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Riding For Higher Ground

Judy Buffington Sammons
Gunnison, Colo.
Walt Barron

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Kerry Christopherson is the owner of “Higher Ground Horsemanship,” where she offers professional horse training, riding instruction, and a full care boarding facility. She and her husband Brian make their home and place of business northwest of Montrose, Colorado.

It was here I found Kerry recently, hard at work training a young horse. I was interested in finding out exactly what Kerry does and also what her philosophy of “life and horses” is. To Kerry, life lessons and horses are very much intertwined. The following are some illuminating questions and answers from our interview:

Q: How did you get your start with horses?

– A: “I got my start as a little girl. I know God saw it fitting in His grand plan to make horses a big part of my life right from the beginning. I realized at an early age I had been given a unique gift to connect with them. I remember riding in front of my mom on an old ranch horse, long before I could walk, and spending countless hours studying horse behavior and always wondering why they did what they did.”

Q: Did you ever take riding lessons?

– A: “I took riding lessons from the age of 4 to 17 — English, western, and jumping. During this time, when I was 15, I trained my first horse. I spent ten years in the show scene and although I enjoyed showing, the real reward has always come from building willing partnerships with horses and the joy of passing on my knowledge and experience to others.”

Q: What kind of formal education do you have?

– A: “After high school, I got my degree in Equine Science at Colorado State University. During and after college I took as many colts as I could get my hands on to train. After college I traveled all across the United States and Germany, working for well-known cutting, reining and western pleasure trainers.

Q: Who was your best teacher?

– A: “You can learn something from everyone, even if it is what not to do. I learned many valuable lessons from the trainers I worked for, but the horse is and will always be my best teacher. They speak a different language, but if you are listening, they can teach you an enormous amount about life and horsemanship.”

Q: What is your training method?

– A: “There is no single method from which I train. I have learned many great techniques from different clinicians and trainers. I have combined it with my own lifetime of experience starting hundreds of colts. From each one a priceless and unique lesson is learned. I will never know it all and I’ll never quit learning. There will always be another level of horsemanship to strive for.”

Q: What is the main focus of your work right now?

– A: “Continuing to create superior horses and confident riders. In addition to training, boarding, and giving lessons, I also plan to offer horsemanship clinics in the future.”

Q: What is the most important step in training a horse?

– A: “The foundation established on a young horse is critical. If I don’t put the proper foundation on a colt, the rest of his training will fall apart. I have to prepare him mentally and physically to handle the demands training will place on him. The process is broken down into small, easy to understand steps. Each step prepares him for the next without ever shattering his confidence.”

Q: Can you give me an example of this?

– A: “Take flying lead changes. The maneuver reflects an incredible amount of skill on the part of both horse and rider. Many important elements have to be in place and it can take months to build a solid foundation from which the horse can perform this maneuver with proper form, elegance, and grace. It takes a lot more than just forcing a direction change to pick up a different lead. In addition to a great deal of mind and body preparation, only the perfect combination of precision, timing, balance, and feel will result in a flying lead change done correctly.”

Q: What have you learned from horses?

– A: ” There is great value in seeing and experiencing life from the saddle and the horse’s perspective. Most importantly, I value having a great foundation to stand on. In life I don’t stand on shaky ground and I don’t expect my horses to either. I have discovered that if I live my life on the same solid foundation that I train with, that it will be a life firmly rooted in strong principles and truths, I can live with honesty and integrity. I have also learned a great deal of patience. There is no place for anger or a quick temper with a horse. This doesn’t work with a horse and it surely doesn’t work in life. I’ve learned to see the silver lining around life’s clouds. When I am working with a young horse it is critical that I focus on the positive. It’s the only way to gain and maintain their confidence and trust. Like training, life takes a great deal of perseverance, consistency and hard work.”

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

– A: “My career with horses keeps me very busy, but also very humble and grateful, as I am quick to contribute my success to God, my wonderful husband, supportive family and friends, and of course a long list of happy and satisfied clients. For me training horses is an art form, no different than creating a masterpiece on a blank canvas that bears my signature. I have something that is priceless — a willing partnership built on a foundation of trust and respect. It is a physical picture of freedom, harmony and grace. That’s what Higher Ground Horsemanship is all about, excellence with horses and in life, and always striving and riding for higher ground.”


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