Summit Testimonials

We heard high praise from many quarters for the inaugural Best Horse Practices Summit. Here are just a few:

  • It’s been an intense, mind-boggling couple of days at the Best Horse Practices Summit. I learned so much about horse brains, horse behavior, and horse-human connections. I met so many amazing horse people from so many different equestrian worlds. I bought so many books and DVDs. I have so many new ideas . . . And I had fun! Thank you, Maddy Butcher, Gerd Heuschmann, Dr. Steve Peters, and all other presenters, clinicians, volunteer, and participants, for expanding my horizons. Exciting times ahead!

Jim Thomas

Katrin Silva, New Mexico 

  • Thank you, Maddy Butcher, for your vision, your dedication, your hard work. Thank you for creating a space where horse people from many different worlds could come together, connect, and exchange ideas. Thank you for expanding our horizons and our comfort zones. Thank you for making us all realize that what we have in common is so much more important than the superficial differences between our styles and traditions of horse-humanship. I’m filled with new ideas. I’m also filled with gratitude. You’re the best!


  • Presenters Warwick Schiller, Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, and Martin Black

    Congratulations on an outstanding event. I heard so many wonderful comments. I thought you might enjoy this picture of Gerd, Martin, and Warwick (see photo at right). Good horsemanship knows no country, culture, or discipline.

Linda Hoover, North Carolina

  • The best equine conference or clinic I’ve ever attended.

Paul Sherland, Texas

  • The whole thing was amazing.

Warwick Schiller

  • I thought the first Best Horse Practices Summit went very well. There was a great turnout, especially for the first year, and all the presenters were top notch. And it was really well organized. Usually the first year of an event is more of a learning experience on how to make it successful, but the Best Horse Practices Summit was successful out of the gate.

Martin Black

Summit Farewell Notes: the Lanyard Story

Remarks delivered by director Maddy Butcher at the Summit Farewell Reception:

The story of the Summit lanyards can go a long way in illustrating the range of details and the room for errors when putting together a conference. Especially a first-year conference on a limited budget.

A few months ago, I was researching lanyards (those things that go around necks and to which badges attach). Geez, they seem pretty expensive, I said to myself.

I thought of our friends at Knotty Girlz in Valleyford, Washington.

Why not order rope from Knotty Girlz and make our own lanyards? It would be fun and lend special detail to our event.

A few days later, we received 400 feet of multi-colored, quarter-inch rope.

The Soulfolle Creative team, Tommy Costello and Beau Gaughran

A few hours later, I learned how time-consuming and detail-oriented lanyards could be:

  • Lengths must be measured
  • Ends must be burned and looped together
  • Badges must be attached

I had inadvertently made a work mountain out of molehill. But thanks to some volunteer ingenuity and volunteer work hours, each attendee did, in the end, receive a nifty lanyard that (unlike conventional lanyards) can be used to practice knot tying or can be attached to a stick or otherwise used in horse work.

Of course, the souvenir is also an illustration of the myriad details tended to by those involved in an event like the Summit. As with horse work, sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than our successes.

As I reflect on our first year Summit effort, I’m taking into account these learning experiences and using them to craft a better, progressive path forward.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the volunteers, presenters, sponsors, board members, steering committee members, the audio-video team, and the staff at the Strater Hotel.

A/V team:

Soulefolle Creative

Lightning Communications

Fred Holcomb, West Taylor, Dr. Sheryl King


TJ Zark

Julie Kenney

Cindy Morin

Helen Bird

Amy Skinner

Amy Diener

Fred Holcomb

Trish Lemke

Carrie Jenkinson

Kerry O’Brien

Debbie Hight

Raechel & Dennis Nelson

A special watermelon for the Summit Welcome Reception

Fred Holcomb

Michael Benner

Elizabeth Benner

Cathi Champion

Presenters and Special Guests:

Dr. Steve Peters

Dr. Robert Bowker

Dr. Gerd Heuschmann

Dr. Sheryl King

Wendy Williams

Martin Black

Presenters Warwick Schiller, Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, and Martin Black

Bryan Neubert

Randy Rieman

Jim Thomas

Warwick Schiller

West Taylor

David Stickler

TJ Holmes

Mike Jensen

Sponsors in attendance:

Dr. Petra Sullwold, Equus Chiropractic

Tamara Yates, Many Hands Equine Body Work

Amy Skinner introduces evening presentation

Letitia Glenn, Natural Horseman Saddles

Dr. Samantha Johnson, WildFed

Emily Kitching, Eclectic Horseman

If you’ve been following the story of the Summit journey, you know that we had been searching for something in the horse world that dovetailed science and horsemanship and was a collaborative deal. We didn’t find anything.

We hope that our effort has resonated with you and that you leave with questions answered but that you also have more questions as you continue in your horsemanship journeys. You might find that the horses themselves give you the best (most honest) answers if you are willing and available to listen.

As so many presenters reiterated over the course of three glorious days in Durango: look for the best evidence and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

As Ms. Frizzle of the old public television show loved to say:

Get Messy! Ask Questions! Make Mistakes!

See you next year.

Opening Remarks at the Best Horse Practices Summit

Director Maddy Butcher

Best Horse Practices Summit director Maddy Butcher offered these remarks as she opened the inaugural conference on earlier this month in Durango, Colorado:

The whole idea for this conference bubbled up about two years ago after I attended a horse expo in New England. I was frustrated and confused about what I’d seen and experienced. There wasn’t any serious take-away. If my horse-owning mind was a mouth, I felt like I’d been eating fried dough all day.

The people were great, don’t get me wrong.

But…What was in it for the horses?

That simple question has carried us to where we are right now.

That simple question has helped shape a mission and has attracted internationally renowned clinicians and academics. It has attracted you, our attendees, from right here in Durango and from as far as Nova Scotia, Alberta, Maine, Washington, and Hawaii.

Jim Thomas visits with Summit attendees

The question, “what’s in it for the horses?” has resonated with all of us.

Here’s another question that helped shape this movement:

Can we offer them something better?

Today, at this inaugural conference, we confidently say YES.

We believe this is the conference your horse would want you to attend.


At the Summit, you will hear about what’s going on inside the horse’s brain, what’s going on inside its digestive tract, what’s going on inside its feet.

In the arena presentations, you will get straight talk on how best to translate your requests and how best to communicate with your equine partners.

You will learn about how everything we do – from what we feed our horses to how we touch them – has an impact on their well being.

Summiteers Bryan Neubert, Fred Holcomb, Steve Peters, Martin Black, and friends

We believe the Summit can seriously enhance your knowledge toolbox and add to your horsemanship skill set.

We believe that by bringing together academic and arena work, highlighting the legacy of good horsemanship, and the evolution of domesticity, we can expand your comfort zone and help you improve your connection with horses.

We believe that with these new insights, every one of you will be able to make your horses’ lives better.

I don’t mean that in a warm and fuzzy way. Too often, I think we humans are tempted to believe that stuff – equipment, goodies, or some kind of purchased item – will solve our problems and make horses’ lives better. But really, progress happens when we give ourselves time to listen, to observe, to absorb new information, and to experiment.

Our interest is not in creating a cult following, but in cultivating critical awareness – because critical awareness best serves our daily, ever-evolving work with horses.

I’d like to suggest that the success of the Summit will not be measured in trade booth sales, but in how it impacts your daily interactions with horses. Our success will be measured by how Summit strategies and insights, offered by our presenters, impact your lives and your horses’ lives in a positive way.

This is the mission of the Best Horse Practices Summit.

The Summit would not have been possible without our Session sponsors: Patagonia WorkWear, Redmond Equine, Lucerne Farms, and Darn Tough as well as many other generous sponsors. We thank them.

Please support them as they have supported us.

