Duke Beardsley – Art in the Big, Bold American West

Duke Beardsley – Art in the Big, Bold American West


Duke Beardsley

Duke Beardsley was well on his way to a career in medicine, when, just before med school, he took a hard turn onto a new path when he decided to pursue art as a full-time vocation. Since then, he has become one of the West’s most revered artists, producing paintings of cowboys, anglers, and the Western way of life in a style that is uniquely his own. His work is big, bold, and completely original, and it continues to grow and evolve in ways that surprise even Duke himself.

Thanks to a childhood spent between Denver and his family’s eastern Colorado ranch, Duke has been immersed in cowboy culture for as long as he can remember. He has been drawing non-stop since he could hold a crayon, and as a child (sometimes to the dismay of his parents) he demonstrated a proclivity for sketching western scenes on the walls of his family’s home. Duke is also a committed conservationist with a deep devotion to preserving the West’s landscapes and heritage. This eclectic mix of experiences and interests, combined with a formal art education, allows Duke to produce works that are ambitious, inspiring, and engaging.

I stopped by Duke’s Denver studio earlier this week, where we had a fun and wide-ranging conversation. We chat about his decision to change his career goal from medicine to art, and the value he gleaned from a formal art education.  He explains that life-long obsession with drawing on walls, and he tells some stories about how, as an adult, drawing on walls has led to surprising professional opportunities. We talk about his artistic process, his meditation practice, and how he managed his extroverted personality in the solitary world of creating art. He also discusses why land conservation is an issue that is so near and dear to his heart, and offers up some excellent book recommendations.

This was a lot of fun and I really appreciate Duke inviting me into his studio. Be sure to check the episode notes for links to everything we discuss, and check out Duke on Instagram, Facebook, and his website.

All images courtesy of Duke Beardsley


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed:

2:40 – How Duke describes his work
3:30 – Growing up between Denver and eastern Colorado
5:15 – Artistic energy in Duke’s family
6:30 – Duke’s early path toward medicine
8:30 – Transition to art school
9:40 – Biggest lesson learned from art school
12:20 – Focusing his art on horses and the West
14:20 – Life post-art school
15:30 – How Duke’s art is different now from 20 years ago
18:30 – Drawing on the wall
20:20 – Why Duke paints big pieces
21:31 – Story behind Duke’s line ups
24:45 – Getting in “the zone” while painting line ups
26:40 – Working on multiple pieces at once
27:50 – Working with galleries
29:00 – Process for commissioned paintings
31:45 – Extrovert or Introvert?
34:30 – Duke’s artistic process
38:00 – Duke’s meditation practice
41:00 – Drawing on the wall at Las Pampas Lodge
44:00 – Working with Fishpond
45:50 – Passion for land conservation
49:30 – Favorite books
52:34 – Favorite films
54:00 – Surprising activities
54:45 – Most powerful outdoor experience
57:00 – Favorite place in the West
58:40 – Best peice of advice ever recieved
59:45 – Duke’s request of the listeners
1:00:30 – Connect with Duke online

Information Referenced

Innovators of the American West Book List

Innovators of the American West Book List


Over the past year and a half, I’ve interviewed dozens of innovators who are shaping the future of the American West—writers and ranchers, athletes and artists, conservationists and entrepreneurs, to name a few. While their vocations and backgrounds vary widely, they’re all connected by a shared love of books. All of my guests read widely and deeply, and they credit books with shaping their outlooks, work, and lives.

On each episode’s webpage, the exhaustive “episode notes” link to all books, authors, and other pertinent information discussed in the interview. So in an effort to consolidate all of this valuable information in one easy-to-access location, I compiled every book mentioned by each of my guests into this single comprehensive super-mega-list—the Innovators of the American West Book List. I’ve tried my best to organize them into logical categories, taking into account that many of the books span several genres.

As you’ll see, the books are as diverse as the guests, with topics ranging from the obvious western history and biographies, to more esoteric subjects such as military history, religion, and philosophy. Each book has played an important role in at least one of my guests’ fascinating lives, so it’s safe to say these books have been vetted and come highly recommended. For curious readers who love the American West, this list is a treasure trove.

