GAINING TRUST - Before riding a horse, trainer Mandi Quam makes sure she has earned its trust.
The hills of the Qu'Appelle Valley provide the breathtaking backdrop for what Mandi Quam describes as "rehabilitation for horses."
"Usually within a month or two months they're pretty safe for a person and away they go," Quam said.
She and her husband Tyler spend their days on their farm starting colts, training horses and helping horse-owners with any other issues they might be facing with their mounts.
"A lot of them are herd-bound, which means they don't want to leave the other horses. Insecurity, trust issues and lack of respect. Those are the main problems we have to deal with."
Clients have the option to take lessons themselves or to drop their horses off and come back for them once they're rider-ready.
Quam began working with horses professionally in 2005, though that was by no means the start of her equine training.
"By the time I was thirteen I had already (ridden) 100 horses. I lost count," she laughed.
She related the story of a former teacher who once told her that training horses simply wasn't going to earn her a living.
"It was pretty discouraging," she admits.
Now years later she is doing what she loves and running a farm which, as of July, had already seen over forty horses in need of training. "It's just something I've always wanted to do," she said.
Her experience has enabled her to control horses with surprising ease. She demonstrated an exercise in which she releases the horse's reigns and controls it using nothing but the subtle pressure and movement in her legs.
The Quams make a point of working at a horse's own pace in order to gain its trust.
"We don't force anything on horses, we want them to want to do it. I won't get on a horse until I know that it wants to be with me."
One of the problems riders often face is the inability to find the time to properly train their horse, an issue that Quam understands.
"That's why most people send them to us because they can't work with them five days a week. They have a job whereas us, this is our job, so we can spend every day with them."
She believes that some horse-owners also run into trouble when they underestimate the sheer power of the animals.
"They're a thousand pound animal so you can't treat them like your dog. You have to treat them like they are a thousand pound animal," Quam insists.
And of course, owners aren't the only ones who present challenges - the horses themselves keep things interesting.
"There's different personalities, there's really trusting ones, there's lazy ones, there's ones that want to be trained and there's ones that are going to fight you. They're all different, just like people."
Some horses are brought to the Quams' farm simply to be de-stressed, including show-horses that have been either over-worked or rejected.
"One horse here right now, she was flunked as a show horse when I got her and she's amazing, she's going back and showing again. I'm showing her myself and she's doing really good. That makes you feel like you've accomplished something."
Another horse that stands out in her mind is a former harness-racer who was set to be slaughtered after he started to slow down and stopped winning races.
"So a lady bought it, brought it out here and now we're riding it. So that's a horse's second chance in life. That's pretty neat to able to do something like that," Quam said proudly.
Because horses become more set in their ways as they get older, the Quams, like many trainers, will only accept horses five years old and under.
"We like to start them when they're two or three. They're like a kid, they can learn really easily." Although it's rare for a horse to be deemed untrainable, Quam can still recognize a lost cause when she sees one.
"If I'm scared to get on him, chances are the owner's not going to have fun with him. So we're really honest about that-we can generally figure it out within a week."
She stresses the fact that once a horse is trained, it still requires plenty of ongoing attention to reinforce what was learned at the Quam farm.
"A lot of people leave them here for just a month and once they take them home, I suggest that they keep riding them on a routine basis," she said.
"But if we have them here for two or three months, generally they're going really good by then and they're a little more solid, so people can give them a day off here and there.
"It's the people who turn them out and don't look at them again for a year. Those are the ones that might run into problems. I just suggest keep working with them."
Quam has had the opportunity to track the progress of many of her past pupils, most of whom she says have been pleased with the results of the the training. "A lot of people like to come out and get lessons every now and then. Some people have brought the horses back to come for a trail ride. Or if people run into a problem, they'll call me and come back out and we'll work through it again."
When asked whether she ever gets attached to the horses she trains, Quam didn't even have to think about it.
"Oh, for sure. You wish you could keep a few of them, but that's not the way it goes," she laughed.
BREATHTAKING BACKDROP - Tyler and Mandi Quam spend their days on their farm in the Qu'Appelle Valley helping horses become rider-ready.
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE - Quam has been working with horses since she was a young child, and is now able to control the animals with surprising ease.