Where People and Horses Connect
Linda Wagner’s love for horses started before she was born. “It began in the womb,” she laughs. “My dad painted a picture of a palomino mare and foal as a gift to my mother when I was born.” By the time she was 17-years old, she had saved enough money to purchase a palomino colt of her own and over the next several decades, horses became the focus of her life.
After spending part of her adult life competing as an eventer, she realized that there was something really crucial that was absent in her training. “I would leave my lessons and I’d feel troubled inside. I knew my horses were unhappy because I wasn’t able to give them what they needed, and I had to figure out what was missing.” In 2006, she and her husband purchased a piece of property in Sherwood, Oregon and began building Wild Horse Mountain Farms (WHMF). Situated within a lush forest of fir trees, the property was a dream come true. She finally wanted to have her horses at home. “I didn’t want to go visit my horses anymore—I wanted to live with them.” She wasn’t looking to build a program or host outside horses; however, as the saying goes, “if you have an empty stall, you will fill it,” she kept filling her stalls and building more. Today, she owns nine horses and has a growing training and rehabilitation business.
Shortly after starting WHMF, a wild mustang named Luna arrived in her life. “I was really in trouble because I didn’t know how to work with a wild horse. Even though she’d been gentled by her previous owner, she didn’t know me, so we had to start all over.” Looking for guidance, Linda met Dave Williams, who became her mentor for the next 12 years. Williams introduced her to the practice of horsemanship and to the teachings of Tom and Bill Dorrance and Ray Hunt.
During this time, Linda received an email from a woman asking if she would be willing to teach their grandson to ride. “I didn’t think much of it at first. I just thought, “I don’t know how to teach, so why would I?” But a year went by and I kept thinking about that email.
I finally responded and asked if they were still interested in bringing their grandson over for lessons, they said yes, and that’s how I began teaching my first student.”
Before long, she realized that teaching was her calling. “That’s when my dream started to come true. More students started to show up and, the next thing I knew, I was teaching weekly lessons and hosting camps. I had no idea that I would become a teacher, but I loved it. Teaching children about empathy and how reading a horse’s body language can help keep them safe was really important to me.” Like her mentor, Linda’s training focuses on giving horses and their human partners the time and patience they need to understand what she is asking them to do. “If we have agendas, it just doesn’t work for the horse.”
When Linda first heard about Mountain Trail, she was immediately drawn to it. “It’s not about dominance or demanding the horse go over an obstacle; it gives the horse time to think about and understand what is being asked of them. By encouraging the horse’s natural curiosity, you build their trust and self-confidence.”
Internationally recognized as an “extreme sport,” Mountain Trail made its debut in 2001 at the Oregon Horse Center. It attracts competitors and spectators of all ages, disciplines, and backgrounds; every breed is invited—including mules! Horses and humans alike work to find their footing throughout a challenging course of natural and man-made obstacles. It is a challenging sport that demands a relationship built on a solid foundation of confidence, patience, and trust. In short, it is exactly the kind of environment where Linda’s program could flourish.
“I contacted Mark Bolender, the owner of Bolender Horse Park and one of the founders of the International Mountain Trail Challenge Association, to find out what it would take to build a course on our property. Initially I was thinking about hosting competitions but with our property being on a hillside and little flat land available, I knew there wouldn’t be room for 20+ horse trailers. After spending years competing in eventing, I also knew how the show nerves affected my horses and me. I needed to find a better way of teaching my students how to handle the competitive pressures. Don’t get me wrong, we all love to succeed and win a blue ribbon, but I have learned over time that it’s not about that blue ribbon, it’s more about the “win-win” for the horse and the human.”
Today, with over 25 obstacles to navigate, Linda’s Mountain Trail Horse Park continues to grow. Not only will more obstacles be added in the future, but the final corner of the property is being developed into a trail system that will connect with the existing Mountain Trail course.
Over the years, WHMF has hosted a variety of equine wellness clinics. Linda’s dedication to learning prompted her to construct a 1500 sq. ft. Learning Center. The center has a large open floor plan that’s perfect for hosting clinicians’ presentations. The center includes a kitchen, two bathrooms, a washer and dryer, and it is able to sleep 10 people.
In addition to hosting clinics Linda’s training programs are growing. Miriam Orschel, of Grounded Equitation and founder of the “Hooves 101” course, works as Linda’s Head Trainer. Miriam is a lifetime student of the horse. “She always strives to be soft from the heart, and to see the world through the horse’s eyes. Her philosophy is that horses that have not been listened to can learn not to speak. We must take the time to learn their language and listen to their side of the story. In order to become great ourselves, we have to champion others. When everyone is striving to be better, the entire paradigm is shifted in favor of the horse.”
Maya Williams, Linda’s Youth Trainer, believes that horsemanship is a quiet dance between horse and human. “To refine the aids enough to be able to whisper to your equine partner and elicit a response is a magical feeling. My goal is to help facilitate that type of understanding, inquisitive, and patient relationship that we all seek as equestrians. Having the opportunity to share my experience and knowledge, and influence youth riders is an absolute joy and privilege.”
Linda feels blessed to have these two incredible trainers working with her. Along with a wonderful group of working students, the horses and team members at WHMF continue to thrive while continuing to learn from their mentor, Clay Wright of Tudo Abrangente Horsemanship. Collectively, the WHMF team offers several types of instruction, including riding, horsemanship, Mountain Trail, and liberty lessons.
“Our Mission is to help the client or student to develop a curiosity to learn and to give the horse and the human the time it takes to do so.” Each aspect of the lessons and mentorship offered at WHMF by Linda and her staff is tailored toward always being willing to learn. “I continually work to right the wrongs in my learning. If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn.” When asked who should come to WHMF, Linda’s answer is simple: “People who want to learn. It’s all about learning.” If you’re interested in learning more about Mountain Trail or want to learn and grow with your horse, Wild Horse Mountain Farms is a great place to start.
— Written by Corie Traylor
Corie Traylor grew up riding horses on her family’s small farm near Portland, Oregon. After spending most of her childhood barrel racing, she discovered a passion for eventing and hunter/jumpers in her early teens. She currently lives in Portland, where she works full-time as a writer and is retraining her OTTB, Bess, to be a dressage horse.