I will continue to update this list after each new episode (last update: 9-20-17), adding newly mentioned books or authors to their respective categories. I hope this list directs you to some books that you would not have otherwise discovered and that you will continue to check back as the list grows. Enjoy!


Western History

Biographies & Memoirs

Western Issues

Adventure

Native American History

Land Management & Agriculture

General History & Natural History

Athletics

Personal Development

Fiction

Philosophy & Essays

Specifically Mentioned Authors

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Dan Flores

Dan Flores is a writer, historian, and former professor whose work explores the connections between people and the natural world in the American West. His most recent books—Coyote America and American Serengeti—are two of the most enlightening and informative books on the West’s natural history that I have ever read. The former is a biography of the coyote, a surprisingly fascinating animal with a rich and severely misunderstood history. The latter explores the last big mammals of the great plains—pronghorn, coyotes, horses, grizzlies, bison, and wolves—and also gives a great overview of North American big history.

It’s clear that Dan was a wonderful professor, because as you’ll hear in this episode, he has a real knack for explaining complicated subjects in a way that’s understandable, engaging, and exciting. This conversation gave me a glimpse into what it must have been like to be a student in Dan’s class at the University of Montana—I walked away from it full of new knowledge, and it whet my appetite to dig deeper into the many subjects we covered.

I could’ve asked Dan questions for hours and hours, but in our relatively short time together we managed to cover a lot. We start by discussing the coyote—how and why the animal has been so misunderstood, its similarities to humans, how it has managed to thrive despite efforts to totally eradicate the species, and the varying pronunciations of the word coyote. Then we discuss horses—the misconception that they are a non-native species in North America, their evolutionary history around the world, and some modern-day challenges facing the West’s few remaining wild horses. We also talk about Dan’s childhood in Louisiana, his current home in New Mexico, his favorite books on the American West, and much, much more.

This is an excellent episode and I’m excited for you to listen. If you haven’t already, buy Coyote America and American Serengeti—I can promise you’ll love them both.


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

3:00 – How Dan describes his work
4:10 – History of the pronunciation of “coyote”
7:30 – Coyote’s historical reputation
11:00 – Coyote’s status in Native American lore
12:30 – Mark Twain’s influence on the coyotes’ image
14:05 – Coyotes as humans’ avatars
16:15 – Fission and fusion in coyotes
18:00 – Coyotes’ ability to control their reproduction
22:20 – Dan’s thoughts on the current attempted Federal Land grab
28:45 – Misconception that horses are non-native
34:30 – Current issues with horses in the United States
37:55 – Dan’s thoughts on the BLM Wild Mustang Program
40:15 – Dan’s early years in Louisiana
43:00 – First trip to Carlsbad Caverns
45:20 – Dan’s passionate love of desert
48:55 – Living in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley
51:00 – Changes in Montana during Dan’s time there
55:00 – “In Defense of the Ranchette” article
1:01:45 – Favorite books about the American West
1:08:00 – Most powerful experience outdoors
1:09:20 – Favorite place in the West
1:11:30 – Dan’s request of the listeners
1:15:45 – Connect with Dan

Information Referenced

Noel Durant

Noel Durant is the new Executive Director of the Crested Butte Land Trust, a conservation organization that protects and stewards the ranches, trails, open space, and wildlife habit of Colorado’s Gunnison Valley. Noel took the helm of the land trust in early 2017, and he brings a wide variety of conservation experience with him into this new role. He’s worked as a member of the Interagency Hotshot Crew, fighting fires across the American West. He has also worked for regional and national conservation organizations, doing everything from managing large swaths of rural land to developing urban trail systems.

Noel’s resume speaks for itself, but what is even more impressive is his intense curiosity and deep knowledge around all things conservation. Whether discussing the history of the Gunnison Valley or the ideas of Wendell Berry, it’s clear that Noel has a true passion for his work and a vision for the future of conservation in Colorado and beyond. His practical experience combined with abundant enthusiasm is what will allow him to continue and expand the work of Crested Butte Land Trust into the future.