I want to keep this short because we have so much to hear and explore. It’s going to be a very, very busy two days. But here are a few additional bits to keep in mind:

  1. Thanks to our great audio video team of Soulfolle Creative and Lightning Communications, all these presentations will be online and available to you for free in 2018.
  2. Take a deep breath and get ready. (oh, wait, that was a note to myself)

Randy Rieman once told me that if you’re not stretching your comfort zones, you’re actually shrinking them. I believe this to be true in life and in horsemanship.

This Summit will undoubtedly stretch your comfort zones. I hope you embrace that feeling and the new information in a way that might make you a bit uncomfortable, but in the end will expand your life and your life with horses.

Welcome to the Best Horse Practices Summit!

Summit director Maddy Butcher visits with Summit presenter Bryan Neubert

Wild Fed Joins Summit Charter Sponsors

This week, we welcome a new sponsor to our fantastic roster of Best Horse Practices Summit Charter Sponsors.

Wild Fed, a horse feed company founded by Dr. Samantha Johnson, a naturopathic physician, will be featured at the Best Horse Practices Summit.

Johnson started the company around the time she was seeking solutions for her aging horse, Shadow.

She said:

“Just before Shadow’s 30th birthday, his teeth were so worn down that he started choking on hay and was no longer able to hold his weight eating just hay. I needed to add calories with something easily digestible but also with a high nutrient value to support his aging body. The senior feeds on the market contained undesirable industry by-products such as peanut hulls, soybean meal, beet pulp, rice bran as well as sweeteners and synthetic nutrients.”

It’s a challenge many of us face as we see our beloved companions move into their senior years. BHPS attendees will have the opportunity to talk directly with Johnson about Wild Fed offerings.

Wild Fed ingredients include: Non-GMO Orchard Grass, Non-GMO Alfalfa, Non-GMO Timothy Grass, Non-GMO Oats, Sunflower Seeds, Chia Seeds, Organic Dandelion Leaf, Organic Rosehips, Organic Red Clover leaf and blossom, and other ingredients.

The best way to discern how to produce the perfect feed, Johnson said, was in her keen and dedicated observations of horses grazing freely in pastures:

“The key to designing an amazing feed was to pay close attention to what horses eat, when left to there own devices. I spent hours with Shadow and my other horse, Shya, while they grazed in the pasture, and I observed the types of grasses and herbs they sought out.”

Look for Johnson at the Summit. And look for samples of Wild Fed in your swag bag!

Dr. Samantha Johnson and her senior horse, Shadow

Last Minute Summit Notes

We will be excited to visit with Best Horse Practices Summit attendees as they travel from near and far to join us at this inaugural conference!

Having fun at the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering

A few important notes:

It’s mid-fall in southwestern Colorado. That means temperatures may be in the 60’s, but will likely dip into the 20’s-30’s. Bring layers and be prepared for chilly mornings and evenings. Our extended forecast is calling for some scattered thunderstorms, but mostly sunny with highs in the 60’s during the day.

Don’t forget: we’re in the mountains. Events are at about 6,800 feet. If you’re coming from sea level, try to take it easy for the first day, to give your body a chance to adjust. Some folks do fine. Others feel a bit tired and/or nauseous.

In town early?

Check out the Saturday morning Chuck Wagon Breakfast followed by the best motor-less parade ever, the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering parade.

Click here for more information

There’s also a roping competition going on just outside of town.

Click here for more info.

Scratching your head on dining options?

We love:

Cyprus Café

Mediterranean fare, on 2nd Avenue

Nini’s Taquiera

Great burritos and yummy southwestern chowder, on Main

Ore House 

Steaks and whiskeys (a tad pricey), on College Drive

Chimayos Stone Fired Kitchen

Pizza and bistro food, on Main

Carver Brewing Company

Delicious craft beers and local produce, on Main

Steaming Bean & Durango Coffee Company

Who doesn’t need good coffee? Both are on Main

There will be a horse-y display at another Durango favorite on Main: Maria’s Bookshop. Stop in to browse the local selections.

