A Continual Journey of Learning from Horses
by Cheryl Erpelding
After watching Buck Brannaman’s documentary in 2018, Tanja Fichera realized that she saw all the things she had been doing wrong with horses her whole career. From that moment on, she wanted to change and learn as much as possible, and she quickly embarked on her horsemanship journey by attending her first clinic with Buck in Scottsdale, AZ.
Tanja Fichera, a lifelong horsewoman, grew up riding mainly as a working student because of her passion for horses. She focused on hunters and jumpers as a junior rider on the East Coast, and when she moved to California, she worked for a couple of hunter jumper trainers in Southern California. Tanja also showed as an amateur in the jumpers.
Reflecting on how she rode in the past, Tanja stated about her jumper Louie, “I rode him like our relationship was a dictatorship. I was the one who had to be in control. I had all the strong bits, martingales and draw reins to control him. Through horsemanship, I’ve learned that it’s a partnership, and now, I’ve had the best rides when I find my horse feeling my thoughts and we become one. Horsemanship truly is a journey, and each day I’m excited to wake up and learn more from horses. I’ll forever be their student.”
Tanja dedicated herself to learning everyday and studying horsemanship. Shortly after her move to Carmel Creek Ranch, the facility had an opening to manage the ranch. Tanja stepped in and with her calm demeanor and excellent people skills, she grew the boarding facility from 12 horses up to 80 before she moved to East San Diego County this past May. Becoming a barn manager was a new role for Tanja, but her degree in psychology and masters in education helped her run the facility in a smooth and professional way. She was retraining thoroughbreds and starting young horses in the beginning, but she didn’t have any riders in training. She acquired her first horsemanship students while at Carmel Creek Ranch when she inherited Dara Brumfield’s students after Dara and her family moved to South Carolina in Jan. 2020. Tanja shared with them the horsemanship knowledge she had been acquiring to them and many have expressed their appreciation. Here are just some of her clients thoughts:
Elizabeth Rabbitt stated: “As soon as I met Tanja, I could tell she was one that was born that way. She ‘gets horses!’ What I love about her most, is that when she is working with you, it is all about you, the human, and your horse, and never makes you feel like a dork. Her approach is not about power or control through gritted teeth, it is about getting inside of you and your horse’s brain. From there she customizes to focus on what you need. Tanja had several weeks of daily training with my horse in order to get a handle on the root cause of his behavior. After that, the focus was on my learning about how I was contributing to the problems and how to anticipate and support his issues in a way that made him feel confident, but still understood who was in charge without hitting him over the head with a 2’x4’. To Tanja, it is all about you and your horse being a team, with consistency and patience. She never loses her cool and never rushes the process. Her goal is for the horse to respond to your requests with the least amount of pressure and stress. One of her strengths is to build the courage of the rider with the skills and abilities to keep a forever solid foundation. Tanja has forever changed my understanding of horses, riding with consistency and confidence.”
Jonni Bailey wrote: “Tanja introduced us to horsemanship a couple years ago, and within a matter of weeks, I saw a positive change in Cisco. It’s pretty amazing how quickly horses adapt and respond. She helped me change my behavior to allow him to make choices instead of me forcing the answer on him. I feel like now we have a true horse-human partnership, rather than a dictatorship. With Tanja, I learned the value of working with my horse on the ground first, how to adjust my body language and pay close attention to his response. I learn something new every time I work with Cisco, sometimes we have a huge ah-ha moment and sometimes it’s just something simple, but it’s always rewarding. I feel like he enjoys it as much as I do. Horsemanship training has been a real trust and confidence builder for both of us. I often wish I had started this training years ago (when we were showing) but I’m so grateful to be practicing it now.”
One of Tanja’s mentors, horse trainer Doug Jordan, writes about Tanja and her horsemanship journey: “Simply put, horsemanship is an attitude of bettering oneself to be a better partner for their horse. An attitude of knowing that a lifetime is not enough time to learn what we need to know, but we do the best we can to improve the partnership with the horse. I have enjoyed sharing my own journey with Tanja in hopes that her road to a better partnership is smoother and easier for the horse than mine. My enjoyment comes from knowing that Tanja carries the same attitude to be a better partner for the horse. It has to come from within the person in order for the horse to reflect it outwardly.”
Along with Doug, Tanja has also been working with Dave Gamble of Whitefish, MT. He shared: “I met Tanja when she watched me get on my bridle horse that I hadn’t ridden in 3 or 4 years and he worked soft and light like he had been in steady everyday work. When she saw that, and she didn’t see me move a leg, or squash my horse down to a stop, and she saw how light he was, she said, ‘I want to be able to do that!’ I quickly saw in Tanja that she had a passion for learning horsemanship. I have been out to clinic for her and her students, and every time I return, I see that she and her students I are constantly improving and getting better with their horses. They are dedicated to learning and Tanja has the willingness to continually grow in her horsemanship. I look forward to coming out to Olivewood in September.”
This past May, Tanja and her husband Vince moved to Alpine to have their horses on their own property. At about the same time the opportunity to help manage Olivewood Acres in Alpine, only a mile and a half from their home, arose and a new partnership was formed. Olivewood Acres was the former McNeil Arabians Farm and had been in disarray for several years. But in 2019, when Tobey Tyler got the call from his dear friend and realtor Luke Wasyliw that he should look at the property before a developer bought the 15 acre farm. Olivewood Acres is a beautiful facility and it looks as if it should belong down the road from Churchill Downs, with its very southernly charm and style.
Tobey is the owner of Olivewood Acres but likes to refer to himself as the Ranch Ambassador. He grew up in Harbison Canyon not too far down the road from Alpine. As a child he remembers watching movies like The Man from Snowy River and John Wayne classics, drawing horses and rolling down the car window to get a whiff of manure on his way to school. As a youngster Tobey cleaned corrals and helped his neighbors with their livestock. He learned to ride bareback, and western saddle while exploring the fire roads that connected Harbison Canyon to Alpine. He says that the ranch picked him, and ever since, he has dedicated all his free time and resources to bringing the horse ranch back to its glory days.
The facility has room for 35 horses and has stalls with paddocks and pasture boarding. Ron Johnson of Triple Crown Arenas will be upgrading the footing in the large arena, which has a huge gazebo in the center. The parklike atmosphere is quite remarkable and a horse lover’s dream of peace and tranquility.
Tanja plans on hosting clinics at Olivewood like she did while she was at Carmel Creek. Up next to clinic is Dr. Steve Peters, an equine neurologist, who will be discussing the equine brain this Sept. 16-18. The fee for the clinic is $300. Stay tuned for more upcoming clinics as learning and growing in all areas of horses is important for both Tobey and Tanja. Currently boarding rates are $550 for stalls with paddocks and $600 which includes handling of the horses for veterinary and farrier care. Vaccination and dental clinics are regularly scheduled and providing excellent care of the horses is Olivewood’s top priority.
Tanja is excited at the opportunity to work at Olivewood Acres and loves that she can ride one of her three horses to work through Wright’s Field which is part of the trail system next to the ranch. Tanja is also a triathalon coach and personal trainer. She was a semi pro athlete for 6 years and stresses the importance of fitness to her riders along with helping them with their horses. Tanja states, “It doesn’t matter what saddle you ride in, horsemanship is for all disciplines. It is about the partnership with you and your horse.”
To learn more visit www.OlivewoodAcres.com or call or text Tanja at 858-395-3873.