At Hill Country Equestrian Lodge, our horses truly are the stars that make your guest ranch horseback riding vacation an unforgettable experience. Individually chosen for their beauty, athleticism, and disposition, each member of our herd fulfills an indispensable role in our unmatched horseback riding program. From our most seasoned veterans, to our up-and-coming stars, each special horse contributes its unique blend of talent, training, and personality, to provide our guests truly interactive trail rides, (unlike that of a typical dude ranch), as well as lessons and clinics in disciplines as diverse as barrel racing, dressage,cattle sorting and team penning, and jumping!Many of them have done parades and have carried flags at rodeo grand entries, including Bandera ProRodeo PRCA events! Yes, we really do it all here, or should we say, our horses do it all!

Each member of our beautiful herd has a unique story and talents. We hope you’ll read on and enjoy getting to know Our Horses, Our Stars!

Nellie

This stunning, buckskin mare arrived at Hill Country Equestrian Lodge in 2012, a gift from Dianne’s close friend, Renita Massey. Nellie Finale was the last off-spring of the great Paint stallion, Oreo Van Tyke, and a granddaughter of the great Van Tyke. As her training progressed, it became apparent that she, too, would be talented in multiple disciplines. She developed a deep, Western stop, and a quick, flowing roll-back, excellent for working cattle. Yet, in a snaffle bit, she could also be ridden “on the bit”, for English styles of riding, very different from Western. She is a quiet, yet responsive mount for riders of all skill levels on the trail, and is an enthusiastic mount for intermediate to advanced students in both Western and English lessons, and in our Cattle Sorting and Team Penning Clinics. She barrel races, and has been an important part of our Guest Ranch Rodeo teams in 2015 and 16, and of the Women’s Ranch Rodeo Team, Desert Hearts Heartbreakers, in September 2019. She has been ridden in numerous parades, including the Western Heritage Parade in San Antonio, and has run fast flags for the Bandera ProRodeo over Memorial Day Weekend. Her full, flowing black mane and tail, her tall black stockings, muzzle, and inner ears, and her curious, child-like personality give Nellie a distinctive, endearing character.

Lola

Another of our beautiful bevy of mares, this lovely dark buckskin with the delicate face began to show her versatility and to make her own mark as a preferred mount of our riders soon after her arrival at Hill Country Equestrian Lodge in May of 2014. Registered as Dun It In Texas in AQHA, she is a great grand-daughter of the famous reining stallion Hollywood Dunn It, but also began to show her natural talent for hunter-style jumping soon after her arrival. Since then she has continued to carry intermediate to advanced riders, athletically and with style in both Western and English disciplines, including exuberant (yet safe) trail rides, hunter-jumper lessons, and even our Cattle Sorting and Team Penning Clinics here at the ranch. She has been ridden in numerous parades, including the Western Heritage Parade in San Antonio, and has run fast flags for the Bandera ProRodeo over Memorial Day Weekend. All this, AND she won 2nd out of 14 in her first ever Hunter-Jumper show in 2017.

Mardi

This gorgeous Thoroughbred mare came to Hill Country Equestrian Lodge, along with Sugar, from a neighbor’s ranch in February, 2018. Having had little riding or handling for several years, she quickly and steadily responded well to our training, attention, and nutrition. Although perfectly willing to go under a Western saddle, Mardi’s forte is clearly jumping, which she loves! Within just a few months after her arrival, Mardi was able to carry riders in two of our Whole Horsemanship Clinics with a focus on Intermediate Jumping. (The pictures of Mardi and Dianne jumping are from her first off-ranch cross country course, which she nailed, on Dec. 8, 2019 at Pine Hill, Texas!) In addition to her beauty and ability, Mardi has a willing attitude, and an absolutely lovely, affectionate personality. We are lucky to have her, and to be able to share her with others.

