Horse trainer Brishanna Wilgus’ Paint Horses helped shape her minimalist training philosophy.
By Lyssette Williams
Horse trainer Brishanna Wilgus is no stranger to standing out in the equestrian world. From her start in 4-H to competing at national barrel racing events, she’s always chosen Paint Horses as her trusted steeds. Her horses’ splashes of color might be the first thing to catch people’s eyes, but it was the incredible unspoken communication shared with her animals that keeps their attention.
Raised on a ranch in Montrose, Colorado, Brishanna’s first horse was a sorrel-and-white Paint mare, Pistols Burnin Bereta, who she received for her seventh birthday. “April” became the horsewoman’s first teacher, and Brishanna still owns her today. Those early lessons were gleaned outside the arena, on the open trail or in the vast expanse of the cattle fields under open blue skies.
“My learning was by trial and error,” Brishanna said. “When faced with a mistake, I never gave up. What I lacked in knowledge I made up for in patience and kindness.”
This deep well of empathy towards the horse be the early building blocks of Brishanna’s training belief, ”Less is More.”
Back to Basics
Brishanna first joined the competitive horse world in the Western pleasure arena, but she was quickly drawn to the adrenaline-fueled world of barrel racing. Committing herself 100 percent to the sport, she began traveling the country, working with different trainers to hone her skills and her horses, which included April and CR Skip High Sierra, a 1998 black tobiano mare nicknamed “Promise.” By the time she was 13 years old, Brishanna already had experienced considerable success and was pursuing sponsorship opportunities to become a professional.
“People really admired my horses and the bond I had with them,” Brishanna said. “For years people would ask me to start training professionally so they could buy one of mine. But I didn’t have the time or the courage to go out on my own yet.”
In 2012, while practicing drills to help April with bending and collection, Brishanna found herself growing frustrated. The mare was heavy in her hands and resistant. The mutual understanding the two had spent years developing just wasn’t there.
“April is an incredible athlete but is difficult,” Brishanna said. “As I worked with different trainers, I became frustrated with some of their guidance—the options they presented to me were about control and not about communication: ‘Manhandle her,’ ‘tie her head down’ or ‘try a more severe bit.’ ”
Instead, Brishanna dismounted and removed every piece of tack the mare had on. She swung her leg over and decided to see what April was like in this raw state.
“April took off with me and ran 10 laps flat out,” Brishanna said. “I was certain she was going to go straight through the fence. Holding onto her mane, I relaxed my seat and asked her to turn and stop with just my legs. I giggled the whole time at the revelation that I could control her without a bridle on her face or a bit in her mouth.”
Removing tack from the equation was the first step in repairing their relationship. By changing how she communicated with her horse, April and Brishanna’s relationship transformed. Soon, Brishanna began to dream about applying what she learned to other horses. In 2013, a wrangler opening at a ranch resort gave Brishanna the opportunity to grow her abilities as a horse trainer with over 100 horses in her care.
“It was a brilliant opportunity, and I felt brave enough to start implementing my training belief on a variety of horses,” Brishanna said. “I was able to work with mules and drafts, young horses and older unstarted horses, and I even worked with a zorse!”
After working at the ranch, it was time to go out on her own; Brishanna formerly opened the door to her training business, Blu Rose Performance LLC, in 2016.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the winter 2022 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.