High Country Adventures
With Mandy Downs Gagliano

I have been trail riding since I was 11 years old; beginning in the forests of Minnesota and graduating to the mountains of Wyoming, when I moved here as a young adult in 2002.


As a young teen in Minnesota I was introduced to the lesser known breed of the Rocky Mountain Horse. I was drawn to their unique coloring, smooth gait, and amazing temperaments. From then on, I handled and trained Rockies,  gaining experience and working towards starting a breeding and training program of my own.


In 2018, I was able to make my lifelong dream a reality, by establishing High Country Rockies to help spread the Rocky love out west.

Part of my joy in this breed and owning High Country Rockies is to be able to safely include my children in my passion. Bella, my 10 year old daughter, has been trail riding on her own since she was 6. My son Ethan, now 6, has been riding behind his sister since he was 4 and a half. Now that Bella has a new younger mount, Ethan gets to ride solo on my old reliable Rocky gelding.


They both have covered many miles, accomplishing some rides on their bucket lists in their young lives.

This weekend, Bella and I headed out for a special “girls” trip to Sundance Wyoming.


It was a special trip because we were meeting up with Jenny and her 9 year old daughter Aubrey, who purchased the first horse I trained and sold at High Country Rockies. Since Jenny purchased Rivendell at 3, we have made an annual trip to meet and ride the last 2 years.


Bella was going on her very first trail ride on her 3-year-old filly Cali. Cali is exceptionally quiet, and I felt safe allowing Bella to stretch her wings and learn with her.

Its has been an adjustment for Bella; graduating from an essentially push button horse, to a much younger green horse, that has quicker movement, faster reaction times and  more directions. I also brought her old mount; 19 year old Bub, who I have had since he was 4 months old and used all training on in case something didn’t go well and we needed to switch.


The first ride of the weekend I rode Cali just to make sure she was her usual calm self, after that, game was on for Bella and Cali. They conquered some amazing obstacles, building confidence together over 30 miles of riding during the extended weekend.


They went through several stream crossings and over several bridges, narrow and wide. We came upon some logging machinery that Cali led the way to check out.

One great confidence builder of the weekend was a rock stair obstacle on one of the trails that I had taken Cali over before; it takes precise footing to climb up this narrow part of the trail.


Bella was nervous at first to ride on it, but she overcame her fear and Cali safely traversed up the steps. 

During our lunch break the next day, we had the horses tied to trees as we ate with Cali. There was a mountain biker that came flying down the trail and didn’t see us until he was right behind Cali and he skidded to a stop. Cali didn’t even blink! It scared all of us humans more than the horses.


At that moment, it cemented my belief that Cali was the right horse to trust with my daughter.

Our last trail ride of the weekend was cut short as we saw some clouds moving in. Anyone that has ridden in the mountains knows that bad weather can move in very quickly, so we decided to head back.


We were about 40 minutes from camp when some rain hit with thunder, rumbling with lightning popping around us. Bella was on Cali and Aubrey had decided to ride Rivendell, now 5. I was very pleased with  how both young horses remained calm and steadfast as we made our way through the storm, safely arriving back.


Time and again, the Rockies breed confirms my belief that they are the ultimate family and trail horses.



I came across HTCAA’s FB page several years ago while searching for a site to help me find new places to explore on horseback. Jenny and I decided to start an HTCAA bucket list binder of future riding destinations that we see and are looking forward to narrowing down a new place to explore each year.


Make sure you keep an eye out for our next High Country adventure. Happy trails!

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