New Beginnings

Change is never an easy thing; so often we fight it, fear it, or just ignore it. But when we look at change in a positive light, we learn to accept it and focus on all of the good things to come. After four incredible years, we will be closing Hanging Heart Ranch. (Some good news though: Michelle will continue to offer select lessons with her personal horses - SEE BELOW). This has been an incredibly difficult decision, but we are both very excited about our futures and we will ALWAYS carry the Hanging Heart brand as an integral part of who we are.


Justine is excited to be living in San Luis Obispo and hopes to start a new job soon; Tucker will be joining her in the middle of September at a spectacular boarding facility. Michelle will be going back to school to get her teaching degree and is excited to be able to spend more time with her family in Santa Ynez. She will continue to teach lessons on select days with Charley, Kippy, Misty and Fetch (you are still able to use the email or call 805-350-1971). Duke has scored an easy-going retired life in the care of two five-year-olds. :)


Between camps, meeting new lesson students, anniversary parties and horse shows, we have so many wonderful memories at Hanging Heart Ranch. We will never forget the Templeton Fourth of July Parade, where we decorated Drifter and Yellow head-to-hoof in red, white and blue, and pulled a trailer full of students. We were so excited to learn that we had taken home the first-place trophy! Another one of our most favorite memories was when our students helped us host a horse show to raise the funds necessary to send Duke to equine therapy for two months.  We have always been so amazed by everyone's kindness and support for the ranch these past four years, and we are forever grateful.  


Just Go With The Flow

We learned to make the best of any situation. After days filled with 20 kid birthday parties, or summer weeks with 15 campers, “going with the flow” has become our specialty. We became sensitive to the cues to understand if a student (or horse) was having a bad day, and we made it our priority to turn that around.

Horses Always Know

Great day, sad day, bad day-horses ALWAYS know. They pick up on our emotions and proceed to either turn our day around or teach us a life lesson.  Watching our incredible lesson horses help calm a nervous rider, or give a confidence boost to a student in need, was always such a great thing to witness. Our horses could always pick up on the type of rider that was on their back.  The training horses we have schooled have also taught us many lessons about patience and controlling emotions.  All of these different horses and experiences have helped shape us into the horsewomen we are today, and we are so incredibly thankful for each and every horse that has been a part of Hanging Heart Ranch.

Don't be Afraid to Try Something New

Starting our own business at 23 definitely fits in to this category, but it has been the little things along the way that have really helped us to realize that there is no need to be afraid to try something new. Whether it was trying a new type of advertising (being on the radio one summer was pretty fun!) or creating a show team, we realized that not trying something new because of fear was worse than failing. We know that our next endeavors after Hanging Heart Ranch will be just as incredible as the last couple of years, and we look forward to the future with confidence.

Best Friends are Forever

After running our business as best friends for the past four years, we don't doubt that our friendship will continue to grow after the Hanging Heart Ranch era is over. We have been through some great times (watching our business expand tremendously) and some bad times (dealing with both of our mothers’ cancer diagnoses and losing a lesson horse), yet we always worked as a team and understood each other's strengths and weaknesses. We both agree that there is no one else in the world we could have done this with, or would have wanted to do this with. The Hanging Heart Ranch brand will ALWAYS be a registered brand to Justine Gentilini & Michelle McKenzie (Tucker now has the Hanging Heart brand on his left hip).

We thank everyone for an INCREDIBLE past four years.  We have loved every moment of this journey, and we know that the future has great things in store. We might be starting new endeavors, but the Hanging Heart Ranch brand will continue forever.

~Justine Gentilini & Michelle McKenzie

Celebrating Our Mothers

This year we are thrilled to be able to donate a camp experience, free of charge, to children who have been impacted by cancer in their families. This complimentary 3-Day camp will be held on June 14th-16th from 3:30pm to 6:30pm, for 10 to 15 children. We are incredibly excited to team up with the Cancer Support Community Central Coast to help us make this camp a reality!

Both of our mothers were diagnosed with cancer in the Summer of 2015. Justine's mom was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, and was treated with chemo and radiation after surgery. Michelle's mom was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer. She underwent multiple rounds of chemo following her surgery, and is currently feeling great and on a maintenance chemo plan, with the hope of keeping the cancer at bay. 

Both of our moms have been our biggest supporters in our endeavors with starting and running Hanging Heart Ranch-from helping us start our business when we were both 23 years old, to helping us deal with difficult and stressful times and even celebrating our successes!

