Jill Rigler is not your average 17 year old.
She might enjoy The Office and spend time on Snapchat like other kids her age, but the proverbial “hundred pounds soaking wet” cow hand also gets called to day work on big outfits like Sunlight, raises and trains her own sale horses, and is making big moves to become a professional horse trainer.
According to Jill’s mother, Heather, she knew her daughter had a talent from the start. “It truly is her gift. It has been since she first climbed on a horse. She was four years old,” she says. In fact, Jill fell off and was stepped on one of her first times horseback, when her horse spooked at an elk calf in the grass. Her dad asked, “Are you going to get back on?” The answer was: yes.
The Rigler family owns a commercial Angus operation near Lodge Grass, Montana on Lower Rotten Grass Creek. Jill says that she “likes living in the middle of nowhere.” They have good neighbors, and most of all, Jill gets to ride horses every day.
Living so remotely influenced the family’s decision to homeschool their four children. For Jill, the third child, this means the freedom to help with spring and fall work at neighboring ranches, which might include brandings, preconditioning, pulling bulls, moving cows, preg checking, and shipping. Heather says her daughter would not have been able to be as involved with horses if she was traveling any distance for school.
The family moved to Lodge Grass from Gardiner, Montana twelve years ago. Ryan, Jill’s father, owned an outfitting business. When wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park, it depleted the elk herds and hunting, so the Riglers had to make a change.
Ryan fulfilled his wish of raising larger numbers of cattle after the move. Jill says that of all the people in the world, her dad is her biggest influence. He has inspired her to learn more about training a variety of horses. His level of motivation is also something she aspires to emulate. Right now, Jill’s preference is not necessarily with starting colts but rather putting the finishing touches on horses after her dad starts them. “Once they have the 30 days on them, I really like taking them and making them into something,” she says. Following this model, the father-daughter duo consigned a horse to the REAL Ranch Horse Invitational Sale in Billings last April.
However, Ryan wants Jill to be a well-rounded horsewoman, so he encourages her to take outside colts and start her own. “Getting them from nothing to something is pretty cool. It’s crazy how much time it takes,” she says. Each year, Jill and Ryan purchase three weanlings apiece. Jill buys them with the intent to sell one and keep two for her own use. She currently has three weanlings; a two-year-old; two three-year-olds; and seven finished horses shared with her younger brother and dad.
Jill has her sights set on building a good reputation as a horse trainer, with honesty at the core. “I want my word to mean something,” she says. She sold a roan colt to a man from Jackson Hole, who came up to her at a later sale and said, “I love your roan horse. Everything you told me about him was true.” He then tried buying a second horse from Jill in that sale. Additionally, a couple of neighbors were bidding on her sale horse on the same day–a testament to her reputation close to home.
This is Jill’s senior year of high school, and she is busy making plans for her future. Bypassing college, she is choosing instead to intern or train with one of several options to better her horsemanship, showing, and roping skills, all of which will suit her vision for a finished cow horse that can be used on the ranch or in the arena. Her heroes (besides her mom and dad) include: Joe Wolter, horsemanship clinician; Nick Dowers, National Reined Cow Horse Association Open Snaffle Bit Futurity Champion; Jaton Lord, clinician; Sarah Verhelst, professional breakaway roper; and Lari Dee Guy, Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Champion.
Jill says that spring brandings progress a colt the most, especially with the blend of head-and-heel and drag-to-the-fire style brandings in her area. “I like heading and heeling on a colt first, because everything is in front of them and you’re not really dragging anything unless you’re heading. It really helps them to look forward instead of behind them,” she says.
In these settings, she learns the codes of respect that accompany the western lifestyle: “When we’re at the neighbors I never try to run their show. If they ask me to do something, I’ll do it. Never cut in front of anybody, and don’t offer advice unless you’re asked,” she says.
A typical fall day for Jill might include an early morning helping the neighbors move cattle or precondition, helping her dad check water and their own cattle, and riding colts in the evening. She finishes her school work on the slower days, focusing mainly on business, finance, and writing classes to help her to be independent in the coming year.
Though she has not competed in the show ring or the rodeo arena extensively, she actively looks for opportunities to learn and grow. At the end of October, she plans to show in the Brannaman Pro-AM Vaquero Roping Stock Horse Classic. One of the weanlings she bought is nominated for the American Quarter Horse Ranching Heritage Challenges, giving her even more opportunities to compete in a few years. She plans to better her breakaway roping over the winter and log time with local trainers to hone her skills.
Heather says, “She likes to make her horses stop hard and she likes to rope,” so the transition into the cow horse and roping disciplines ought to be smooth. Though Jill does not “ride the papers” she recognizes the ease in selling a horse with quality bloodlines. She enjoys her current cow bred horses, descended from Boonlight Dancer (NRCHA World Champion Open Snaffle Bit Futurity), WR This Cats Smart (NCHA & NRCHA All-Time Leading Sire), and Sixes Pick (Versatility Ranch World Champion), and dreams of owning own offspring of Hashtags, Hickory Holly Time, and Spots Hot.
Grown men, like Brett Heggie, who regularly cowboy with Jill give her the greatest compliment in just a few words: “She’s a hand.”
Jill Rigler will be a horsewoman to watch in the coming years.