Rendezvous Ranch: Developing an equine ranch where the pavement ends and the foothills start up in earnest
By Susan Lagsdin
Chris Jonason doesn’t mince words, and she doesn’t waste time.
She’s pretty much known what she wanted to do and where she wanted to be for most of her 57 years. Now she’s settled into Rendezvous Ranch, tucked into the hillside about five miles up Nahahum Canyon Road out of Cashmere where the paved road ends and the foothills start up in earnest. She’s spent the last four years developing the ranch into a multi-faceted equine facility.
Watching Chris with five adult students in one late-winter clinic on barefoot hoof trimming was a microcosmic glimpse into her whole instructional career, which has encompassed both fast water (rafting and kayaking) and problematic horses (training and treatment). Safety is important. In this exemplary workshop, it meant knowing where to stand, how to hold the hoof and gauge the horse’s tolerances.
Classroom procedure makes a difference, whether it’s at the river’s edge or in a chilly barn. The several horses trimmed in this lesson were all lined up; handlers led them in and out again, tools were at ready, students reiterated what they’d learned, Chris previewed the next morning’s lesson.
And communication matters most of all. Simple descriptions of the process and then classic open-ended questions: “And we rasp as far down as….?” “The problem was in which corner of the sole…?” elicited quick responses from her students, but Chris kept her horses alert, too.
One gelding stubbornly clamped his foot away from her and pranced. “Hey, now… QUIT.” She said it not sternly but clearly. No fuss, no swatting. He quit. She explained later, “It’s intention. Not just voice and words.”
Chris’ life has spanned several iterations in careers and trends. As a nine-year-old, she rode Sugar all over her uncle’s Ellensburg cattle ranch, by 12 she was caring for her own and her neighbor’s horses, and from age 13 to 15 with a Redmond outfitter she trained draft colts, drove a wagon team, and lead pack strings.
Her teen years were spent learning the trade(s) with a river rafting and mountain packing outfit in the small Washington town of Index — it was first a seasonal job, then a company she bought and developed over 28 years. That venture grew to include Wave Trek Rescue and its emphasis on rescue from dire situations of both horses and humans. She became a certified instructor-trainer for Rescue 3 International, wrote curriculum and worked as a consultant to other rescue institutions.
Chris’ own love of challenging water has lead her to rivers, streams and ocean surf all over the world and a few prestigious kayaking awards, but she freely admits, “Going down those Level 4-5 rivers doesn’t hold the same appeal it once did — I like warmer water these days.” Her husband of two years, Ned Sickels (who she’d met rafting as a teen and became reacquainted with more recently) continues to enjoy the area’s extreme kayaking as well as ski racing.
So, when rope and river rescue work, raft trips and mountain packing, wild water adventures and horse training become… well, everyday run-of-the-mill jobs, what’s a girl to do?
This girl, after becoming certified at 18, was a farrier of the standard metal-nailed-to-the-hoof persuasion for 20 years. But in 2002, when a mustang she’d bought and shoed was having foot problems, she made a sharp turn in her work and embraced “barefoot” trimming. That was the beginning of a new professional life.
After taking dozens of clinics and trimming hundreds of horses, she started Holistic Horse Services and currently serves over 100 clients. The focus is on eschewing metal shoes and instead maintaining and rehabilitating hooves that are basically left bare and adjust to the ground as those of horses in the wild have done for eons.
Recently the whole geography of her life changed from west side to east side. In their middle age, Chris’s parents in Redmond had finally become horseback riders, and she told of this ride just a few years ago with her dad: “He was 72. It was a beautiful trip from Index up to the Pacific Crest Trail — we had a great time, and there was no way I could know this would be our last ride together…”
With both of her parents gone, she lost the main reason to stay near Redmond. She also realized she was truly tired of gray skies, rain and mud and so looked for horse property to buy in north central Washington.
Cle Elum, the Teanaway Valley and Ellensburg caught her interest. But she kept thinking back to the 80-acre Nahahum Canyon place she’d seen earlier, and in May of 2013 Chris moved to Cashmere and her perfect horsekeeping spot.
“There was so much land up beyond the place for riding! And it was a perfect part of the state; I knew I could have the horse programs I wanted here.”
The arena, round-pen and outbuildings like horse barns and guest accommodations are clustered nearer the driveway, and Chris’ house is distinctly separate. “Oh, it’s 1,000 feet up the hill, way up there, so there’s plenty of privacy when we need it. But,” she said, “All summer long, from dawn to dusk, I’m usually down here with the horses.”
Nahahum Canyon offers miles of view-grabbing horse trails on Forest Service roads and trails, and the naturally-occurring rock formations and gullies on the property allow another focus in horsemanship: mountain trail riding. Chris is a certified trainer and has re-constructed a complete obstacle course (with bridges, logs, boxes, logs and a see-saw) on her property for classes in that discipline.
With a small professional staff and well-trained horses, Rendezvous Ranch is ready to roll when spring turns to summer, with short courses beyond trail and barefoot trimming that range from packing clinics to dressage to basic equitation. “Basically, we know a lot of our clientele will be women over 40 who want to ride safe and sane. They’re either coming back to horses after years away or starting out fresh.”
Chris knows what horse-lovers want, and she’s equally earnest about the care and nurturing of horses themselves. Captured in her memory (and happily, on video) is a great scene from this weekend’s trimming clinic.
A pony was unable to walk naturally for almost a year because his hoofs, tender and painful, had been deformed into long upward curves at the toe. The day before, Chris had performed a therapeutic trimming on him as a class demonstration.
Minutes after the lesson, he was slowly walking away down the lane. In a scene that makes the sometimes difficult work of horse care all worth it — and bringing smiles and a few tears from the class — the pony was so delighted with his reconstructed feet that he elected to trot a bit, feet aligned and hitting the ground in a glorious 1-2-3-4 cadence.
You can learn a lot more about the ranch and its clinics at