Buck Brannaman's 2016 Invitational Colt Starting Clinic - Sheridan, WY

On June 10th, horse trainers as well as spectators gathered at the Brannaman's home ranch in Sheridan, Wyoming for their second annual colt-starting clinic.  For four days, horse and rider teams worked from 9 am to 4 pm using the Buck Brannaman’s methods passed down from Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt.  The end result was many newly confident colts, and a wealth of information learned from observing the clinic. 

We decided to make the 1,300-mile journey to Wyoming after attending a local Buck Brannaman horsemanship and groundwork clinic last year.  Since we work with many different training horses, we have to adjust our riding to fit the needs of each horse; it was an incredible experience to watch the 25 different horses at the colt-starting clinic reacting to the same task.

Buck began his clinic by getting the colts to "follow on a feel" - getting them to move their feet with a flag. Emphasis was placed on moving the horses' hindquarters, having the participants send their horses out in a circle around them and then rolling their hind-end around, crossing over their back legs.  Having flexion and lateral movement was key in this exercise.  The phrase "everything is connected to creating movement without trouble" really did prove to be a key point in the success of the horse & rider pairs.  

After participants got their horses used to their hind-end being worked around, Buck added the element of moving the colt's front with his famous half-circle exercise. This got the colts thinking about where their feet were, following the feel of both lead-rope and flag.  Buck wants the horses to be eager to explore; if the colts have success while exploring, something opens up for the horse mentally and they realize there is an answer. Be sure to check out the Eclectic Horseman's article on a step-by-step breakdown of this exercise HERE.    

The next step was saddling. Once the colts became accustomed to moving both their front & hind-end saddled, Buck had the participants take off the horses' halters and let them freely move around saddled for the first time. Using one of his older horses, a gorgeous bay quarter horse named Swede, he moved the herd of colts around with his flag, making them change direction and pay attention to where he wanted them to go.  It was so interesting to see how the colts reacted - some just kept moving along like nothing phased them, others ran around like crazy, while some started to buck and kick out. However, after a few minutes of Buck working them with the flag, all of the colts began to move around the round pen at a trot, in an organized fashion.  Buck then had the participants form a circle around the saddled herd and re-halter their horses one by one to end the session.

Day #2 was sure to be another day of firsts for the colts, as it was going to be the first time they were to be ridden.  Buck started the day by having the horses practice bending their heads around and stopping with one rein.  He emphasized having the horses prepared for each task at hand and stressed the importance of not skipping steps; riders would jump up and down near the saddle, pat their hands on the seat, and then step up in one stirrup and put some weight over the saddle to get the horses ready to be ridden. 

Then the riders swung their leg over, sitting on their colt for the first time.  Buck wanted all riders to praise their horses, making sure they were being rubbed on their neck, reinforcing that they should not be worried or scared.  He then sent out the horse and rider teams, flagging them again from his horse Swede. Some, once again, took off bucking and running, but he encouraged the riders to continue to rub the colts regardless, and assured the riders that the colts would eventually settle down.  After moving the horses in each direction, riders picked up their lead ropes on one side of the horses neck and made sure that they could bend their hindquarters around. 

Some of the riders were not able to stay on their horses.  Buck emphasized that bucking is not a problem; it’s a symptom and can show the holes in the training prior to their first ride.  His daughter, Reata, had trouble with her horse in particular-her colt was very heavy on her front end, which eventually leads to bucking.  Buck wound up working with her horse, correcting her colt moving around on its front end; she would move her hindquarters nicely but then got sticky moving her front feet.  Once the colt was moving nicely out, Buck mounted Reata’s little bay colt.  It was clear that the horse was still panicked, but he kept reassuring her by rubbing her neck.  Eventually the colt settled down, but Buck made it clear that she still needed more work.

Days #3 & 4 were a continuation of the previous two days, but with added elements.  Horse and rider teams started with the same exercises each day but no longer needed to work as long fixing issues.  Ring snaffle bits eventually replaced the halters, and the participants continued to work on flexion.  Buck emphasized that the goal was to have flexion latterly, synchronized with the movement. He also wanted the riders to set up their horses to make good decisions.  Sometimes when we are teaching our students, we find newer students resort to immediately kicking their horses to make them move; however, the correct cue would be to offer a very light leg and then add pressure, giving the horse the opportunity to make the right decision.

