Running the ranch is a family affair with the Siemens' kids, Kim (left), Josh (center), and Amanda (right) all pitching in to help with chores
Swan Valley's own 'Horse Whisperer" talks about his
training and breeding program with top stallions.
Randy Siemens and his wife, Rhonda, with Peppy AH Munez (Moon), a big bay stallion with a pedigree of national champions. "Moon" anchors the quarter horse breeding program at the Siemens' Swan Valley Ranch.
Story & photos
by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
August 6, 1998
According to Swan Valley's own "horse whisperer," learning to communicate with a horse takes a lot of time. Horses are complex animals that have a lot of intuition and insight.
"It takes thousands of hours of really getting down on a knee right out in the middle of your mares and young horses and really wanting to learn what they're doing and why. You can watch a horse think," trainer Randy Siemens explained recently.
Siemens, who specializes in foundation training for reining and cutting horses, is the owner/operator of Siemens Quarterhorses located at the family's Elk Creek Ranch west of Condon.
"I've seen some really wild aggressive young horses come to school and I've seen them just completely change in a matter of a few weeks," he said. "You watch it happen. You watch their ears, their eyes, the way they carry themselves, the way they approach you. They try to work through everything."
Siemens, who is widely acknowledged as one of the best trainers in Montana, knows the importance of horse psychology.
"The horse is talking to us all the time physically," Siemens said. The term "horse whisperer" implies a person who has the insight and the intellect to understand the dialogue between horse and man. "A lot of folks don't see it. It's subtle. It's not black and white," he explained.
A classic scenario of dialogue between man and horse, according to Siemens, is to watch the horse wanting to befriend a person. When a horse starts to open up, he'll bob his head like a chicken , "and he'll look at you with big long gazes," Siemens said. Another cue is mouth action. "They'll lick their lips and gums like a dog, with their tongue out. Then they'll bob," he explained. A horse will carry his head down by his knees, real low, he'll look at you real long or make eye contact and give you a long stare. "Those are all communication signs that a horse wants to be led, that he wants to trust you or is thriving on your leadership." Siemens said.
Horses are real good followers, Siemens explained. "They crave leadership," he said.
Siemens believes that trust and respect are key to success in the early stages of training. He gave an example of a young, aggressive student who recently attended his school.
"This one little colt, you couldn't touch him, couldn't get near him. He'd try to climb over the round pen, and he'd come after you aggressively. He'd strike. He'd bite," Siemens said. But after a week or two of what Siemens calls "round pen psychology," working without bridles or saddles, the colt is now Siemens' friend. "He'll stay right at your shoulder. You can't shake him," he grinned. "He's a completely different horse. He was real insecure. he was scared," he said. The horse learned to trust his trainer thanks to lots of hugs, lots of attention and lots of confident leadership. "As soon as he figured it out, he just wanted in your pockets," Siemens laughed.
The movie, "The Horse Whisperer" shows the psychological side of horse training that most people never see, Siemens said. It portrays training methods that are common, he said. And Siemens should know. He grew up in the Big Hole Valley of western Montana, and spent the bulk of his life on ranches near Big Timber, working with exceptional horse people and trainers. Among the trainers that he calls friends is Buck Brannaman, the man who coached director Robert Redford during the filming of The Horse Whisperer.
Siemens believes that a common problem in horse training is stiffness in the horse, and the stiffness is both physical and psychological.
A horse that'll root its nose out and take the rein away from the rider, or a horse that will block out leg cues, is a stiff horse. "It's starting to get stiff and to lose the soft mind. With that you start to lose the soft body. He'll start to physically block you out and stiffen," he explained.
Siemens explained that softening and suppling is the key in any horse, whether it's a trail horse or a finished competitive performance horse. "They've got to be just as soft and supple as a limp rag," he said.
Siemens not only trains horses, but he trains riders as well. He offers six clinics a year throughout Montana in addition to the training at the ranch.
An untrained rider is a weak link, he said. "It's a lot more than sitting on a horse and going for a ride. If a rider is a passenger, things usually fall apart pretty soon," he explained. However, if a rider acquires basic skill and understanding of how a horse moves and how to set him up, then horse and rider can form a partnership that'll bring many years of enjoyment.
Marlenea Ober, editor of Equine Hoofbeats, published in Hamilton, had this to say about Siemens in her March/April 1998 edition. "If Randy trains a horse, you end up with an honest, willing partner, and enjoyment, not a broken down, sullen, unhappy horse that might do what you want it to do if he feels like it."
Randy welcomes inquiries about his horse training programs. However, he warns people that openings at the ranch fill up quickly. He is already nearly booked through July 1999. He takes horses in for thirty, sixty, and ninety days, and charges $500 per month per horse with a limit of six at any one time. Call him for information about fees and schedules.