As listeners of the podcast know, Crested Butte in one of my favorite places in the American West. Its ranching heritage, world-class recreation, and genuine community make it a unique and rare place in today’s American West. In our conversation, Noel explains what makes Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley so special, and how the Land Trust must balance the goals of such a wide range of various stakeholders. He talks about the history of conservation in the Valley and where he sees conservation going in the future. We also discuss his time fighting fires throughout the West, how his early life and parents shaped his love of the outdoors, and lessons learned from his various roles in conservation.

This is an excellent episode with lots of interesting information, so be sure the check the episode notes for links to everything we discuss. I’m sure you’ll agree that Crested Butte Land Trust is in great hands under the leadership of Noel. Enjoy!


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

2:35 – How Noel describes his work
2:55 – Crested Butte and the Crested Butte Land Trust
5:00 – Crested Butte compared to other mountain towns
7:00 – History of conservation in Crested Butte
11:00 – Variety of stakeholders and methods of conservation
16:30 – Overlap between ranchers and recreational users
19:00 – The community of the Gunnison Valley
20:15 – Early years in Tennessee
22:00 – Semester in western NC
23:50 – College at Clemson
27:00 – Time with the Interagency Hotshot Crew
29:00 – Details of a hotshot crew
33:00 – Community and purpose of the fighting fires
35:00 – Tragedies and challenges from the fire fighting world
39:45 – Moving on from fires to land conservation
43:00 – Time at Trust for Public Land
45:20 – Importance of open space in urban area
47:00 – Lessons learned from jobs in conservation
51:45 – Future of land conservation locally and nationally
56:45 – Favorite books
58:50 – Favorite documentaries
59:20 – Favorite location in the West
1:01:34 – Favorite hike in Crested Butte
1:03:00 – Best piece of advice he’s ever received
1:04:45 – Request of the listeners
1:05:45 – Connect with Noel and Crested Butte Land Trust

Information Referenced

Teal Blake – At work, outside the studio

If you love art and the American West, chances are you’re already a fan of Teal Blake. His paintings of bucking horses, working cowboys, and the Western ranching lifestyle are some of the most authentic and creative around. Teal’s art is authentically Western because he’s so authentically Western—he has worked on ranches for all of his life, has ridden rodeo on the professional level, and has been making art since before he can remember. These unique life experiences, combined with a deep-seated drive to create original and striking art, meld together to make him one of the most genuine and fresh faces in Western art today.

Teal grew up in Augusta, Montana, the son of two creative parents who allowed him to roam free—fishing, hunting, and exploring the wilderness out his backdoor. During high school, he discovered his talent for bull riding and rodeo, and he pursued that passion for years, eventually competing on the professional circuit. Throughout all of his various adventures and life stages, Teal was continuously sketching and painting, and after several impressive showings at western art shows, he decided to make a go of it as a professional artist. Since then he hasn’t looked back, and his stature in the Western art world continues to grow.

We had an in-depth conversation in which we discussed Teal’s upbringing in Montana and Idaho, and how his artistic parents influenced his life and work. We chatted about his experience at art school, which ended with him flunking out, yet being the only one from his class to actually make it as a professional artist. We discuss his background in ranching and rodeo, and his process of transitioning into life as a professional artist. We also talk about the important role that external validation can play in a solitary creative endeavor such as painting. As usual, we discuss favorite books, favorite films, and his favorite place in the American West. We cover a lot in this episode, so be sure to check out the episode notes for all the topics and links to everything we discuss.