Wherever you go, please let them know you’re here for the Best Horse Practices Summit!

Death of Natural Horsemanship

Natural horsemanship is dead. Long live natural horsemanship.

Natural horsemanship is a trending phrase that got attached to a style of work and a way of connecting with horses that Bill and Tom Dorrance offered up a few generations ago. It involved working with the horse on its behavioral level. Natural horsemanship is defined by the instinctual patterns and social understandings we see in a herd, or even between two horses.

Randy Rieman

Randy Rieman

Most specifically, it embraces the concept of pressure and release.

Pressure and release is defined by the micro-movements and movements between two horses. For example, the head turn or ear pinning of one horse will dictate the movement of a second horse. If the second horse doesn’t understand, the pressure or energy will increase. e.g., the first horse may charge or kick. When the second horse acquiesces, the first horse lets off the pressure or releases.

Furthermore, the work of natural horsemanship can extend to myriad physiological, neurological and anatomical details like:

  • bend (lateral flexion)
  • the hind quarters as engine
  • the flight or fight response of the autonomic nervous system
  • the positive reward cycle involving the neurochemical, dopamine

Natural horsemanship is dead; the term has lost its meaning. But the work is alive and well.

“People now realize that good practitioners don’t label it. It just is,” said Randy Rieman, a Best Horse Practices Summit presenter who sees the phrase more as a clever marketing device than an apt description. “It’s like ‘natural’ potato chips,” said the Dorrance protege.

Just as the public is becoming savvier to food ingredients (Eaters long ago dismissed ‘natural’ as a word with no real meaning.), riders are becoming more knowledgeable about the wider knowledge base of effective, humane horse handling. More and more of us recognize that force and dominance are ineffective training methods. We know punishing equipment and management techniques do not yield gains and can, in fact, foster some seriously negative consequences.

Check out additional articles on:

The Wobble Board of Positive Training

Testing Horse Smarts

Brain & Agility Training 

But more specifically, we are realizing that natural horsemanship is not something to “follow.” As Rieman said, it just is. We are learning to get great results by simply thinking more like a horse.

Natural horsemanship may be dead as marketing jargon, but it’s alive as a foundation for whatever style of horsemanship we practice, be it dressage, Vaquero horsemanship, trail riding, or cow work.

Consider the phrase: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” It’s not only biblical; it’s a universal maxim found in multiple moral-based texts. So, too, with the overarching message of natural horsemanship.

jim thomasThere’s still plenty of progress to make. Getting owners to swap their age-old presumptions of horse handling for a totally contrary, ‘whisper-y’ alternative is a challenge.

Horseman Jim Thomas, another Best Horse Practices Summit presenter, has a clever technique for introducing the concept to riders:

“At a clinic, I find someone who speaks a foreign language. I ask that person to tell everyone to back up (in French, Spanish, whatever). If they don’t understand, I ask them to say it louder and maybe use their hands. Eventually, people just give up. ‘This is how your horse feels!’ I say. It’s amazing, how few people have a concept of thinking like a horse.”

Rieman would agree. “It’s simple, “ he said. “But it’s not easy.”

Check out additional articles on:

The Wobble Board of Positive Training

Testing Horse Smarts

Brain & Agility Training 

Check out this feature on Animal Intelligence.

Call it the ‘Silver Lining’ Summit

A note from Best Horse Practices Summit Director, Maddy Butcher:

Some two years ago, I returned home from a big horse expo in the Northeast. It had been fun to visit with thousands of horse owners and great to share what I do as a journalist. But something didn’t sit right.

I asked myself: What was in it for the horses?

I started confiding in a small group of individuals who shared my frustration as well as a passion and dedication to serving our equine partners.

I asked them: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to offer something better?’

From my research and every day experiences, I knew academia and horsemanship could be paired to optimize the educational experience.

