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Behind the Scenes: Prepping the Ranch for a Horse Master TV Shoot

Many years ago, a dear friend of mine told me that if I was going to keep up the pace I had set in my career, I should take a big fat red marker and block of time on my calendar each year that would be me-time—time away from business travel and time to devote to replenishing my soul. And since then, I have done that every year—it’s the first thing I do when I start planning the year. In fact, it has become sort of a ritual for me and I love seeing the red ink on my otherwise hectic calendar.

I always block off all of July and August in red, since this is the most glorious time in Colorado. Rich and I went to the North Shore of Kauai for 12 days in July and had a fabulous time there; what more could I want for my birthday? I‘m not sure how you could have a bad time there—perfect weather, beautiful beaches, friendly people with a laid-back and mellow style. We’ve been going to the north shore for years and have many good friends there, so we spent lots of time walking the beach, catching up with old friends, riding on our friend’s cattle ranch and eating fabulous seafood every day. It was almost too much fun.

After catching the red-eye home and landing in Denver Friday morning, we drove straight to Brighton Saddlery to help celebrate their annual saddle sale. We literally stood in the gas station parking lot and changed from shorts and sandals to starched jeans and boots. What a wake-up call! I could hardly even get my boots on because my feet were swollen but I managed to get the uniform on and show up on time to talk to people about my new line of saddles made by Circle Y. With the sounds of the ocean still crashing in my head, it was all I could do to distinguish the cantle from the pommel at first, but it didn’t take me long to get back in the groove!

Once home, Rich and I were on the hyper-drive plan to get our ranch ready for the upcoming Horse Master shoot, which we tape at our place every summer. Before the shoot we have to buff up the place—kill weeds, mow every nook and cranny and rake the barnyard until it looks like a Japanese rock garden. Then there’s all the menu planning, logistics and finding all the horses and cast members—it’s a lot of work to pull off a shoot! But alas, we were ready and the crew and cast and horses descended upon us on Monday the first of August. That night we all gathered for pizza and meetings, where we talked about camera presence, quiet on the set, how we film close ups after the take, etc. Miraculously, over the next four days we taped TEN new episodes of Horse Master—the most we’ve ever done in one shoot—sending our total number of episodes to 102 as of July 2008.

I won’t say nothing went wrong—we had plenty of weather delays and technical delays. And although we’ve gotten very efficient at taping the shows, we weren’t able to tape 10 episodes because we made the most of every minute. This time of year in Colorado, we have monsoon weather which was both a blessing and a curse during the shoot. The cloudy days meant we could film all day long without harsh light and weird shadows. The rainy afternoons kept it cool and the arena footing looked like new plush carpet. A couple of times we ran inside because of lightning and rain. We worked for more than 12 hours each day—literally dawn to dusk. It was during the rain delay on the first day that we decided, much to the chagrin of the producer, editor and videographer, to make two extra episodes.

It really made good sense to me (except for the long hours it would entail). Usually at a shoot we tape eight shows with eight different horses/owners. Last winter at a shoot in AZ, we turned one episode into two (“to be continued”) and taped 9 episodes instead of eight—two with one horse. This time we taped four episodes with one horse—a three year old Hanoverian filly that we started under saddle. It worked out perfectly because we taped one episode each day; in four days we did four steps– first saddling, first mounting, desensitizing to the rider, taking cues from the rider. We were also able to tape plenty of extra footage to complete my feature training video, Ready to Ride. This is the fourth video in my From the Ground Up video series (Round Pen Reasoning, Lead Line Leadership, Bit Basics, Ready to Ride) and we are hoping to release it by the end of this year.

The filly was almost perfect—as to be expected since she was well-bred, well-tempered and well prepared to be ridden for the first time. If she had not protested at all, it might’ve seemed fake. She made just enough fuss that she appeared unbroken but was otherwise good enough to allow us to progress through the intensive outline I had prepared for the video, without much hesitation. Our cast member, Jennifer Babeon, had been preparing the filly using my methods. Jennifer had spent a summer working for me years ago when we were starting lots of colts, so she was a natural for this role. The horse was well schooled in the round pen, on the lead line and was fully bitted out. She was a pleasure to start under saddle—any trainer’s dream.

The other six episodes we taped involved a mustang who was too clever, a talented young barrel racer with a horse that had some baggage, a reined cowhorse that was under-performing, a lovely dressage horse trying to move up to level 4, a mare that threw up her head a ran off when cued to canter, and teaching a  horse to open/close a gate properly. I can tell you, it took a lot of concentration to move from one thing to the other over the four days, especially with such long days!

Amazingly, my crew stuck with me and we muscled our way through the shoot. It was the most productive four days I’ve had in a long time and already my crew is threatening a mutiny the next time I get such a wise idea. I’ll write more about the other episodes we taped in later postings. Right now, I need to get back to enjoying summertime in the Rockies.

Enjoy the ride,




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  1. Julie, Loved the blog story. The Hawaii re-entry aloha head space is so typical. Thanks for letting us see behind the scenes. It is comforting to hear about as you make it look so effortless on screen. Hope you get to let your hair down for a while longer. You might relax and read a great horse story 🙂

  2. I was there for the first two days and I will tell everyone that you and the crew did an incredible job and I don’t know how you had the stamina to get it all done. This is such an incredible group of people and I learned so much, took it to the show pen last weekend, won the reining and other than over spinning and zeroing (grrrrr on my part) I would have won the cow horse by two points. I’d say my personal success can directly be attributed to all your hard work and putting the information to use. A HUGE thank you and I can hardly wait to see all the episodes! Congrats!

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