Sky High Wilderness Ranch In The Yukon.




Horse Trainer/Guide At Sky High Wilderness Ranch Discusses Animal Behavior  & The Beauty Of The Mountain Pass

Taking a well deserved break on the overlook near Mount Mack in The Yukon. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
Gorgeous View From The Top of the Trail near Sky High Wilderness Ranch. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
Trainer Megan Johnston unsaddles one of her horses: Ben. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

Riding a horse on a steady flat trail is one experience but riding a steep trail old school like the old timers used to do in Old West times gives a deeper perception. For Megan Johnston, horse trainer and guide at Sky High Wilderness Ranch outside Whitehorse in the Yukon, it's a calling. After a 3 hour ride to an amazing overlook, she sits down with The Buzz and talks elation, training a horse and the outdoor experience.

The Buzz: Could you talk about this land, why this is great for horses and where your love of horses comes from?

Megan Johnston: Okay, okay. So I would say that my love for horses probably started since day one of my life. I never ever grew out of the “I want a pony” phase. It's always been what can I do to get closer to horses? Even if it's not for money, where can I volunteer? Where can I put my heart into horses? Horses, working with them, is very much rewarding for me because gaining the trust from an 1,800-pound animal is not always the easiest. I take a lot of pride in my work so seeing the progress of the horses while I'm training them, it's so rewarding. That, for me, is just enough for everything. The trails here at Sky High Ranch as well as all of the property over here which is First Nations land, we have permission to go on. It's incredible for the horses and it's incredible for the riders as well because they get to explore, they get to learn more about the land and a little bit more about the Yukon. The horses here are incredible, they have incredible stamina. They love going through the mountains. The views, as you saw today are just incredible. There's no words I feel that you can honestly put it into how rewarding the experience is up here at Sky High Wilderness. It's just something you have to see for yourself.

The Buzz: For people who train the horses, how much is training, how much is experience, how much becomes instinct when you're up there? Because I mean, especially with the horse you were on--

MJ: Ben, yeah. I think a lot of it is when you first learn about horses, it feels like it's very overwhelming because in my personal opinion there is no cap of limit about what you learn about horses. Each horse is very, very much their own. Everyone has their own quirks just like us humans do. When you're working with a horse, it's finding their temperament, what level of a temperament it is, their anxiety level -- you kind of test them a little bit to see what they react to, and what they don't react to. So before you even introduce a horse to a saddle you're doing –- a desensitization [needs to occur] so you could walk into the round corral with a tarp, per se, and jiggle it around and that could be the scariest thing that the horse ever seen. What you're trying to ask of the horse is you're trying to gain their trust by saying, "I'm not going to hurt you with this tarp, but I need you to understand that this isn't the scariest thing in the world." If the horse stands still and is corresponding with you, you can move in a little closer with the horse. It's all very little minor steps that all build up to the final product. And I feel like it's more so when you gain a certain amount of experience it becomes instinct. I personally believe everyone has their passion. Some people are more born with a quicker instinct or some people can pick it up a little easier. But it's all about the experience because if the trainer doesn't make their signals clear, or if the trainer doesn't portray their message clear to the horse -- the horse of course, sorry, has no idea what you're asking of them and you won't be able to move anywhere.

Heading up the wilderness trail on the mountain near Sky High Wilderness Ranch. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
Trainer Megan Johnston with another one of her horses just returned from tha trail. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
Editor Tim Wassberg on the mountain near Sky High Wilderness Ranch. [Photo Credit: Sky High Wilderness Ranch]

The Buzz: Can you talk about that trust between the rider and the animal?

MJ: I'll use Ben for an example. When I first started here at Sky High Ranch I think Ben was coming back from a recovery or an injury, he was limping a little bit. It was only very minor but he was off for a bit. From what I had heard he wasn't used much and he was only used for the trail because he had anxiety problems. Not a lot of people could work with him. They would be trying to do the same thing and they just weren't getting many places with Ben.

The Buzz: In terms of confidence?

MJ: Not in confidence, but just bridling him, saddling him –- the basic core training methods of the horse and such. When I came here, in my interview, Gary [the owner] had asked me to pick up Ben's foot, which was the best type of interview, I'm like, "Oh, yeah. Of course." So I went up to Ben -- so this is instinct to me. I could tell by the way he was standing that he was very, very nervous. Not that he was acting out. He just needed that calm reassurance. So it's all about figuring out the horse. Understanding that they don't speak our language. Learning the horse, feeling their body language, and then just when you ask something of them and they do it, give them that reward. They love the reassurance. They are so willing to please as long as your messages are clear. You take the time and it's a lot of patience. It doesn't happen overnight. There are days where I went home thinking, "Oh, my goodness, what the heck am I going to do with Ben? I don't even know if I want to do it." But every single day it's, "No, I love Ben. I'm going to do this. This is going to work and if you can't go forward, go back a couple steps and find out what's wrong." It's just like when you're meeting a new person. It's putting the same type of trust into them.

The Buzz: We try to encourage so many young people to get outdoors. Can you talk about the balance of that and being here in the Yukon? Did you grow up here?

MJ: I didn't actually grow up in the Yukon. I was born in British Columbia, so I was born in Surrey, but grew up in Chilliwack. And in fourth grade I moved over to Ontario and I lived 45 minutes east of downtown Toronto, so I lived very, very different. I lived the city life and it wasn't cut out for me. These trails are incredible because it gives you enough introduction to the wilderness. It takes you out of your zone because quite often we'll have city people come in and they don't know what the heck they're getting into. And we'll hear some muffle about some bugs, but when you get to those points of the lookouts, it's just so rewarding and that's where we really capture our clients, I feel.

Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

Sky High Wilderness Cabins

Make Sure To Stay At:

Sky High Wilderness Cabins, specifically The Aurora,  which is the perfect spot to unwind, with breath taking views and cozy, comfortable simplicity at it's best. Enjoy your morning coffee on the front deck overlooking the lake, hike the ridge and wander down to the lake shore to talk with the local fishermen.

Download PDF File