Profile of a primitive hunter, teacher

By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

Sasha Hyland was 19 when she rescued Kalida.

“Someone had burnt her with hot rod irons – she has those scars on her shoulder,” said Hyland, pictured on the cover of this magazine with Kalida. “At first, nobody could touch her. She had no flight response, just attack, and she’d literally run people down, teeth flaring, striking with her front legs.”

The horse was 3 years old when Hyland found her at the Shipshewana, Indiana slaughterhouse.

“There was something in her eyes,” Hyland said.

She had rescued another mare, Magic, at the same time, who was just as apprehensive of people. To get them used to her, Hyland would go into their pasture and read, and after a few weeks they approached her with curiosity.

“We started playing crazy games,” Hyland recalls. “I’d run after them, and then turn and book it out. Both mares would run after me and jump and kick, playing. I would hide behind trees, and then jump out, and they’d rear up and run away in play. It put me into the herd more than if I was just trying to catch them.”

After two months, Hyland was able to touch Kalida, give her treats and groom her. Within a few more weeks, she broke the horse bareback, and now, 13 years later, she’s gentle enough for children to ride.

A self-described “angsty, troubled kid,” Hyland perhaps needed Kalida equally as much.

Originally from Toronto, she started riding at age 4 and moved to Michigan at 8. “I didn’t really get along with kids my age, and I spent a lot of time outside. The only connections I had were with animals and the Earth.”

She recalls sitting on her parent’s deck at age 9, holding seed until birds would feed from her hand.

Now 32, Hyland founded the nonprofit Montana Awareness Education and Equine Rehabilitation Association, in 2010. Through MAERA, she rehabilitates horses, teaches archery, bowmaking and primitive skills classes. Classes are at her barn in Emigrant, and also in Big Sky, Belgrade and McLeod.

The horses she takes in are used for riding lessons, trail rides, pack trips, summer camp programs, horsemanship classes and therapy for troubled youth.

Hyland still has both mares, and Kalida is now her main backcountry horse. Since training her for mounted archery in 2006, Hyland has shot elk and deer from the saddle, both with her handmade bows (also pictured on the cover) and with a rifle.

You might say Kalida is a natural.

“Before I ever started shooting mounted archery, she loved running with deer in Michigan,” Hyland said.

While rifle hunting near the Ellison Ranch, in the West Boulder, Montana, last fall, Hyland dismounted on a side hill to scope a herd of elk. She shot one, and while she was field dressing it, Kalida took off running with the elk. Hyland had to walk three miles back to the ranch.

Hunting from horseback is a form of camouflage, Hyland said.

“The prey’s response to another prey [animal] is different than if I was stalking around, sending off my energy as a predator. Horses have the ability to displace, or mask, my predatory energy by covering it with their own prey curiosity.”

Like a horse trained to cut cows, a hunting horse learns the movement and behavior specific to game animals. Strategy is just as important as speed, Hyland says, explaining that she tries to anticipate which direction her game is going to split by knowing the lay of the land.

She compares it to driving, watching a hawk fly alongside the car.

“You see things while moving at the same speed of this other animal that you would never see standing and watching it. At first it was distracting, because I got lost in the beauty of what was happening around me.”

She doesn’t see hunting as a sport, and uses every part the animals – from the tendons to make cordage, to brain for tanning the hide.

“My favorite thing is the ability to get close, being connected with the Earth and seeing the beauty that surrounds.”