One of the colts was herd bound, wanting to resist rein pressure and run to the group of horses close by.  Buck had the group gather their horses on one end of the round pen while one of his assistants mounted the unruly colt.  He then rode the colt through the group of horses, weaving in and out, making him work.  The assistant then let the horse rest on the other side of the round pen, away from other horses and stress; the colt learned that he felt most comfortable resting alone, rather than having to work through the horses. 

Colt and rider teams gained more and more confidence throughout the clinic, some even progressing to roping and working around cattle.  The riders then directed their mounts to the nearby green pasture, getting their colts used to placing their feet on the uneven terrain.  Buck’s tactics ensured that this clinic was a positive experience for the colts.  Other methods attempt to force colts into submission; cowboys would tie their horses down or run them until exhaustion. The opportunity for us to learn from Buck at his home in Wyoming, and then have the chance to apply these lessons to our own riding style and training, has been a truly incredible experience! All horsemen can learn from Buck Brannaman’s natural horsemanship methods.

Duke and His Road to Recovery with Equine Therapy

"Duke" and one of Hanging Heart Ranch's Students

Most horse people will agree that they spend more time thinking about their horse's health than their own, and with all of the advanced horse care options-such as chiropractors, rehabilitation-therapists, and equine masseuses-we have many choices when deciding how to keep our horses healthy. In order to grow our lesson program at Hanging Heart Ranch, it is imperative that all of our horses feel their best. One of our main priorities in the new year has been getting one of our lesson horses, "Duke", back to tip-top shape with the help of the therapeutic techniques at Eclipse Equine Therapy Center.

We often feel the "lesson horse" is unappreciated when compared to fancy hunter/jumpers or cow-horses, but it's these horses that teach the future professionals how to ride. Most of our lesson horses have worked on ranches in their younger years, and now have second careers helping to teach people how to ride. Because we know the true value of a good lesson horse, we definitely find ourselves going above and beyond to keep our horses healthy and happy!

Duke's Biggest Fans & His Natural Balance Shoes

We picked up Duke in April 2015 after he was no longer able to work as a trail horse. Duke has had soundness issues as long as we have known him, which we attributed to him working on difficult terrain with uneven shoeing that was never corrected.  Oftentimes trail horses are required to go over rocky, steep, and uneven ground, and after a while this continuous strain can really wear on a horse’s muscles, especially if their feet are not maintained properly.  Thankfully, after having x-rays taken at the renowned Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center, it was determined that Duke had no problems with his bones, including navicular, side and ring bone.  

After coming to Hanging Heart Ranch, Duke was placed on a special diet and received corrective shoeing with Natural Balance Shoes. These shoes have a rolled toe, which helps his break-over as well as his contracted heel, to give him the support he needs.  Before these shoes he was moving with his toe hitting the ground first, rather than the correct motion of his heel hitting first. By helping him re-learn to move correctly, we hope that his restored muscle-memory will eventually get him back to 100% soundness.  Retiring Duke from his days of hard trails and steep terrain has helped, but we still find that he does not carry himself correctly, especially in his shoulders, which is where Eclipse Equine Therapy Center comes into play.

We were able to visit Eclipse in January and meet with the owners, Mike & Angie Scully, to come up with a plan for Duke. We were very impressed with the facilities, many services offered, and their extensive knowledge of the rehabilitation process. There is also an on-site vet clinic which tracks progress as well as monitors the horse's health during his stay.  Services offered include Aquatred Underwater Treadmill, Chiropractic Work, Cold Salt Spa, European Walker, and Functional Electrical Muscle Stimulation (FES)

Aquatred Underwater Tredmill

Hydrotherapy is a great way to help recondition and relieve stress on a horse's joints in a low-impact environment.  With the added resistance of water in a low stress situation, this type of rehabilitation has been gaining popularity in the horse community over the past ten years. Eclipse Equine Therapy has an Aquatred Underwater Treadmill, which is designed to allow the horse to walk down a ramp and into the water.  At first, water levels are kept low, allowing the horse to become used to the treadmill; as the horse becomes more comfortable, the water levels and speeds are adjusted to best suit the needs of the horse's rehabilitation program.  The Aquatred helps horses regain balance by exercising each muscle evenly. An example of the process can be seen in the video below. 