Sugar

This lovely bay Quarter horse mare, registered as JLC Sugar Tuna in AQHA, came to Hill Country Equestrian Lodge from a neighbor’s ranch with Mardi in February, 2018. Having had little riding or handling for several years, she quickly and steadily responded well to our training, attention, and nutrition. She now moves in a lovely, collected frame under both Western and English tack, and displays the willing and sensible attitude for which the Quarter Horse breed is known. She carries riders of all skill levels on the trail, and intermediate to advanced students in Western and English lessons. She moves in balance, has smooth transitions between walk, trot, and canter gaits, and has a deep, yet soft Western stop and roll-back. She barrel races, ropes, works cattle, and is a part of our Womens’ Ranch Rodeo teams, and has carried riders in the Western Heritage Parade in downtown San Antonio, Texas.

Grant

This noble and elegant, big bay gelding arrived at HCEL with Micah in June, 2021. Although his previous training had been primarily in Western disciplines, he soon showed his talent for jumping, as well. His calm and willing disposition make him a valuable and well-loved partner in our lessons and trail rides, Cattle Clinics and Whole Horsemanship Clinics and in our Girls’ Summer Camps. His large, athletic frame make him a big, powerful mover, whose trot is typically most easily ridden by posting, and whose cater is long and flowing. In her review, an October, 2023 Cattle Clinic participant, Teresa B. said, “She, (Dianne), placed me on Grant, and he was the perfect fit”. He also performed beautifully for Beckie Z. in our November Cattle Clinic. Likewise, he is the preferred and beloved mount of several of our repeat guests and campers.

Micah

This lovely Palomino Quarter Horse mare arrived at HCEL with Grant in June, 2021. Willing and sensitive, her petite and muscular build works beautifully in both Western disciplines and English flat work. She is a skilled heeling horse in team roping, and works in a collected frame with smooth transitions and gaits in both Western and English styles, in the arena, as well as on the trails.  Plus, as you can see, she is just simply gorgeous!

Bowie

This big, handsome Paint gelding arrived at HCEL in September, 2022. A wonderful mount for our larger riders, he is also agile enough to carry all types of riders in lessons and clinics. He recently demonstrated his talents, as Brenna W.’s and Michelle P.’s proud and able mount in our two Fall 2023 Cattle Clinics! Willing and affectionate, his athleticism continues to increase with each day at HCEL! And how'd he get his name? His eyes are two different colors- like David Bowie!

Flower

This lovely bay Quarter Horse mare came to HCEL through our friend Zoe Wallis in August 2021. With good nutrition and our consistent training, she has gained condition, confidence, and athleticism, and has become a valued part of both our Western and English riding activities at HCEL . Her quiet, smooth gaits are a comfort to her riders, and her kind, gentle demeanor endears her to staff and guests alike. Her gleaming bay coat is accentuated by her long, flowing forelock, mane, and tail, giving her a mustang-like appearance, while the tiny, petal-like marking on her forehead reminds us that she is, nevertheless, gentle as a flower!

Scout

This adorable Paint gelding arrived at HCEL in July, 2022. Though he had limited training when Dianne first saw him, she saw his willing attitude and his affectionate personality, as well as his balanced conformation and recognized his potential as an able equine partner in the ranch’s horsemanship and riding program. Plus, he was just so darn cute! Through HCEL’s consistent training he continues to develop and become an essential part of our Western trail rides, lessons, and clinics.
Watch him sort cows in our November, 2022 Cattle Clinic!

Schöne

This gorgeous palomino mare came to live at HCEL in September of 2020. Her lovely, refined head, coupled with her strong, prominent musculature reflect her beautiful blending of the Arab and Quarter Horse breeds. Sensitive, and spirited, she is a wonderful mount for our intermediate and advanced riders in activities as diverse as cattle work and jumping. Schöne is happiest when she has a specific job, and under the quiet and patient tutelage of our equestrian assistant, Skyla, she has recently shown her aptitude for and enjoyment of Barrel Racing. We look forward to her continued development in this and her other favorite other equestrian sports.