Images courtesy of Teal Blake


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

2:45 – How Teal describes his work
3:33 – Process of becoming a professional artist
5:00 – Teal’s childhood in Montana
7:55 – Teal’s parents and their influence on him
9:35 – Early artistic influences
11:20 – Early artistic endeavors
12:00 – Move to Idaho and rodeo beginnings
14:55 – Decision to stop riding bulls
17:40 – Teal’s experience at college art school
21:30 – Transition from rodeo to full-time artist
24:00 – Teal’s first art show
28:00 – Teal’s daily routine and artistic phases
31:05 – Ranch work and its influence on Teal’s work
35:25 – Teal’s attraction to bucking animals — painting and riding them
38:20 – Biggest changes in Teal’s art over the past 10 years
40:33 – Challenge of creating new and original work
43:00 – Thoughts on the business of professional art
48:20 – Favorite books
52:10 – Importance of being humbled
53:10 – Raising kids in the internet age
56:50 – Favorite films
58:40 – Surprising hobbies
1:01:00 – Great advice Teal has received
1:02:15 – Favorite place in the West
1:05:50 – Teal’s advice to the listeners
1:07:45 – Connect with Teal online
1:08:10 – Chappin’!!

Information Referenced

Justin Simoni (photo credit: Justin Simoni)

Justin Simoni is an ultra-endurance adventurer who is most well known for his self-powered, long-distance tours that combine cycling, mountain running, and climbing. He is currently preparing for the “Highest Hundred” in which he’ll climb Colorado’s 100 highest peaks, accessing them all by bike, in 60 days or less. If he pulls it off (and I’m betting that he will), it will be the first time anyone has linked all of these peaks by bike in a completely self-supported style.

Most people would assume that Justin has been a hardcore cyclist for his entire life, but he actually started riding relatively late. He studied painting in college and worked full time as a professional artist for years, living in an art gallery in downtown Denver. Frustrated with his car that kept breaking down, Justin purchased a bike and began to ride it as his primary mode of transportation. As his rides became longer and longer, he enjoyed it more and more, and pretty soon he was completely committed to long-distance cycling. What followed was a barrage of impressive solo ultra-distance adventures: cycling the Pacific Coast, racing the Tour Divide mountain bike race twice, and completing the Tour 14er, which involved cycling to all 58 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and climbing them… in just 34 days.

Thanks to his athletic accomplishments, artistic perspective, hilarious sense of humor, and infectious enthusiasm, Justin is truly one of a kind. We had a fun and funny conversation that covered a wide range of topics from his adventures to his time as an artist. We chatted about some of the techniques that he uses to stay upbeat during periods of extreme fatigue or fear, and we discussed how he balances his free-wheeling artist’s mentality with the monk-like discipline required to pull off such serious adventures. As usual, we discuss favorite books, films, and Justin shares the best piece of advice he’s ever received.

I appreciate Justin taking the time to chat during such a hectic period of planning and training. Also, thanks to the sponsors who are helping to make the Highest Hundred possible: Ultimate DirectionSurly BikesColorado Mountain ClubORSierra Designs, and La Sportiva.

This was a really fun conversation, so I hope you enjoy!

Photos courtesy of Justin Simoni


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

2:40 – How Justin describes his work
4:45 – “Highest Hundred” defined
5:10 – Significance of highest hundred
7:20 – Background of Justin’s self-powered adventures
9:20 – When Justin started seriously riding bikes
10:00 – Growing up in Connecticut
10:45 – His decision to move West
11:50 – Skateboarding and skateboarding advocacy
12:50 – Beginning cycling
14:15 – Pacific Coast bike tour
15:50 – Tour Divide
18:30 – Epic snowfall on the Tour Divide course
20:45 – Justin’s approach to hardcore adventure
21:45 – Positivity versus negativity in ultra-endurance
23:15 – Strategies for overcoming fatigue
24:45 – How he decides when he does need to stop
25:30 – Other techniques for keeping a positive mindset
26:00 – Justin’s ability to invent his own rules and challenges
27:00 – “Everesting” Green Mountain
29:30 – Enjoyment of truly knowing a place
31:30 – Justin’s approach to creating art
32:50 – The hard work involved in athletics and art
35:35 – How much art is a part of Justin’s life currently
36:35 – How adventures changes people
39:00 – Heroes and mentors
42:00 – Overarching goal of sharing these adventures with the public
43:45 – Favorite Books
45:00 – Favorite films
46:50 – Surprising activities
48:40 – Best advice he’s ever received
53:00 – Enlightenment through endurance
56:00 – Most powerful outdoor experience
58:50 – Favorite location in the West
1:01:00 – Justin’s request of the listeners
1:02:00 – Connect with Justin online and follow the adventure!

