Resort Equestrian Manager
Meet Jackie Kecskes
How is the equestrian experience different at Paws Up than at other ranch destinations?
In so many ways! Whether you’re a first-time rider just hoping to get your feet wet or an experienced rider hoping to spend every day riding at a good clip, there’s a ride, and a horse, for you! We have 37,000 acres of majestic Montana landscape so you could ride for a week and still have places to explore on your next trip. We also started a mustang program at The Resort in 2018. We were able to adopt five mustangs that year and have steadily added more as the years have gone by. It’s particularly exciting to be a pioneer in this field and to show how wild mustangs can coexist and be useful on a cattle ranch. And, they eventually will become horses our guests can ride and get to know. And lastly, but just as importantly, horsemanship is the core focus of our Wranglers and this saturates the rides they lead with our guests. It is our aim that our trail rides empower our guests with newfound confidence and knowledge of how to safely and confidently lead our four-legged friends from their backs.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where did you grow up? When did you first start riding horses? How did you become interested in riding horses?
I grew up in Los Angeles. (I’m totally a Valley Girl.) My parents let me adopt my first pony when I was six. Maple—she was a rescue horse that was blind in one eye and used to take off with me all the time because that missing sight made her spooky. But I loved her, and it was no going back from there!
What advice do you give to someone who’s never been on a horse before?
Watch out: if you get the bug could end up on a ranch in the middle of Montana with a horse as your best companion and plans to spend all your free time exploring every nook and cranny of the state on horseback! It only takes one ride!
Name a trade secret of training horses.
Well, to start I don’t consider it training, but educating. Training a dog to roll over, for example, is a trick—cute, but what’s the practical application? To me, educating a horse means giving it tools and teaching it how and when to use those tools. The goal of that education being that it can think its way safely through a situation that might ordinarily panic a horse, triggering its fear/flight response. This also allows the horse to be a great teammate for me in the jobs I need to get done. And that education is a two-way street—I learn every day! But, that aside, I would say don’t come into any “training” session with a schedule. If you don’t have all the time in the world to make difference that you’re hoping to make in that horse that day, don’t even start the session.
What’s your greatest achievement in horsemanship?
Making the connection that the way that I approach horses should also be the way I try to always approach people—with patience, without assumptions and in a straightforward manner with clear communication.
How do horses inspire you?
I have never experienced the sense of calm, nor a clearer head, as when I work with a horse; that time is all about the horse and me gaining an understanding of one another and that understanding only comes from being honest and flexible and open to alternative approaches. As the human, it’s as much an internal focus as it is an external one, but all of that focus is also a totally selfless focus, because it’s for the horse . . . and that’s a cool thing to be a part of.
If you could ride horses with one famous person, who would it be?
Oh boy, that’s a tough one. For a long time, my answer was Barbara Van Cleve, one of the first female ranch-life photographers. She’s a Cowgirl Hall of Fame honoree who helped pave the way for women to not only be accepted into what was once a male-only world, but for us to also make a name for ourselves in that world. She visits The Resort for different events and has the greatest insights and stories, and I’m proud and honored to say I finally got that ride with her—it was amazing! Now I would say that my dream would be a one-on-one ride with Buck Brannaman. I attend many of his clinics each year and he has a wealth of knowledge, but what I wouldn’t give to spend a day riding with him on his ranch, just having him watch me try and fail at things with my horse and getting all his little nuggets of wisdom as I did so.
What’s your favorite thing about working at Paws Up?
I have to name just one?! Oh boy . . . the setting—it’s too beautiful to describe. The feeling of family and comradery amongst the employees. My job—it’s a dream come true! So I guess you get top three!