The journey of improved horsemanship has been a lifelong quest for Julie Harman and her trainer, Mike Tuley.
Article and photography by Johi Kokjohn-Wagner
The sun crests the Illinois horizon, reaching wide arms of golden light over the cornfield that stroke the backs of the cattle awaiting their morning feed. Fifty-two-year-old Julie Harman pulls herself from the comforts of her bed and prepares to drive two-and-a-half hours northwest to Iowa, where she works fulltime as director of operations for a large Midwest medical billing company.
Concurrently, an hour southwest in rural Missouri, 65-year-old professional horse trainer Mike Tuley rises early for another physical day of farming, feeding livestock and riding the multiple horses awaiting him in the barn.
Somehow, between this distance of three states and hundreds of miles, a partnership has formed. The two share a passion for horses, and with backgrounds from different niches within the industry, they’re working together for a common goal: growth toward excellence in horsemanship.
Motivated & Courageous
Julie Harman hails from rural Niota, Illinois, where she’s ridden horses her entire life. She first hit the trails with family and friends and eventually began working cattle from horseback. Julie and her husband, Richard, own and operate HR Ranches, consisting of a large cow/calf herd, grain farming and Paint Horses. Their ranch-raised horses pull double duty: work on the ranch and fun in competing at local team-sorting events.
When Julie, the mother of grown twin daughters, found herself an “empty nester,” she funneled her passion for horses into a new direction: reining. In an act of humble bravery, she approached accomplished trainer Mike Tuley with her green homebred mare, HR Hustlers Olena and asked him to train both of them. Even after half of century of time in the saddle, Julie shed her pride and presented herself as a novice.
“I left everything I thought I knew at the barn door,” Julie confessed. “It’s something to be called a novice—a green, green, green novice–when you’ve been riding all your life. But I was hungry and I ate that crow, and I listened to everything he told me.”
Julie and Richard took their young mare to Mike’s as a 4 year old. He started “Spotty,” and when she achieved enough handle, Julie began training with him,too. It was her first real opportunity to work with a trainer—before then, Julie juggled her ranch duties with a full-time job as a registered nurse and family duties, like shuttling teenage daughters to volleyball and 4-H.
“A mom is the glue,” Julie said. “Everything is temporary, and when you have your children, you’ve got to raise them. When I look back now, I think about how my children’s lives just flew by. You raise your kids to be self-sufficient and when you’ve accomplished that, and you’re able to do more stuff on your own because your kids don’t need you, it’s a good thing. That’s what you’re supposed to do, but it’s bittersweet.”
Finding herself with some time to focus on her own goals, Julie spent the next year driving an hour south to train with Mike two to three times a week. She gained enough understanding and skill to compete on Spotty in regional reining shows.
“I’ve just scratched the surface,” she said. “The more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know.”
Knowledgeable & Dedicated
Mike Tuley grew up in a family horse business in Ewing, Missouri; Tuley Ranch raised and trained colts, then sold them privately. As a teenager, Mike trained and showed Western pleasure and competed in speed events, even training his running-bred mare for both disciplines. At the tender age of 14, he started riding horses for clients.
Mike is mostly self-taught through observations and practice, and because his family traveled to regional shows and horse events, he was able to observe the top professional riders and their horses. His father was a stickler for starting horses in a structured and correct way, so while neighbor kids raced recklessly aboard their ponies, Mike was working hard, forming the building blocks of true horsemanship with his mounts. In the late 1960s, Mike’s eyes were opened when he saw his first reining event.
“I remember seeing that and it just caught on and took off like wildfire,” Mike said. “Everybody was excited about that and, of course, that’s what I wanted to do. I come home and just started riding reiners. I went to Bill Horne clinics and Bob Anthony clinics—any kind of clinic I could go to.”
In 1971, in the midst of learning the skill of reining, Mike married fellow horsewoman Marcia and together they started Tuley Training Stables, building a quality facility and indoor arena from scratch. To pay off their expensive investment, they immediately went to work.
“We trained and showed horses for 15 years and that’s pretty much all we did,” Mike said.
Now an established professional trainer, Mike’s well-known in his area with a proven record in both professional competition and non-pro instruction. When Mike took on Julie as a client two years ago, he first assessed her horsemanship.
“Julie needed to work on her leads; she didn’t know them real well. She needed more balance in her speed. She needed to know, overall, how a horse is supposed to be finessed in the reining pattern,” Mike said. “Julie was at a disadvantage because she was training on a young horse. But a lot of people can’t go out and buy a finished reiner. Spotty can stop, she’s quiet and she runs really good circles, and she is easy to ride for Julie.”
Sensible & Competent
Julie has enjoyed learning alongside her protégé, Spotty. Though the mare’s not reining-bred, the 15.1-hand bay tobiano mare holds her own in the pen.
“I wanted to learn more and she gave me the opportunity to learn because she’s quiet and very forgiving,” Julie explained. “If you muck up on her, she doesn’t hold it against you and she’ll still do it right the next time. She does everything fairly correct and she let me learn on her.”
When Julie entered her first reining show on Spotty, she was more eager than anxious, thanks in part to her level-headed horse.
“I thought the first time that I would be more nervous than I was,” she laughed. “I was so ready to get in there and try it.”
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2017 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.