Bryan Martin

Bryan Martin and Elizabeth Williams work at Big City Mountaineers, a Colorado-based nonprofit that transforms the lives of underserved youth through wilderness mentoring expeditions. Through partnerships with community youth programs around the United States, Big City Mountaineers exposes close to 1,000 youth per year to outdoor adventures in some of our country’s most spectacular public lands. Not only do these young people learn outdoor skills, but more importantly, they learn critical life skills while also improving their self-confidence, communication skills, and leadership abilities.

Elizabeth Williams

Prior to assuming his role as executive director at BCM, Bryan enjoyed great success with a wide variety of conservation and outdoor-related organizations including the Nature Conservancy, Continental Divide Trail Alliance, Colorado Mountain Club, and the Land Trust Alliance. Elizabeth was a teacher in India and Nepal before joining BCM as a marketing intern—10 years and a lot of hard work later, she has risen through the ranks and is now the Director of Programs. Bryan and Elizabeth share a deep enthusiasm for the outdoors and a belief that outdoor experiences can be transformative. Their passion for the work and BCM’s mission is palpable, so I know you’ll enjoy getting to know them.

I met Bryan and Elizabeth at the BCM offices in the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, Colorado, where we discussed BCM’s mission, the details of their wilderness expeditions, and why outdoor adventures can be such life-changing experiences. We chat about Bryan and Elizabeth’s professional backgrounds and learn what drew them to careers centered around the outdoors and service. They also tell a heart-warming success story in which a student overcomes her initial fears to thrive on a weeklong wilderness trip.

Thanks to Bryan and Elizabeth for taking the time to chat. Hope you enjoy!

 


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

3:30 – Details of Elizabeth and Bryan’s roles at BCM
5:00 – Building teamwork through outdoor experiences
7:45 – Details of the wilderness expeditions
9:10 – Areas in which BCM operates
10:00 – Teaching students with no outdoor experience about wilderness travel
14:00 – BCM’s focus on personal development and critical life skills
15:50 – Ensuring the lessons stick when the students return home
17:00 – How BCM measures success
20:00 – Evolution of BCM’s measurements of success
22:45 – How BCM selects its mentors
25:00 – Areas where the expeditions take place
26:45 – Thoughts on public lands
29:00 – Elizabeth and Bryan’s personal backgrounds
34:30 – Bryan’s biggest surprise since becoming BCM’s E.D.
36:30 – Overarching lessons learned from their careers
40:40 – “Summit for Someone” program
44:45 – A recent BCM success story
49:00 – Favorite books
52:50 – Favorite documentaries
53:50 – Craziest/most powerful outdoor experiences
59:10 – Request of the listeners
1:00:40 – Connect with BCM online

John Dunaway – The Life and Times of a Merchant Mariner

John Dunaway – Life and Times of a Merchant Mariner


John Dunaway at sea

John Dunaway is a Texas-based merchant mariner who spends six months each year traveling the world as the captain of large cargo ships. Whether cruising the calm, warm waters of Central America or avoiding Somali pirates off the coast of Africa, John’s goal is the same: deliver the cargo efficiently while ensuring the safety of his crew—quite the responsibility for a 32-year-old. When not at sea, John is an avid bird hunter, surfer, and all-around adventurer who uses his downtime to explore everywhere from Jackson Hole to Canyonlands to Antelope Island with his wife and young daughter. Thanks to a talent for photography and writing, John has gained a huge following on Instagram, where he documents his exploits on his account, AbstractConformity.

So you might be asking, what does a ship captain have to do with mountains and/or prairies? Although John may spend most of his time on the high seas, far away from the American West, you’ll notice that his optimistic perspective, focused sense of purpose, and thirst for adventure parallel the attitudes and outlooks of many of my previous podcast guests. Also like other guests, he is well read, a deep thinker, and has a genuine conservation ethic thanks to his close connection to the natural world. Although the objects of our affections may be different, our underlying values and priorities are surprisingly similar.

