’t think it was to solve his behavior, I think it was to show me to believe in myself. He helped give me confidence in my abilities because he was always full of tricks. I learned to grow my training program alot because of him. I learned to be patient and to persevere, and the mindset you need to have to do well at that level is something I am very greatful to know. I reflect often on how incredible it was to have had one horse teach me so much about life. Without his challenges it would have never been. I often wish I would have been older when he came through my hands, because I would have been more financially capable to take him further at the time, but as a kid who was saving for post-secondary I didn’t have the money to go all the way at the time. He just retired a couple years ago because of an injury, but even after it healed he made his last race in retirement still as a 1D horse. I hope one day I will keep a horse long enough and be able to have time and money to run a little bit on that circuit again. I have a 5 year old (coming 6 year old) now that has many similar qualities in athleticism (without the evil behavior haha), that I am hoping I can rodeo and derby on a bit next year.
SW: You share with us that living and working with horses all your life helped you to learn how to relate to and with different types of people? How?
Breann: Honestly it was probably Scotty who taught me the most of that (Haha. Just kidding, but not really). I learned from him that things are never what they seem, that everyone has strengths, and we all have a purpose. Most horses want to be good, and so do people. I think working with horses, because they don’t use words to communicate, you really get good at looking deeper and seeing things further. Amongst horses we can wear all kinds of armor, but they always know who we really are because they respond to what’s within. Kind of like the horses do too I just look at people for who they are and where they are at, and that is how you would look at a horse as a trainer also. I think working with horses so much really inspired me to be a helper. Working with so many different types of horses through my teens and through my life just helped me develop that ability. I just know that everyone is just trying to do the best they can with where they are at in that point in time, but I’m also always looking at everyone’s potential at the same time. Sometimes people don’t think they are capable of very much, but everyone all has their own potentials. I love getting people there. that’s just my favorite thing to do in life.
SW: As a social worker, how do you find that part of you and your horse training career compliment each other?
Breann: I think the values, ethics, and integrity of both of these parts of me influence each other. While horses teach me so much, the communication skills, the clinical knowledge and abilities, values, and ethics I’ve gained from the social work profession are second to none. To understand horses is one side of the equation, but you also have to be able to understand, relate to and empower, and teach the humans because that is who is paying you and is wanting to learn and make some changes. I am a really good communicator and I have a lot of good insights because of social work. With both a clinical career and horses influencing me, It just makes things so comfortable and easy. It is one thing to be a good horse hand and a good trainer, but if you can’t explain or articulate for people what it is you are doing then customers aren’t learning alot or getting alot out of it. I myself have gone to some very expensive clinics by world renowned trainers, but they couldn’t explain things very well or connect with people very well. I had a tough time taking anything away from it. I feel good knowing I can have this really good way of communicating the information that will help people, and that I am finding a way and taking the time to connect with all of the people and the horses. It just really helps me be able to talk easily with people, and I am able to motivate people to make sure everyone can thrive and reach their potentials. It also really helps my thinking a lot too, and to make sure I stay with that bigger picture lense that I enjoy thinking from. Also, the value of integrity that comes from social work is something I find important to me to follow also. I operate from that place of integrity to help me provide the quality in my program that I want to give people because that’s what makes a difference. In another element, the horses in turn always teach me alot about people, and alot about myself. I think this helps me make sure I can go to work at the top of my game always too, so the balance of both works really well for me.
SW: Thank you Breann, we are very grateful to have you repping the Stride Wear brand and we’re excited to follow your jouney with horses and life. Thank you for taking the time for this interview, we appreciate you.