By Alan Sorensen
iane McLean grew up on her family's working ranch about 20 miles northwest of Lewistown, between the south Moccasin and north Moccasin mountains. And for as long as she can remember, the daughter of Bernard and Bunny Gremaux has adored horses.
"I can't even remember when I didn't love them," McLean said. "I think that was my dad's fault, because he was my idol when I grew up."
"I read 'The Black Stallion,' 'My Friend Flicka' and 'National Velvet' numerous times, and every other book that was out there," she said. Needless to say, she galloped to the theater when "The Horse Whisperer" and "Seabiscuit" got to town.
In a recent Best of the Hi-Line poll, Havre Daily News readers picked McLean as the readership area's second-best horse person behind Ed Solomon, a longtime rancher south of Havre.
"Ed won, that's great. I didn't even know I was running," said McLean, the readers' top-ranked horsewoman. She was followed by Lloyd Billy of Rocky Boy in the fill-in-the-blank balloting.
McLean came by the honor honestly. She's been a farrier - horse shoer - since 1980, she's a horse trainer, she's taught riders, and she's the current overall national O-Mok-See champion in her division. She's president of the Hi-Line Saddle Club and immediate past president of the Hi-Line Barrel Racing Club and belongs to the Big Sandy Saddle Club. And she still enjoys being part of a working ranch when the opportunity arises.
"I still really enjoy rounding up bulls or chasing cows or helping brand or something like that, doing ranch work, and so I do help neighbors once in a while if I have time and it works out," she said. "When my mom sells her calves, I go down and help." McLean isn't just a horsewoman. She could very well be the model for Montana's version of the universal woman. She's a former school marm and is an expert downhill and cross country skier, 4-H leader, and the mother of three boys - Cody, 16, Tim, 14, and John, 12 - and all that entails.
In 1980 McLean earned an elementary education degree from Montana State University and went directly into teaching. "I started teaching in Browning, then I went to Malta to a country school, then I won a trip overseas - I was a 4-H exchange to Greece."
Diane, who had met Dick McLean of Havre at East Glacier while teaching at Browning, cut her exchange short to return to Montana and marry McLean in the fall of 1982 in Lewistown. The couple made their home in Havre and she resumed her teaching career.
A few years later, the couple decided that town life wasn't what they wanted.
"We just started looking for a place to buy out of town to keep horses and Dick kind of wanted to live out of town," she said.
They moved about 12 miles south of Havre at the northern edge of the Bear Paw Mountains and began raising their family and keeping horses.
"We moved out there right before Cody was born in 1987," she said.
That year McLean quit teaching and started earning money on the side with her knowledge of horses. She returned to teaching full time last year, but called it quits again in the spring.
"The year I graduated from college I took a short course in shoeing, mainly to be able to do my own," McLean said. "I didn't start doing much outside shoeing until I had kids because I had been teaching, so it was kind of an outside income."
Living in town hadn't completely stopped McLean from working and playing with horses, though.
"As kids we competed in open horse shows and junior rodeos and then in high school rodeos," she said. "When I moved here I started doing a few horse shows and the O-Mok-Sees; they were close and fun. I did compete in rodeos once in a while, a couple of NRAs, but I never did travel extensively, because it's just so expensive."
McLean, who has always been eager to share her love of horses with others, had no trouble getting her sons enthused.
"They started riding when they were pretty little," McLean said. "They started riding with mom, and we had some ponies and they started riding by themselves."
The McLeans' home is situated on a few acres of fairly steep terrain at the western edge of Hill County's Beaver Creek Park. The boys have never really had a problem riding, but McLean saw to it that the risks were minimized.
"I guess that's why you want a gentle horse, because it's wide open out there," she said. "And that's why I like O-Mok-See, because the kids learn to ride independently and it's kind of a controlled situation because it's inside an arena."
O-Mok-See is an American Indian term meaning games on horseback. Riders can compete in 13 different O-Mok-See events at the national championships, but the events are fewer at local and state competitions.
"I like O-Mok-See so much because I think it is one of the most family-oriented sports," McLean said. "Sometimes there are three or four generations of a family competing. We have one four-generation team - great-grandad, son, granddaughter and great-grandson - in Havre: Ralph Anderson, Bob Anderson, Sandy Brown and Zane Anderson."
The McLeans are joined at most O-Mok-Sees, including nationals, by Diane's sister Kim Norman and her children, Jack and Jodi. Kim and her husband, Doug Norman, own and operate Norman's Ranch and Sportswear in Cut Bank.
