Up until the economy crashed, Viki Mangano was actively competing in Versatility Ranch events as well as raising registered Quarter horses and running her own used car dealership. Finding herself at a crossroad, she was wondering what do for a living when the answer literally landed in her saddle.
“One afternoon about four years ago, when I was exercising my gelding, Lucky, a jogger stopped to watch,” she explains. “After a while he walked over and asked if I’d give his daughter riding lessons. At first, I said NO WAY but he kept coming back and coming back until I finally agreed.” Today that girl, local resident Callie Wasser, continues to be a dedicated student and in the process, Viki has stumbled into an entirely new way to pay the bills. Sharing what she’s learned after nearly 40 years of training with a variety of horsemanship experts — including Doug Millholland (a prominent Quarter horse judge), Carl Wood (of Doubletree Horse Farm in Delta) and Bub Poplin (a reining champion) — Viki has been sponsoring her own clinics on the family farm. “It started out as a social thing, but then word-of-mouth spread rapidly” and now, with the help of husband, Charlie, “we’re also boarding 18 head and I’m always available to do tune-ups on them as needed.”
Although participants are free to use any type of saddle during the clinics, “What we’re learning, actually, is dressage on a loose rein. It’s about the rider’s subtle movements of both arms and legs. The higher up the leg — towards the brain — is what we are striving for. When you THINK about what you want, the horse picks it up. There are some subtle things we do with our own body language when a command is in our minds, and horses are so sensitive that they feel it.” She adds, “All horses are born soft and sensitive. Humans try to change things and then spend months or years fixing them.”
It was Carl Wood who first encouraged Viki “To take lessons from as many different people as you can” and she shares that advice with the others. Among the trainers who have helped with her clinics, she says “We’ve had Grand Junction horseman Gary Day (who spent 20 years working for Monty Foreman, a leader in the field of reining) come up once a month, as well as Michele Skerl of Crawford, who is a former Clinton Anderson apprentice. (A native of Australia, he teaches body control with emphasis on ground work.) And although some of the techniques Viki has learned might have been basically the same from one person to another, “it is their different STYLES of explaining something that might click a little easier with certain students.” The philosophy must be working well, for Viki’s first scheduled clinic in May, 2013 for advanced students is already full. Along with her assistant, Gwen Almeida, who grew up riding hunter/jumper in Maui, Hawaii (and also practices bridle-less horsemanship), “We’ll be putting together a more complete listing soon. There’s no internet site to check,” she admits, “since I’m trying to avoid that for now but interested people can always call.”
Born in nearby Delta, Viki moved to Cedaredge with her parents at the age of three and “has never gone for any period of time without a horse.” She still lives on the property, once known as Stanford Orchards, that that’s been in the family since 1953, and “grew up doing the fruit-thing — picking and carrying apples, cherries, prunes, peaches, apricots, and pears” to sell at the family stand, Western Fruit Market. Asked if she’d do it again, she answers wistfully. “I wouldn’t mind it. There are lots of fond memories. Towards the end, though, my parents had some financial problems because it was so hard to make a living at it.” By that time both Viki and her brother, Dr. Jack Stanford (now the Director of Flathead Lake’s Biological Station in Montana), were out of college and had good jobs so they paid off the place. “It was then gifted back to us while our parents retained the right to live here for their lifetimes. I was fortunate to have the money at that time, since I’ve worked as a wire operator (for an investment banking firm), a stock broker, an orthopedic office receptionist, and a lumberyard bookkeeper”…and during those final seven years before her job title changed for keeps, a car dealer.
These days, after clearing about 700 apple trees, building an additional barn (“out of mismatched, used material ... that stuff is expensive”), putting up portable shelters (“for if and when we decide not to do this anymore ... but that won’t be for a while”) and setting up two round pens in addition to the arena, Viki’s “models” look a bit different on the lot. Besides her own, three Quarter horses they include a Gypsy Vanner, a Paso Fino, an Arabian, a Rocky Mountain (gaited) horse, a Haflinger, and a couple of Paints, all of which are fed hay twice a day, given fresh water, and turned out onto a total 22 acres of pasture as weather allows. The original house has been sold, and Viki and Charlie live in their own place about 200 yards up the driveway where they enjoy a picture-perfect view of their tenants. But almost any time of day, passers-by can find Viki out in her arena with a four-legged friend, doing what she does best. “I am so fortunate,” she concludes happily. “I couldn’t retire, so this came about at just the right time. I get to live my dream, and the fact that it JUST HAPPENED when I wasn’t looking is so very wonderful.” ❖