Everyone is alert and curious about the newest canine addition
For Kaye, groundwork never ends.
Joe with one of his favorites before she left for Arizona.
Joe on a trail ride near Canada.
Although Mustang Training Camp’s first season will be 2020, training horses is nothing new to its staff.
Kaye Wittig, 57, has been starting horses since she was old enough for her father to have her sit on yearlings for him.
Kaye’s grandfather began working with mustangs when he came west in the 1890s. At the age of 45, he died from being run over by a wagon wheel when the green horse he was driving spooked, but his sons continued his work. Every fall until WWII they bought “government” horses and trained them to sell for cash in the spring.
Of course the market for horses tanked once everyone had a tractor and a car, but Kaye’s father continued to train cheap horses he bought at auction for fun after he came back from the war.
Kaye’s older uncles taught many people how to train teams for farming and wagon train re-enactments in the ’60s and ’70s. Kaye’s father was training horses with her all the way until 2002 when he took his last trail ride at the age of 85.
Kaye started her first horse under saddle when she was 12. After another six years in the 4-H Horse and Veterinary Science projects, she took western horsemanship classes at Montana State University, then apprenticed for a professional reiner. Later, she trained Arabian show horses, then spent a few years training Welsh ponies to be safe children’s jumpers and trail horses. In 2002 she built an 18-stall boarding and indoor riding facility in Minnesota which was sold when she moved to Montana in 2015.
Old horse-breaking methods were nothing new to Kaye. Stories of horse wrecks and training gone wrong were common conversation around the ranch’s kitchen table when she was growing up.
When Natural Horsemanship methods became popular, Kaye found that clinicians often were simply passing on training techniques which her father and uncles already had been using. Still, she followed the Natural Horsemanship movement for years, keeping track of any new training technique along with reading everything she could about classical dressage.
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that Kaye found something which powerfully changed her training. European equine scientists and American behaviorists began combining their knowledge of horse psychology to experiment with training principles as applied to horses and sharing their results online.
This scientific renaissance of horsemanship is still in its infancy–and still very much a European thing because that’s where the funding for equine research is. But Kaye has studied enough of it and used the results of experiments over the past 25 years to refine her techniques to improve bonding with untouched horses and retrain rescues.
Kaye stopped taking in outside horses for training in 2010 to be able to catch up with teaching her own herd of nine. After two slaughter-bound rescues somehow worked their way into the herd last year, Kaye realized she had to put her skills back to use in order to save the lives of other perfectly good animals.
Kaye’s goal is to teach every horse she works with to communicate with people, to accept the requirements of our human world, and to know what to do when ridden by both beginners and skilled traditional riders. She knows how to create a solid foundation on a horse, and she believes horses can be taught to form an incredible bond with people which lasts their lifetime.
Joseph "Joe" Wittig
An almost-Montana native, Joe grew up in Missoula and Huson, but left after graduation for a 22-year career in the Army and Army National Guard.
Over the past three years he rediscovered the connection he had with horses as a boy. Joe especially likes to spend quiet time with them. He finds that being with horses without an agenda helps with with the combat-based PTSD he experiences, and he would like to share the help horses give him with other veterans.
Our summer apprentice this year is Peyton Loss from Brainerd, MN. Peyton is a junior at the University of Minnesota, Crookston, and fell in love with Montana during field studies last fall. She wants to refine her skills with packing and backcountry horsemanship. She’ll have the chance to rack up many sweaty saddle blankets during our Mustang Summer Camp.