DURANGO, Colo. – Michelle Gilles is a horse trainer and a competitor.
She also is a wife and mother, and no matter where she goes, she does so with her family involved. Whether it’s working her business at their home near Lubbock, Texas, or on the road at competitions, it’s certainly family time.
“A family that works together, plays together and stays together,” said Gilles, owner of Michelle Gilles Horsemanship. “Everywhere I go, it’s me, my husband and kids.”
That works just fine. By combining family, work and competition, the native Californian is living her perfect life. That includes her ventures for Extreme Mustang Makeover events, reining contests and competing in the Colt Starting Challenge USA, the latter of which showcases trainers’ work with young horses.
In fact, the next challenge is set for 6-9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12, and 5-9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13, at the La Plata County Fairgrounds’ covered arena in Durango.
“The Colt Starting Challenge is a really great way to further your education with horses,” Gilles said. “It makes you have to learn who you truly are, because you are putting a lot of training in such a short period of time. You have to know your stuff.”
While she utilizes the challenges for self-training, Gilles’ true competitive nature comes out in full force when it’s time to enter the arena.
“The Colt Starting pen shows you where your holes are and where you have to go back and fix,” she said. “I do it to better myself and hopefully educate the public that there’s a new way of doing things.”
The Colt Starting Challenge focuses on natural horsemanship, which better utilizes a horse’s natural instincts. The techniques used are a far cry from what was done a generation ago and what many have seen regarding breaking horses on TV and in the movies.
The competitions are the brain child of trainer and horseman Russell Beatty. In the two-day challenges, trainers are matched via random draw to horses that have had limited handling; there has been no saddle nor bridle ever on the animal. To close out the challenge, trainers take their hoses through a variety of obstacles in order to show how far their animals have come in a short amount of time.
“I’ve been watching different competitions, and this was interesting because I am really good at getting these young ones going, and I enjoy getting the colts started,” Gilles said. “I got started by watching them, and I’ve already been to four. I watched Russell, and I really liked the sportsmanship and that with his competitions, it’s all about the horse.
“If you get in a bind in your pen and need help, another competitor can come in and help you. That’s an awesome part of the competition.”
As a trainer, she has taken a lot from the Colt Starting Challenges. In fact, some of the lessons learned have enabled Gilles to upgrade the techniques she utilizes in her home practice.
“I’m much quicker and more aggressive,” she said. “When I would get a green horse before, I would go slower and be methodical in the process. Now I have the tools to speed up the process of my training. Ideally the public wants a horst that’s past green broke in less than 30 days.
“Now I’m able to give a much better product to the horse community in a short amount of time.”
While trainers in the Colt Starting Challenge utilize the same philosophy, they go about their work using a variety of methods. For Gilles, adapting along the way is outstanding for her business.
“I was raised around horses my whole life,” Gilles said, noting that she began focusing on training while in college. “I started taking equine science classes. That’s where I started learning about starting colts.
“I fell in love with it. Horses are honest and pure, and they get out of it what you put into it. Horses have no bad intentions. What you give that horse, they give right back to you. The horse is really a reflection of who you are.”
Gilles’ passion is evident in everything she does, and she’s excited to share it through the Colt Starting Challenge USA.