Jack

Our beautiful, tall, black gelding, Black Jack Bargain has carried riders of all skill levels on our active trail rides, as well as in both Western and English lessons and Cattle Sorting and Team Penning Clinics here at Hill Country Equestrian Lodge since his arrival in 2003. He has carried riders, and their flags, in numerous parades, including the Western Heritage parade in San Antonio, and has carried the Bandera ProRodeo flag in its grand entry over all 3 nights of Memorial Day Weekend. He was the hide-pulling horse for Team Girl Power in the 2012 Guest Ranch Rodeo in Bandera, helping us to win our third Championship Title. He was Dianne’s first eventing horse, (they learned together), until an unrelated injury in 2011 prohibited him from jumping any longer. As the senior statesman of our herd, Jack is mostly retired now, but he occasionally still proudly caries a rider in a parade, in a rodeo grand entry, or on a quiet trail ride.

Quick

Aptly named for his athletic character, this handsome, stout gelding belongs to Kassie Hunt, Dianne and Peter’s niece and able equestrian assistant.
Having arrived at HCEL in June of 2021, (with Grant and Micah), he was well- started in ranch work, and rodeo events. He was Kassies’ primary mount for Ranch Rodeo competitions, until he sustained an injury in early 2022. With veterinary treatment and Kassies’s incremental rehabilitation, he is regaining his conditioning and going forward with his training. He has responded well to the consistent attention that he has received, and we expect to see him out on the trails, and in the rodeo arena with Kassie aboard, up to and beyond his former skill level and performance, within the next few months.

We’re looking forward to seeing Quick and Kassie on the trails at HCEL and in the rodeo arena again in the months ahead!

Slingshot

This beautiful, athletic grey mare belongs to our equestrian assistant, Skyla Yates. Soon after Skyla’s arrival in September 2022, Slingshot arrived at HCEL from California, the week of Thanksgiving.

Slingshot is Skyla’s highly skilled 4-D barrel racing horse. The pair recently placed 2nd and 7th out of 1548 runs, with a time of 15.923 seconds at THE TEXAS barrel race, Oct. 20-22, 2023 in Abilene, Texas!

What is just as impressive, is that Slingshot is as skilled sorting cattle, riding in a grand entry, or guiding a trail ride, as she is barrel racing. Skyla’s quiet, technically correct way of riding and training keeps Slingshot thinking, calm, and confident.

While Skyla is Slingshot’s primary rider, she does sometimes teach advanced barrel racing lessons on Slingshot to a few lucky, advanced riders.

We’re proud to have Slingshot and Skyla as members of our HCEL team!

Chico

This handsome grey gelding belongs to our equestrian assistant, Megan Ansaldo, and helps us out from time to when we ask him to!

Before becoming a staff member at HCEL, Megan observed Chico at a different location, and recognized that, as a senior horse with special needs, he needed special nutrition, therapy, and care. She adopted him, and with diligent care and training, he has become a willing and capable equine partner in both English and Western disciplines. Chico’s work load is carefully monitored and the weight of his riders is limited appropriately to maintain his health and well-being. This said, he now enjoys his work, and his able performance, in activities ranging from cattle work to jumping with lighter riders, belies his 20 years of life on this earth!

In Memorium

Early 2020 through mid 2023 have seen many changes within our loyal and brilliant Hill Country Equestrian Lodge herd. Here, we pay tribute to some of our equine family members who established our excellent horsemanship and riding program, and who lead the way for others to continue it.

Although they are now beyond our reach, we will forever see their graceful silhouettes, peacefully grazing our pastures… their flowing manes and tails as they gallop across our meadows in play. We’ll hear their hoof beats along our trails, and their soft knickers in the barn, saying, “Don’t forget me, I’m waiting right here for you!” No worries, my friends…you’ll be forever remembered by all who knew you.

