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Bozeman nonprofit teaching primitive and life skills

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By Abbie Digel Big Sky Weekly Editor

MAERA (Montana Awareness Education Recreation
Association) is an idea that was 11 years in
the making, ever since Sasha Hyland rescued her
first horse.
Hyland was 19 when she found Kalida, just three
years old. Neglected and abused, pregnant, underweight,
and burned with hot rod irons, Kalida
responded to humans with fear and aggression.
“I was the only one that could get near her,” Hyland
said. Kalida was so unhealthy that when she
gave birth, the foal had to be put down four days
after it was born.
A horse’s brain is dictated by the limbic system,
Hyland explained. That means they can feel loss
and intense emotion, just like humans.
“It took Kalida awhile to get through the trauma,”
Hyland said. Now Kalida is Hyland’s closest
friend. She lays down next to Hyland when camping,
is a gentle mount for lessons and pack trips,
and is a therapy horse.
“She does everything. She re-learned to trust,
which most horses can do if given the opportunity.”
Hyland trains horses using natural horsemanship
techniques. Her specialty is dealing with severe
abuse and neglect, as well as wild horses.
After rescuing horses and for a decade, MAERA
expanded in March 2011. Its new educational
programming helps people develop a closer connection
to the Earth by teaching primitive and
survival skills, earth-based sciences, and giving
kids and adults hands on experience with the
Earth and animals.
The organization also has a healing component,
working with troubled youth and individuals in
need, and offers the use of its horses and staff for
wilderness and equine therapy.
While MAERA currently leases
60 acres in Bozeman and in Gallatin
Gateway, Hyland is working with the
Big Sky Community Corporation to
implement after school programming.
MAERA is open to working with new
businesses and individuals, and is
looking to expand to other communities,
as well.
With Hyland as executive director, the
group has volunteer board members,
part-time paid field instructors, and
contract horse trainers.
MAERA students range from homeschooled
to families looking for adventure.
Many locals who participate in
MAERA classes want to get into the
backcountry or learn to ride horses.
The curriculum includes survival essentials,
flint knapping, animal movement
and tracking, nature awareness,
bow making, primitive hunting and
traps, wild edible plants, knife throwing,
and brain tanning. Classes range
from one hour to multi-day backcountry
“Did you know there are over 25 ways
to make a fire by rubbing sticks together?” Hyland
asks. A typical class with MAERA is fun, and 90
percent of the activities are outside.
MAERA has room for 26 rescue horses and is looking
for additional space. It also houses goats for cheese
and soap making, and Santiago, a llama, watches over
the horse pastures.
The horses go through a minimum of 30-days of testing,
where Hyland learns their strengths and needs.
There, she decides if she’ll use them in MAERA programming
or how to find them the best home possible.
“The horses don’t just sit in a pasture. They get
used wherever they fit in, whether it’s horsemanship,
packing workshops, classes—each horse is
put in a role with something that they love to
do,” Hyland said.
Interacting with
animals creates
a natural bond,
she added. “It’s an
immense learning
Montana Awareness
Hyland aims to increase
her students’
personal awareness
and help them learn
what the Earth has
to offer.
“I love watching
connections being
made, like seeing an eight-year-old teach a 50-yearold
how to make a primitive fire.”
Hyland believes these skills are missing from our
culture, and we need to get kids away from video
games and computers.
Her broad skill set comes from both experience and
training. She spent years learning natural horsemanship
and studying primitive skills, and has
degrees in psychiatric nursing, wilderness therapy
and eco-psychology. She’s looking into doctorate
programs in outdoor experiential education.
Priority now for MAERA is finding a new facility
and office space that accommodate all of its
programs and house all of its horses. Bozeman,
Livingston, Three Forks and Big Sky are all potential
Hyland noted that MAERA’s classes start at around
$20, and part of the low cost is attributed to grant
money and donations. Both she and others believe
in this work:
“We want to keep the places we love safe,” Hyland
said. “If we can teach people to connect and create a
relationship with the Earth through amazing experiences
and skills, they will innately protect it.”
For an introduction to MAERA programming, attend
a monthly barbeque at one their locations. Contact
MAERA at (406) 551 4913, PO Box 6451, Bozeman,
MT 59771 or visit

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