Recognizing the cliques and divisions within the horse community, I felt any potential gathering would need to be collaborative and welcome all disciplines.

With tremendous support from a newly developed steering committee and a healthy dose of naïve gusto, the Best Horse Practices Summit was born. Call it the Silver Lining Summit, the positive result of a less than positive experience.

This conference is a non-profit organization, built from scratch and run entirely by volunteers. It brings together the best of research and horsemanship to improve the horse-human connection by providing eye-opening and inspiring academic and arena presentations.

It’s also a work in progress.

We’re relying on our October attendees for feedback on how to make it better. We hope they also spread the word. Thanks to the efforts of video production company, SoulFolle Creative, we’ll be excited to offer all the presentations online in early 2018.

Clearly, horses can’t be helped without first empowering their owners. To all those registered for Best Horse Practices Summit, consider yourself empowered!

BHPS director, Maddy Butcher

Best Horse Practices Summit, No Meals Registration

The Best Horse Practices Summit board today voted to offer single day, no meal options. This offers yet more options for local horse owners and riders to enjoy the incredible offerings of this inaugural equine conference.

Now, you can enjoy our amazing roster of presenters for without the added cost of the Strater Hotel’s meal service.

Space is limited.

For $125, you can now register for Monday or Tuesday, no meals.

For $200, you can register for both days with no meals.

Register for Monday or Tuesday, no meals, $125.

Register for Monday and Tuesday, no meals, $200.

You will receive:

  • All access to early morning electives
  • All access to academic presentations at the Strater Theater
  • All access to arena presentations at the LaPlata Fairgrounds.
  • Complimentary pair of Darn Tough socks


Register here for the entire, 2.5 day Summit

Go to Summit Home page

Go to Summit Index page

THE Conference with Substance and Principles

Dr. Gerd Heuschmann

As you read about the presenters at the Best Horse Practices Summit, especially the ones delivering academic presentations, you’ll notice a common thread: they’re all going against the industry grain.

  • They will not tell you that spending more money will help your horse.
  • They will not tell you that if you just add this regimen or that supplement or this piece of equipment, then your problems will be solved.

More likely, they will advocate less stuff and more knowledge. Why? Because horses need their owners and riders to be empowered with more knowledge and less stuff. Owners and riders need more mental and physical tools in their tool boxes.

We’ve selected these presenters because they have consistently put their principles and research over monetary gain. That’s often meant that they have tolerated discord from industry insiders. They have ruffled more than a few feathers.


We say, welcome to the Summit!

It’s for that same discord that you might feel uneasy when coming away from a conventional horse expo. Can you hear your horse asking you, ‘what was in it for me?’

We felt the same way when we brought together a steering committee and formed this non-profit, the Best Horse Practices Summit. We have worked hard to offer you a conference of substance, with meat on its bones, with offerings that have direct, positive impact on your horse-human partnerships.

To all those who’ve registered, thanks for joining us on this ride!

For those who have yet to sign on, we’re pretty sure your horse is asking you, ‘what’s the hold up?’

Register here for the Summit

Stanley and Adventure Medical join Summit Sponsors

We’re thrilled to have two new sponsors join our excellent roster of Charter Sponsors of the Best Horse Practices Summit. The conference, which is drawing attendees from 22 states (including Hawaii) and three Canadian provinces (including Nova Scotia), welcomes Stanley and Adventure Medical Kits.

Stanley makes a great, new travel mug called the Mountain Vacuum Switchback.  It’s the ONLY travel mug we’ve used that is virtually leakproof and yet easy to drink from. Hooray! You will have the chance to purchase it at the Best Horse Practices Summit trade booth.

Adventure Medical knows that horse owners are also dog owners. We love their Me and My Dog series of first aid kits which have cold packs, irrigation syringes, and tweezers. You will see them available at the Summit trade booth.

Thanks Stanley and Adventure Medical!

Read more about our Charter Sponsors. 

Register for the Summit

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