Fancy

This beautiful, athletic sorrel mare served us and our guests with exceptional style and grace from 2008 to March 2020.

Fancy exemplified the amazing versatility and willing disposition of the Quarter Horse breed. She carried riders of all skill levels on trail rides, in our Cattle Sorting and Team Penning Clinics, through dressage skills through training level 3, and over jump courses up to 2’6” here at Hill Country Equestrian Lodge. She was ridden in numerous parades, including the Western Heritage Parade in downtown San Antonio, Texas, ran fast flags at the Bandera ProRodeo over Memorial Day Weekend, and was an indispensible member of our 5-time Champion Team Girl Power Guest Ranch Rodeo team. Her beauty and consistently excellent performance in all of these disciplines made her a beloved mount of many guests, and a treasured member of our animal family at HCEL. We will never forget her 3 white and one roan stockings, her flowing, flaxen mane and tail, and most of all, her unfailing ability and willingness to connect with and perform for her rider.

Molly

Molly Minnick, Dianne’s iconic bareback, bridleless reining mare, arrived at Hill Country Equestrian Lodge, with Dianne and Peter in their move from Dallas in April of 1999. She served Dianne, her family, and our HCEL guests unfailingly through 2020 and enjoyed a life of retirement at HCEL until we said good-bye to each other in September of 2022.

Dianne considers it an act of providence that Molly ever came to be her once-in-a-lifetime horse. Having trained Molly for her previous owner, Dianne showed Molly for him in a reining prospect auction at Southfork Ranch, on Nov. 24, (Dianne’s birthday), 1997. A severe sleet storm blew in that day, and few serious buyers showed up. Molly’s owner passed her out of the auction unsold, then offered her for sale to Dianne the following week. She immediately agreed, purchased her the next day, and has never looked back.

Dianne showed Molly in NRHA and open shows to some success, but her true brilliance and versatility as a performance horse was yet to come. After the ranch opened for guests in March of 2000, Molly’s ability to adapt to different skill levels of riders was extraordinary; quick and powerful with a skilled rider, quiet and methodical with those less-skilled, and all with the smoothest of gaits. Molly’s “cowy-ness” and her quick, yet smooth maneuvers made her the perfect Cattle Sorting and Team Penning horse- even without a bridle!

When Dianne and Molly began to do bareback, bridleless reining demonstrations at speed to music, their reputation in the area became legendary. “People would come up to us at parades, rodeos, and public events, calling out excitedly, “Molly!! Can we pet her, please?” Dianne recalls.“They might not remember my name, but they remembered the important one- Molly!” Of course, they were always welcome to pet the lovely, docile grey mare.

Molly will forever remain in the hearts of all who knew her.

Smoky

Smoky, registered as Relentless Jack in APHA, first arrived with our first full-time equestrian assistant, Desiree Winklepleck, in 2001. He faithfully served us and our guests through Fall of 2022, and was retired here until he went on to greener pastures in early October, 2023.

Even as a young horse, his quiet attitude and exceptionally smooth gaits made him a great asset to our riding program. Over the years, he was an exceptional mount for both Western and English lessons, our Cattle Sorting and Team Penning Clinics, our Whole horsemanship Clinics, and of course, our interactive trail rides. His distinctive grulla coloring, and his long, elegant lines make him an eye-catching mount for riders of all skill levels. Smoky has been ridden in numerous parades and rodeo grand entries, including carrying Miss Rodeo Texas in the Bandera ProRodeo Grand Entry on May 19, 2019.

Smoky’s memory will remain with us long after his hoofbeats are heard crossing our pastures.

Lillie

Lillie, our precious Appaloosa-cross mare came to us in 2013. She served us and our guests unfailingly through December of 2021.