After almost a year of recording this podcast, I was excited to switch it up a little with this in-depth conversation with John about a subject that was fairly new to me. We start by covering the basics of his job—how one becomes a ship captain, particulars on the size of the ships, and details of day-to-day life on a 90-day ocean voyage. Then we dig deeper into some of his thoughts on leadership, his rituals and superstitions, how fatherhood has changed his outlook, and how he manages the pressure that comes along with being responsible for a massive ship, his crew, and the cargo. He also tells a few crazy stories from Africa and India, and he shares some insights from his recent trips around the American West. As usual, we discuss favorite books, films, and thoughts on conservation.

I found this to be a fascinating conversation, and I’d love to hear what you think. If you have a moment, please shoot me an email and let me know your thoughts. As always, thanks for taking the time to listen; hope you enjoy.

Photos courtesy of John Dunaway


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

3:00 – How John describes his work
4:20 – Details on the ships
5:40 – Length of the typical ocean voyage
8:35 – How John became a ship captain
10:25 – A typical day on an ocean voyage
12:40 – John’s morning routine
19:00 – Superstitions on the ship
21:00 – Details on the crew and boat
22:15 – How John leads his crew
25:20 – Comparing leadership methods of old-timers and younger captains
27:20 – Ernest Shackleton
28:40 – Common misconceptions
30:35 – Most dangerous areas John has visited
31:00 – Adventures with Somali pirates
33:50 – Robberies at port
36:15 – Getting a gun shoved in his chest in Mumbai
38:40 – John’s early years in Brazil and Texas
39:10 – Family ties to ships and the ocean
41:00 – John’s decision to pursue ships as a career
41:55 – John’s advice to young students at the Merchant Marine Academy
43:45 – How fatherhood has changed his perspective
49:30 – How John became a well-known photographer
54:45 – Background on John’s ability as a writer
58:00 – John’s recent adventures in the American West
1:03:30 – What was most striking about the American West
1:07:30 – Favorite books
1:10:15 – Favorite documentaries
1:11:00 – Best piece of advice he’s ever received
1:12:30 – Biggest challenge facing the oceans today
1:15:00 – John’s request to the listeners
1:15:40 – Connect with John online

Bernice Ende

Bernice Ende is a horsewoman and adventurer who has ridden over 28,000 miles on horseback throughout the United States. Back in 2005, without any significant experience in long riding, Bernice set out by herself from her home in Trego, Montana and headed south—2,000 miles south, all the way to the Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the following years, her rides became more and more ambitious, and her most recent trip stretched 8,000 miles from Montana to the coast of Maine and back, a journey that took over two and a half years to complete!

I was surprised to learn that Bernice is relatively new to long riding and never had life-long dreams of making long riding a full-time vocation. She grew up on a Minnesota dairy farm and spent the majority of her adult life teaching ballet in cities such as San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Seattle. In 1992 she moved to Trego, Montana and opened a ballet school in a historic community hall building. After a decade of teaching there in Trego, she made the decision to take her first long ride. Since then, her story has been featured in numerous magazines, newspapers, and even on the Today Show. More importantly, her rides have inspired people of all ages to follow their dreams and pursue lives of adventure.

Bernice is extremely gifted at telling her her life story, so we had a fun and in-depth conversation. We discussed her background and the decisions that led her to strike out on her own on her first long ride. We talked about the mental challenges of pursuing such ambitious adventures and how she manages the emotional ups and downs of years on the road. She breaks down the specifics of her long rides—how far she rides each day, what she eats, where she sleeps, and all the other details. She also shares some heartwarming stories of people she has met on her rides—stories that will restore your faith in humanity in the midst of our current volatile political climate.

Thank you again to Bernice for taking the time to chat. I hope you enjoy!

