A Professionally Nice Horsewoman


Professionally nice is the term my husband uses to describe my good friend, Jean Larson. She is, after all, an ordained minister and pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Bonner, Montana. She is supposed to be nice and reassuring and comforting and gracious. She is, indeed, all of those things and much, much more. But she is anything but milquetoast nice. She has a spine of steel. She faces her own fears, steps way outside of her comfort zone and sees life lessons in the challenges that come her way.

How do I know these things about Jean? Because I have had the great pleasure of watching her become a horsewoman over the past five years. Right under my eyes, Jean transformed from a rather timid novice rider who harbored fears about speed, steep mountain trails, and caring for a horse to a completely competent, independent, self-assured rider—unafraid to tackle any back country challenge. She did it her way –with persistence, determination, thoughtfulness and attention to her own feelings; and with a great sense of humor about her own progress.

Jean and I met during an open house demonstration for Tennessee Walking Horses. Jean was there to ride a Tennessee Walking Horse and search for a way to realize her childhood dream of owning a horse and riding across Montana’s beautiful landscapes. She had actually purchased and sold a horse earlier that year – a horse that was ill suited to her abilities and for which she lacked a support network. She was looking for a different avenue to realize her dream.

I was there to let people know about my equestrian club – a club for people who do not own a Tennessee Walking Horse, but want to learn and enjoy many of the benefits of horse ownership. After careful consideration, Jean joined the equestrian club and became a Dunrovin Dudette.

From the start, Jean was eager yet completely honest about her hesitations. She didn’t back down from pushing her limits, but she did stay in touch with her feelings, talk with us about her concerns, and take the challenges at her own pace. Soon, her life as a rider became integrated with her life as a minister.

Jean’s teachings at her church found their way to our barn, bringing a spiritual awareness to all of us at the ranch. Her mindfulness and clarity of purpose inspired us and caused all of us to occasionally pause, take in the moment and reflect on its meaning. Jean started a tradition of blessing our animals on St. Francis of Assisi’s Feast Day in October. She invited our donkey, Señor Kona, to join her for the Palm Sunday celebrations at her church, where her parishioners and her husband, Daniel Kemmis, happily greeted us.

Likewise, bits and pieces of what she was learning with horses followed her back to her church. At Dunrovin, Jean partnered with a horse named Whiskey. Soon her parishioners came to know him from the stories that surfaced during Sunday sermons.

An early spring horsemanship clinic took Jean and Whiskey across the frigid, deep, fast moving waters of the Bitterroot River. With water piling up at their bellies, the horses struggled against a strong current for secure footing. Crossing a river can be a very intimidating task for beginning riders. If you look down, the swirling waters can make you dizzy and fill you with panic about what could happen. The only way to cross is by focusing your eyes on the far shore and placing your trust in your horse.

A life lesson, indeed. Focus on the destination and place your trust in those around you. Jean not only weaved her river crossing into her Sunday sermon, but wrote about it in her column for the Missoulian: Community of Faith – Urgent times, war, hunger require our focus.

As Jean conquered more and more personal challenges, she playfully asked Dunrovin Ranch for a certificate that she might present to her children verifying her change in status from “wuss” to “adventurer.” Jean needs no such certificate.

Now the owner of a beautiful Tennessee Walking Horse mare and a truck and trailer, Jean’s new confidence is totally apparent. It was with great pleasure that I witnessed her easily negotiating the steep, drop off trails high above the North Fork of the Blackfoot River on our recent trip together into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. She is as at home in her saddle as she is in her church’s pulpit—living her childhood dream!

My only regret in Jean’s graduation from being a Dunrovin Dudette to a full-fledged horse owner is that she is no longer a routine presence at Dunrovin. We all miss her – especially Whiskey.


Like this blog by Suzanne Miller?  Chances are you’ll like her blogs about: Driving Miss Dixie,  Artistic Horse Photography: When Memories & Art Become One, or A Sterling Horse Husband.  Please  leave comments below, or check out Suzanne’s other posts at the Horse Around, Missoula blog home page.

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SuzAnne Miller is the owner of Dunrovin Ranch, a small guest ranch nestled against the Bitterroot River and the Sapphire Mountains, south of Missoula. She shares her home with her husband of 42 years, 2 sons, 20 equines, 2 or 3 dogs, the resident wildlife, and anyone looking for high adventure.