Tag Archives: Equus Plus

Velma Bronn Johnston, aka “Wild Horse Annie”

Wild Horse Annie (http://www.themustangnation.org/history.html)

Velma Bronn Johnston knew pain and suffering. Born to Joseph Bronn and Gertrude Clay in 1912, Velma, at eleven years of age contracted polio and was confined to a cast and hospitalization for several months. The disease left her physically disfigured, and the subject of ridiculing and cruelty by her schoolmates. Velma consoled herself with writing and drawing and taking care of the many animals on her parents’ ranch, the Double Lazy Heart Ranch in Reno, Nevada.

Velma had a particular love of horses, as did her father, who, as an infant came to the West with his parents in a covered wagon. It is said that during the during the arduous journey across the desert, his mother, for whatever reason, could not provide milk for him, so resorted to feeding him the milk of a Mustang mare–an act that saved his life. Later in life, Joseph Bronn, to help support his growing family and keep his ranch in operation, ran a freighting service. Many of the horses he used to pull the wagons were Mustangs.

While many of her peers made fun of Velma for her disfigurement, Charlie Johnston, a neighbor, became smitten with her. The two married and eventually took over Velma’s father’s ranch. To make extra money, Velma took a job as a secretary to insurance executive Gordon Harris and worked for him for the next forty years. Unable to have children of their own, Velma and Charlie also opened their home and ranch to many of Nevada’s youth, where they taught them how to ranch and care for animals.

One day, in 1950 while driving either to or from work (accounts vary,) Velma was following a stock trailer and noticed blood oozing from the bottom of the doors. She followed the truck and found out that the wild horses inside were on their way to a slaughterhouse. The blood came from a young foal who was being trampled to death by the frightened older horses.

During that time period, wild horses, many of them Mustangs, were captured and slaughtered for pet food. Their capture consisted of rounding them up with airplanes, and then once they were in a more cohesive group, trucks would chase them and the men hanging out of the windows or in the bed of the truck would lasso them to the ground. Horses who were more difficult to rope, were sometimes “hamstringed,” or shot in the back of the legs, rendering them unable to run. Then, the perpetrators crammed the frightened animals into stock trailers and took them to the slaughterhouse.

Velma’s witnessing of the gruesome scene as she traveled to or from work instigated her lifelong pursuit to stop the cruelty toward Nevada’s wild horses.

Wild Horse Annie with her dog and horse
Wild Horse Annie with her dog and horse. (Wikipedia)

She began in the early 1950’s and succeeded with the 1955 bill in the Nevada State Legislature that banned aircraft and land vehicles from capturing wild animals on state lands. It was then she earned her nickname, “Wild Horse Annie.” But, Velma had a long way to go. She became a passionate speaker and made it her mission to save wild horses and burros throughout the nation. In 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was signed into law.

She also established wild horse refuges in the southwest. During the rest of her lifetime, she kept vigilant watch over America’s wild horses and called to task anyone who did not obey the laws she helped put into place. Wild Horse Annie worked hard to promote the idea that wild horses and Burros were “integral to the landscape” and seen as “living symbols of the pioneer spirit of the West.” She came up against many who wanted to silence her, and some even threatened her life, but Velma soldiered on.

After the death of her husband, Annie lived out the rest of her life with her mother. She died at age 65 in 1977 from cancer.

Little Known Horsewomen of the World – Selika Laszevski

Selika Laszevski is in fact so little known, many historians question her existence at all.

Selika from The Paris Review
The Paris Review

The portrait here was taken by Felix Nadar in 1891, Paris, France. The photo is thought to be of Lasveski, but it is not certain. Some historians speculate that this photograph was taken of an unknown model and Nadar attached a story to her to promote his work.

Whether fictionalized or not, the story goes that Laszevski was a 19th-century equestrian, an écuyère of the Haute école, or equestrian of the high school of dressage. High school meaning of the highest level in classical dressage–the disciplined “equestrian ballet” that has its origins in the military, going as far back as Xenophon’s On Horsemanship, one of the two works of literature on horsemanship by the Greek soldier Xenophone who lived c. 430 – 354 BC.

Although little is know of this equestrian, a short film has made and produced about her by award-winning writer-director Sybil Mair Sybil Mair. The film titled “The Adventures of Salika was released in September of 2017.  It is a coming of age story about an African princess who must forge her own way in the world after being displaced by war. She ends up in France and makes her way to the Haute école.

For more information on the film, click here.

The Silence Between the Notes – Developing Harmony and Trust with Horses

Guest Post by Mattie Cowherd – Licensed Parelli Professional, 3-Star Instructor


woman on horse

For me, there is a certain peace achieved after a day of riding. In that moment, I can drift away from the past, or my distraction of the future. This allows me to simply BE – soothed by the passing of the moments rather than the struggle of my thoughts. I believe that peace and calmness are essential to developing the true art of horsemanship.

I still laugh when I remember my students’ faces as I galloped past them on a fat little cob during a trail clinic in Wales — eating an apple! The concept of peacefulness in full motion didn’t make sense to them. But, if I have true harmony and partnership with my horses, not even galloping at full speed should separate us.

Peacefulness should also extend to teaching your horse something that is scary or new. Pressuring a horse when it is on adrenaline is never a good idea. This natural drug in the horses’s system sets off its flight-or-flight responses. Horses don’t think when they are on adrenaline. Yes, you can force a horse through the experience, but you are likely going to have to repeat this lesson – again and again and again — because the horse is not mentally present. The horse’s brain is shut off, and it is operating strictly on instinct. If you use calmness, clear communication with your body, and patience, your horse will learn that he can make mistakes, and retreat when he is fearful. He will trust you to show him the way through a problem.

I believe that peaceful horsemanship starts with awareness – first of yourself, and then of your horse’s  internal and external states. Are you tight? Are you worried? Is there a good reason for this? Can you foresee any issues during your groundwork session or your riding and if so, can you simply avert it by being passively proactive? And can your horse check in with you and see that things are indeed okay? Can he see that you have been a patient and progressive leader for him? Can he trust that you will not be afraid or offended by what he needs to do?

Perhaps I notice more strongly now what a true partnership feels like because I also know what a false partnership feels like. I can feel the lack of attention and the lack of trust. I feel the discordant communications when a horse is terrified and unable to think.

I can also feel the harmony and the moments of true oneness. I can see my horse reaching across our communication to ask me a question or answer confidently when he understands.

I feel the moments when my horse and I are slightly out of sync, and yet, I can refocus my energy and my intentions to bring us back to harmony in an instant. If I feel my horse and I are out of sync during new lessons or a moment of fear, I can ask my horse to trust me and let me guide him to the right answer.

It’s like a dance. You can’t dance with another person when you are both intent on correcting or defending yourselves.

You need silence between the notes.

Stillness between moments of movement is vitally important to your horse’s understanding. If you do not pause or release completely, your horse does not have a chance to learn.

It is in moments of stress or learning with our horses that our attention to PRESENCE is so important to our communication and relationship with them. Horses are only in the now – adjusting to the present with reference to memories of past experiences. Create your best self when you are with your horses. Strengthen the positive responses with reassurance and attention. Your horses will seek this praise with enthusiasm and will approach future learning opportunities knowing that their partners have their backs.

To learn more about Mattie, go to her website here.