Cold Salt Spa

Another amenity at Eclipse is the Cold Salt Water Spa used to treat sore muscles & joints, arthritis and skin issues.  The salt allows the water temperature to be dropped to lower than normal without freezing, which then acts like a natural poultice. When a horse becomes injured, swelling occurs, causing capillaries to constrict and prolong healing time. The spa helps to reduce swelling, greatly reducing recovery time by increasing blood flow. Also used as preventative treatment, many professionals use the salt water spa after an intense workout, in 15 minute increments. By speeding up the healing process and when used as a preventative measure, this therapy is another great addition to Eclipse Equine Therapy Center.

Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES)

Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) is the application of regulated electrical impulses to the surface of the skin, producing a waveform that triggers a neuron in the horse's brain to cause the muscles to contract (see video below).  This therapy has led to significant improvements in muscle density and distribution. Muscles are able to utilize oxygen more efficiently, leading to a reduction of muscle spasms in horses' backs. Other benefits of FES include: improved range of motion due to released muscle tension, reduction in swelling from injury, reduction of scar tissue, re-education of muscle function, & strengthening of muscle tissue.  We believe that all of these benefits can help in our quest to get Duke to move properly; once his muscles begin functioning correctly with the help of FES and the other therapies offered at Eclipse, we are hopeful that Duke can make a full recovery!

We are planning to send Duke to Eclipse Equine Sports Therapy Center for 30 days in April.  We believe that this will be the right path for Duke’s recovery, allowing him to feel his best and enable him to become an all-around great lesson horse.  Keep an eye on our Facebook page for a benefit horse show we will be hosting for our lesson students, to help raise money to send Duke to this state-of-the-art facility. Be sure to check out Eclipse's website ( and Facebook page as well.  We can't wait to share updates on Duke's road to recovery!!

-Justine & Michelle


Looking Forward - The Hanging Heart Ranch Blog

Welcome to the Hanging Heart Ranch Blog! We are excited to share with you some of the behind the scenes happenings that go on at the ranch. From training techniques to rehabilitating horses from injury, we want to give you an inside look at what it takes to run our ranch. We are also excited to be sharing with our readers some of our favorite products that we use as well! Be sure to keep an eye out for our new posts every month! 

As 2015 comes to a close, we find it fitting for our first post to be a look back at what a great year we have had at Hanging Heart Ranch! There were new additions, Duke & Cooper, who have transitioned very well into our herd.  We also had our largest camp turnout this summer, having first time riders join us from all over San Luis Obispo County!  We started a Show Team, traveling to several youth rodeos throughout the year, even taking the horses & kids camping with us.  This was a great opportunity to work towards goals with some of our more advance students, and we are so proud of how much each rider improved by the end of the season. 

With all of the wonderful things that did happen this year, we unfortunately lost one of our beloved lesson horses, TC.  We were all heartbroken by the loss of this sweet horse, but it was truly inspiring to see our horse community support us through this difficult time.  Since most of our horses are used for beginner and younger riders, they are usually older-aged; with this sometimes comes more difficult problems such as illness or injury that you would not find as often in a younger horse.  However, the tradeoff for a good lesson horse is worth it – these horses are worth their weight in gold!  You trust that they will take care of young riders whose feet don’t even reach past the saddle pad, as well as adults wanting to take up riding again.  This past year we have learned so much about caring for some of our older horses-we will do anything it takes to give our lesson horses the fantastic life they deserve!

Looking ahead to 2016, we are excited for another successful year with some big plans! We are currently working on the Hanging Heart Ranch Horsemanship Program.  Throughout our riding careers we have been influenced by several great horse trainers from all over the country, gaining experience in barrel racing, jumping, reining, and cattle work. We want to combine our knowledge into a program that will cover everything from groundwork to more advanced techniques, as some of our students look to purchase their own horses.  We both believe in waiting until the right time before a student purchases a horse of their own, and we feel that this program will help prepare our students as they continue on their path to becoming better horsemen and horsewomen.

Another project we are excited for is our half-draft training horse, Cooper!  Back in 2015 we acquired a training horse of our own and created a program with the plan to have Cooper find his forever home in 2016.  With this blog we would like to share some of our training methods, as well as the new and exciting experiences that we expose Cooper to; so far he as been to the beach, team sorting, ridden on trail rides & through horses, and has really excelled at jumping!  We are planning to start him on some cross country, and with the help of top English trainers we hope to really perfect this guy’s jumping skills!

We are very excited to share some of our daily adventures with our readers and we look forward to writing about a wide variety of horse topics! Please reach out to us at if you would like a certain topic covered or if you have any questions about some of our training techniques.  We are excited to make 2016 the best year yet for Hanging Heart Ranch!!

-Justine & Michelle