Stallions with championship bloodlines anchor Elk Creek Ranch breeding
Horses have become increasingly popular in Montana, not just among 4-H families and weekend trail riders, but among people who are determined to win national competitions.
The Randy Siemens family of Condon is one of those stepping into the arena of competitive breeding, showing and training. And in a big way. Their Elk Creek Ranch west of Condon is home to some of the finest quarter-horse stock in the nation. New to the ranch is a two-year-old stallion whose pedigree is recognized nationwide.
BL Wiz Kid came from well-known quarter horse breeder, Bob Loomis of Oklahoma. "Wiz" is sired by the current world champion reining horse, Top Sale Wiz, who was featured on the front page of Reiner magazine in June. BL Wiz Kid's dam is a daughter of Surprise Enterprise, the only horse to ever win both the NRHA (National Reining Horse Association) and AQHA Open Senior Reining world titles in the same year.
Wiz Kid is light on his feet, smooth and supple. He moves like a cat through the arena, and seems to know that he, too, is destined to become a champion.
"Potentially he's a winner," Randy Siemens explained. "It's up to me and it's up to the folks who have foals out of him to develop that."
Siemens doesn't plan to stand Wiz Kid to outside mares, at least for a few years. Wiz will breed six registered quarterhorse mares owned by the Elk Creek Ranch, and the foals will be offered for sale to the public at futurity sales throughout the U.S. These "long-yearlings" will almost immediately be put into school and be trained to be winners.
"Quality is what we're self-governed by, rather than quantity," he said.
Wiz Kid joins another outstanding stallion at the Elk Creek RanchPeppy AH Munez. "Moon," as the family calls him, is a big, handsome bay. His virtues, in addition to conformation, include temperment and his cow-sense. "He's a great out-cross for Doc Bar mares, competitive mares that are Doc Bar bred. With that we've had a lot of enthusiasm," Siemens explained. Moon's grandfather, Mr. San Peppy, is a two-time NCHA (National Cutting Horse Association) World Champion. Moon's mother is the daughter of Hol-E-Smoke, a superior cutting horse and another NCHA world champion. Last year, Moon bred 40 mares, all registered quarterhorses.
The breeding and production programs at the Elk Creek Ranch compliment Randy Siemens' training programs. It's all part of building what Randy describes as a full-spectrum quarter horse business.
Siemens was born and raised in Montana, but for a few years he "went and flew airplanes" for a living, he said. That lifestylebeing away from his familyjust didn't settle well with him. "Boy, my heart just wasn't in it. I was just restless," he said. So, he and his wife, Rhonda, decided to "just take a big breath and walk away from that, and just go full bore with the training, the breeding, the production," he said. Building the ranch in the Swan Valley is fulfillment of a desire to work with, and live with, horses. "It's been a fascination and something that I've always loved," Siemens said.
However, the best part of building the family's quarter-horse business has been that it keeps the family together for most of the year. "It's Mom, Dad, the kids, the house, the barn, the horses, the dogsand we are here togetherall day, every day, working together, earning income together. It's the best part of it, absolutely," he said.
Daily life at the Elk Creek Ranch north of Condon keeps five people busy full-time, 16 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Nine-year-old Josh, 12-year-old Kim and 13-year-old Amanda, all help their parents groom, train and keep track of breeding schedules for about two dozen horses, Siemens explained. Their chores begin at sunup, with feeding and watering horses and cleaning stalls. They take a break for breakfast, then return to the barn for grooming, washing, and preparing horses for training, transfer or breeding. Randy trains horses throughout the day, and also spends many hours on the telephone, arranging schedules and consulting with clients. Rhonda is in charge of household chores and helps with foaling and production, training and transport. Josh is the floater. He helps wherever he's needed. Kim is the barn manager, in charge of feeding and watering, and breeding schedules. She keeps a close eye on the mares who are visiting Moon, the stallion. Amanda takes charge of grooming and prepping horses for training and transport. She is also her mother's number one helper in the kitchen. She cooks the meals and cleans the house whenever Mom needs a hand.
"It's a lot of responsibility," Siemens explained. "We have some pretty fancy horses come in here from out-of-statein the $10,000 to $15,000 range," he said. There's a high level of anxiety around the ranch at times. Any crash or bang in the middle of the night brings Randy, Rhonda and the kids quickly to their feet.
Siemens praises his children for their efforts. "They are learning to work. They're learning how to have responsibilities. They're very, very mature for their ages. They do some things that people wouldn't believe. They handle these big horse and they are very confident," he said.
Siemens plans to build an 80-by-160-foot indoor arena at the ranch, so that he can continue training programs during the winter. "With that we'll have a real steady 12 months," he explained.