At the national O-Mok-See championships in Vernal, Utah, July 19-25, Diane garnered three first-place finishes, four seconds, two thirds, two fourths, a fifth and two eighths to win the barrel racing saddle for high-point honors. Twelve-year-old John McLean also brought home a high-point championship saddle. Cody and Tim also did well in their age division, with Cody grabbing two firsts and placing in 10 other events and Tim winning three events and placing in nine others.
This was the family's third trip to nationals. Last year Diane managed to place just seventh, but only because she carried a handicap into the competition. Two weeks before nationals, McLean was trimming a horse's hoof when the animal kicked and struck her in the forearm. Her right radius was broken. Rather than sit out the competition, she ended up riding with her right arm flailing out for balance in a full-length, L-shaped cast. She also rode in the local and state competitions in the weeks following nationals.
The boys also competed in some junior rodeos when they were younger and took their turns at sheep riding at the Great Northern Fair, but quit when they started doing 4-H animal projects.
"It was tough to ride in the rodeo and do the 4-H stuff, too," Diane said. "Cody would like to do some high school rodeoing. He went to the last meeting."
High school rodeo teams are active in the fall and spring, she said, so how Cody will find the time to rodeo in high school is unclear. The Havre High sophomore runs cross country in the fall and track in the spring. He also plays trombone in band and plays baseball in the summer. And the whole family skis in winter.
Tim, a freshman, also has expressed an interest in the rodeo team, but his schedule includes football, basketball, track and baseball. He's the family's snowboarder.
John is too young for high school rodeo, but the sixth-grader also has a busy schedule - baseball and soccer in the summer and basketball in the winter.
And of course, all three are active in their Bear Paw Beavers 4-H Club and ride horses when they can.
Living 12 miles from town and having such active sons explains why McLean decided to give up teaching full time and seldom rides competitively during the winter months. She could be the poster model for soccer moms, but pooh-poohs any reference to being a super mom.
"How do you fit all of these things together?" she asked. "You do a lot of taxiing, but every mom does. It's typical of every family. It's partly why I'm not teaching full time. It comes back to the part-time horse thing, because it's what I could with the kids easier."
That "part-time horse thing" includes training other people's horses and taking her horseshoeing talents on the road occasionally.
"I have given some lessons, but it's never worked out to be a regular thing," she said.
What has worked out is training horses, which she boards for a time.
"Every year it's a little bit different," McLean said. "I call them my hay horses because they pay for my hay. If you have two or three at a time, that's quite a few to have at a time. And of course, that's real seasonal, because when winter comes along, then you don't ride.
"This summer I had only two - that's not very many. But this fall, until last Sunday, I had four at my house. A general rule of thumb, people usually pay you for 30 days of riding. But you might keep them for a month and half to get 30 days of riding on them. But that's pretty typical, to get 30 days of riding."
McLean said a lot of the horses she trains are colts that have never been ridden, and others are horses other riders bring to her for barrel-race training.
"If they're a colt that's never been ridden, you have to sack them out," she said. "You put a sack or slicker or saddle blanket all over them to desensitize them. Then you put the saddle on for the first time, and they might buck or blow up or whatever. You also have to teach them when you pull on the bit that they're to give their face to the bit, not pull away from it.
"This is all something you do on the ground before you get on their back, so when you do get on their back and pull on the rein they come to the pull. It generally takes a week before you get on a colt. It depends on how gentle he is and how he reacts."
Training barrel racing horses is equally time-consuming, she said. "You have to ride them four or five times a week, about an hour a day," she said. "They're like any athlete; they have to stay in training because they're prone to injury if they don't. And putting time in on other people's horses takes time away from mine, so that's kind of a balancing act.
"Right now I have five - one pony and four quarter horses. Sunshine is the pony, and then we have Shaq, Jasmine, Abby and Tessa."
McLean said every horse is different and methods of training are ever changing.
"Part of the skill is learning what responses you want and rewarding the responses you do want," McLean said. "Those things that are called 'horse whisperer' methods have become popular lately, and over the years my training methods have changed a lot. You do want to cooperate and read this horse instead of breaking him."
She has a feel for training horses that she has developed over the years and says it's something she can't readily explain to others.
"I can't predict what I'll do because every horse is different," she said. "And I'm not perfect; I still make mistakes. I still go to clinics, read books and watch tapes."
As if her life weren't busy enough, McLean has hired on to tutor math at Montana State University-Northern this fall.
"It's only nine hours a week."
On the Net: www.omoksee.com
Members of Hi-Line Saddle Club and Big Sandy Saddle Club represented north-central Montana well at the district, state and national O-Mok-See championships. For complete results, see Page C8.