Photos courtesy of Bernice Ende


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

2:35 – How Bernice describes her work
3:45 – “Long ride” defined
4:15 – Quick summary of all the rides
4:40 – Bernice’s background and family
5:40 – Bernice’s mother and her influence
6:45 – Her attraction to horses
9:00 – Career in ballet
11:50 – Bernice’s family history in Montana
14:30 – The genesis of the idea for her first long ride
17:50 – How Bernice learned to Long Ride with no experience
19:40 – How to manage the highs and lows of long rides
22:20 – The transition from the life of a teacher to a long rider
25:00 – The technical details of long riding
28:30 – Heartwarming encounters with kind people
33:00 – Details of the most recent 8,000-mile journey
37:00 – Inspiring women of all ages through her journeys
39:15 – How Bernice has changed since becoming a long rider
42:30 – How Bernice defines conservation
44:45 – The importance of public lands
46:45 – Favorite books
48:30 – Unexpected hobbies
49:30 – A memorable event in the outdoors
50:50 – Biggest challenge and opportunity facing the West
54:00 – Words of wisdom
54:30 – Connect with Bernice online
55:10 – Bernice’s next adventure!

Mike Reilly (Photo: Chris Douglas)

Mike Reilly is the Veterans Program Coordinator at Heroes and Horses, a Montana-based nonprofit that uses expedition-style horse pack trips through wild landscapes to help veterans overcome the challenges of life after the military. Prior to his work with Heroes and Horses, Mike was a Navy SEAL and served as a member of SEAL Team 1 in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. As he was transitioning out of the military, he heard about Heroes and Horses and signed on as a student. The program offered a perfect blend of service, teaching, helping others, and adventure that spoke to Mike’s strengths and interests; after completing the program, he was hired as a full-time member of the team.

Heroes and Horses is not a vacation. It’s a rigorous and hardcore three-phase process that takes veterans with no prior horseback experience and, in the course of a summer, turns them into expert horsemen and wilderness travelers. Through the hard work and focus required to make it through the program, veterans are able to forge lasting bonds and discover a renewed sense of purpose—which gives them the skills and confidence to thrive in the civilian life as they begin their post-military lives. Amazingly, this program is offered at no cost to veterans.

Mike hard at work (Photo: Chris Douglas)

Mike was nice enough to take a break from a morning of training wild mustangs to chat with me about the program and his personal story. We discussed how he initially connected with Heroes and Horses and how it helped him through some of the challenges of post-deployment life. Mike explained the organization’s upcoming 500 Miles Project, in which they are training horses from the BLM’s Wild Mustang Program and planning to take them on a 500-mile ride later this summer. He also talks about his military career, and how a collegiate baseball injury was the catalyst that led him to pursue his dream of becoming a SEAL.

Mike is a humble guy with a deeply ingrained passion for serving and helping others, so I know you’ll enjoy this episode. I encourage you to check out the Heroes and Horses website, visit their GoFundMe page, and consider supporting their important work.

 

Photos courtesy of Chris Douglas


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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed

3:20 – How Mike describes his work
4:00- Heroes and Horses explained
7:45 – Importance of the bond between the veterans and horses
9:10 – Why H&H so effective compared to “traditional” PTSD therapy
11:15 – The circumstances that led Mike to H&H
13:30 – Why Mike chose H&H over traditional channels of help
15:25 – Mike reaches out to H&H founder and E.D. Micah Fink
16:00 – Personal powerful moment during Mike’s student stint at H&H
18:30 – Mike’s attraction to the military
20:00 – From enlisting to trying out for the SEAL teams
22:40 – Why teaching suits Mike’s personality
24:00 – Personal mentors and heroes
25:00 – Importance of purpose and community
27:55 – Ensuring that H&H lessons stick when the students return to “real life”
31:00 – Success stories from H&H
32:35 – Val from Unbranded
33:55 – The 500 Miles Project
36:30 – The BLM’s Wild Mustang Program
39:35 – Training wild horses
42:25 – How Mike defines the word “conservation”
45:40 – Favorite books
46:55 – Favorite movies
49:10 – Favorite place in the West
50:50 – Mike’s request of the listeners