FAIRBANKS - Run-A-Muck Ranch isn't just horse play for Trisha Kiefer-Reed, it's life.
Brought to Alaska by love, the riding instructor and horse trainer has spent the last year building her home and ranch in Two Rivers.
"I have two goals for Run-A-Muck," Kiefer-Reed said. "One, it's my home. I want it to be a sanctuary with privacy. I want my husband and I to feel like we can't wait to get home. Two, I want it to be a positive environment for riders to feel free to learn and explore."
Until July 2007, Kiefer-Reed was living and working in Colorado. That was also around the time when she and her beloved horse, Remi, were starting to qualify for international eventing competitions.
Eventing is a horse competition known as the triathlon of horses. There are three components. The first is dressage, where a rider demonstrates harmony and control of his or her horse by putting the horse through a series of different gaits. There is also cross-country, where rider and horse must complete an obstacle course composed of large, solid barriers, hearty gates and water or blind landings. The third component is show jumping.
Kiefer-Reed's partner for the eventing competitions is Remi, a 10-year-old Oldenburg that she imported to the U.S. When she made the move to Alaska, Remi was the only one of Kiefer-Reed's 10 horses that she decided to keep.
"In the equine world, he's my soul mate," Kiefer-Reed said.
Outside of the stable, Kiefer-Reed said her soul mate is her husband, Don Reed.
"He's my soul mate. He swept me off of my feet," she said. "I told him I would go the end of the Earth for him, and coming here, I almost did."
After a lengthy long-distance courtship, the two married last summer at F.E. Gold Camp in Chatanika in a Civil War era-themed wedding. Don, a retired Army officer, said he always wanted military elements at his wedding, such as an arch of swords. Trisha said when Don described the idea to her she replied, "That's amazing. We can make it happen."
So Don got his arch of swords - and more. The ceremony ended with a cannon blast. Trisha said the Gold Camp literally rolled out a red carpet for their nuptials, and people just passing through the establishment came up to her to tell her it was one of the most beautiful ceremonies they had ever seen.
Trisha credits all of the work and progress of Run-A-Muck to the support her husband has for her dream. The couple hand-cleared a portion of their 15-acre property for a ring so Trisha could teach lessons. They also added a three-stall barn and are working on completing an office and tack room.
Don said he works on the property for a couple hours after work each day and on weekends. Trisha also helps when she isn't busy teaching or taking care of her horses.
Trisha said horses have always been in her life. Her first word was "horse," and there are pictures of her as an infant in her grandparents' arms, while they rode horses.
Originally from Rapid City, S.D., Trisha was once the barrel-riding champion of South Dakota.
She started riding western style, but her lifelong quest led her to learn the English style of horse riding. Her quests also have brought her under the tutelage of master trainers and even to the doorsteps of Pan Am- and Olympic-level riders to learn more about the animals.
She rounded out her education by earning a bachelor's degree in equine sciences from Colorado State University, one of the top facilities in the study of equine reproduction. At CSU, Trisha said she covered many aspects of horses, including anatomy and physiology. She also was required to learn the history of the animal and animal husbandry.
Trisha had to apply all of her horse knowledge to work with horses in the extremely cold temperatures of Interior Alaska. She had to find a way to work out the horses without them breaking a sweat or breathing hard to keep the horses healthy, so she often rode her horses bareback around her property. She also had to monitor the horses' dietary systems to make sure they ate and drank enough, as horses can stop drinking if water is too cold.
"It's been humbling. It's been good for me," she said.
But she also has to pay attention to the mental health of her animals. She always makes sure there are a variety of toys to keep her horses stimulated. She said horses can become destructive if they get bored. She also wants to keep her horses well-socialized.
"I think every horse needs another horse or pony, you know - a pal," Trisha said.
Don said outside of the ranch, his wife has been a pal to young military wives.
"She's become like a surrogate big sister to them," Don said.
Trisha said the effort to befriend and support the military families was an easy one for her. She came from a patriotic background, and with Don having retired from the Army, her heart just went out to the women.
"I just wanted to let them know they're appreciated for their sacrifice as well," she said.
Someone who deeply appreciates Trisha is Don.
He said he was introduced to Trisha by her father, who thought their personalities would make a good match. His first impression of her was that she had great communication skills combined with a positive attitude. Don says the fact that she is "drop-dead gorgeous is the icing on the cake."
"She's awesome, dynamic, energetic, always positive and always uplifting," he said.
Trisha said she needs that positive energy for her work with horses, because the animals can pick up people's moods and feelings.
"You can't fake with horses," she said.
She said because 99 percent of accidents with horses are rider-caused, she strives to train responsible riders. Much of her enthusiasm for teaching comes from that one moment when a lesson or technique clicks with the rider. Trisha said the challenging part of being a teacher means trying to come up with alternative ways to convey information because people learn and respond in different ways.
"It turns my crank," Trisha said of the eureka moment.
Even with all the time she spends outdoors at work, Trisha said she and Don spend their downtime outside as well. Trisha is an avid downhill skiier. She also enjoys hiking, snow machining, river boating and watching plays.
"We're great outdoors people, whether it's playing or working outside," Trisha said.
Although the change from Colorado to Alaska was massive, Trisha said she always had an affinity for duct tape, so she knew she would be OK in Alaska. She also credits her husband's support for her horse passion as an important reason why she is happy with the move.
"I'm blessed, I'll tell you what," Trisha said.