A former rescue with little care and training, she soon blossomed into an agile and willing mount, and a favorite of our smaller riders. At 14 hands 3 inches, she carried her petite frame with plenty of elegance and energy. In addition to carrying riders of all skill levels on the trail, she barrel raced, worked cattle in our Cattle Sorting and Team Penning Clinics, and jumped! She has also carried riders and their flags in the Bandera ProRodeo Grand Entry over Memorial Day Weekend, 2019. Lillie’s kind, attentive demeanor on the ground offered reassurance to even the most timid first-time horse handlers. In Lillie’s case, great things certainly came in a small, elegant package.

She will be forever missed at HCEL.

Belle

We purchased Belle in 2015, in part to better accommodate some of our heavier riders. She served us and our guests faithfully through Fall of 2020.

Before her arrival, Dianne was concerned that some people wouldn’t want to ride her, because of her distinctive appearance, and her larger-than-Quarter-Horse size. She needn’t have worried! With her bouffant mane, forelock, and tail, and her enthusiastic “can-do” attitude, Belle quickly developed her own following. Children remarked that she looked like the fairytale horse, Philippe, in Beauty and the Beast. Adults loved her big, unapologetic presence.

She often preferred to be with people rather than other horses, and graced her riders with visits to their cabins before and after rides, hanging her big, beautiful head across their porches to beg for affection. Belle gave wonderful trail rides and lessons to riders of all skill levels and sizes, and even worked in our Cattle Sorting and Team Penning Clinics! Usually ridden in Western tack, she also looked adorable in an English saddle and bridle. She also carried riders proudly in parades, and carried a flag in the grand entry at the 2019 Bandera ProRodeo.

Her big, beautiful presence will be forever remembered at HCEL and beyond.

Socks

Socks was one of the two horses, (Molly being the other), which Dianne and Peter brought with them in April of 1999 in their move from Dallas to Hill Country Equestrian Lodge. Having lived a long and full life, he said good-bye to us in September, 2022.

Socks had been Dianne’s all-around show horse, and had won high-point awards in Trail, English Equitation, Showmanship at Halter, and Western Novice Horse, in the Ellis County Equine Association show series in 1998. He also placed and won prize money in his first-ever NRHA reining competition that year.

Once Socks adapted to carrying riders other than Dianne at the ranch, he became an important part of our intermediate and advanced lessons in both Western and English disciplines. He was also a sensitive and reliable mount for all skill levels of trail riders. (He especially liked to carry little girls.) Socks proudly represented Hill Country Equestrian Lodge in numerous parades, and was the able mount of many of our Cattle Sorting and Team penning participants over the years.

You may also recognize Socks’s expressive face and distinctive markings from the Tractor Supply commercials that Socks did with George Strait in 2001 and 2002.

Socks will be forever remembered as an extraordinary horse that played a great role in our ranch’s riding and horsemanship program. Dianne will remember him always as her graceful, handsome sorrel dream horse, perfectly chromed with his 4 white stockings and blaze.

Mandy

Our petite bay Quarter Horse mare, Mandy arrived at Hill Country Equestrian Lodge in 2003. She served us and our guests faithfully through 2020, and enjoyed a life of retirement until she crossed the rainbow bridge with her best friend, Molly, in September of 2022.

Mandy was a preferred and reliable mount for riders of all skill levels. A daughter of the champion Western Pleasure stallion, Dynamic Deluxe, her extremely smooth gaits made her an ideal mount for those learning to ride in both Western and English styles, and for Whole Horsemanship Clinic students, Cattle Sorting and Team Penning Clinic participants, and of course, trail riders. Her petite size and perfect proportions made her the preferred mount of many smaller women and children, especially those who were just learning to ride.

At age 28, Mandy was officially retired, although she occasionally donned a tiny saddle, and was lead quietly with a small, helmeted rider on her back, lovingly held in place by an adult, walking alongside.

Mandy’s soft hoof-beats will be forever heard in our memories, cantering in the arena, and trotting down the trails of Hill Country Equestrian Lodge.