Cover Stories

April 2016 Cover Story: Butler Hill Equestrian Center

April 2016 Cover Story: Butler Hill Equestrian Center
Catherine Madera

Creating Fear-free Leaders that Walk through Fire

by Catherine Madera

April 2016 Cover 1200


Cindi Plendl, owner of Butler Hill Equestrian Center, isn’t impressed by current trends in horse training and handling. This includes DVD training series that cannot teach things like timing or feel and grandiose exhibitions by professionals eager to make a buck off of frustrated horse owners. Her method for developing safe horses and confident riders? Teach them how to walk through fire.

Clue and Cindy Butler Hill Equestrian Center

Cindi and her horse Clue

“Fear is your killer,” says Plendl, who trains both horses and clients at her facility in Burlington, WA in addition to hosting unique obstacle course and desensitizing clinics (that, yes, include fire). Her passion for solid horsemanship and identifying, and removing, fear as the primary obstacle to success has unusual roots.

After a lifetime quietly training problem and throw away horses in solitude, no one is more surprised than Plendl that she has found a niche teaching people. Though she has no formal education, Plendl’s primary horsemanship training began at 18 when she took a job with an 87-year-old retired stunt rider. Together they bought BLM mustangs and trained them to pack people on mountain trail rides in central WA. From her mentor she learned the importance of confidence, paired with humility. “You lose humble, you lose the horse,” remembers Plendl, an early lesson from a man who liked to put her on green horses while affirming, simply, that she wouldn’t get bucked off.

Fire Spud Cindy

De-spooking clinics at Butler Hill always include unique and unusual challenges.

“I was never a great rider, I just had confidence,” says Plendl who went on to make a living training and selling horses until the recession. She has owned over 1,000 horses and has a special affinity for problem horses other people have given up on. Her methods are not complicated and do not require expensive tools and a long process.

“I go to battle for the lead position and then prove why I’m worth following. Horses are not made to be leaders; they become dangerous when they don’t trust the person to take care of them.”

Plendl’s current horse, Spud, was acquired as an angry and unbroke 10-year-old that had spent much of his life in a stall. After working him through various vices, the handsome paint is now confident and dependable.

Helicopter Spud Cindy

De-spooking clinics at Butler Hill always include unique and unusual challenges.

When describing how to work a horse through behavioral issues Plendl compares the process to an onion, with layers, and insists anyone can train their own horse if they lose fear-based responses. She has found that some popular training methods over desensitize the horse in the wrong places, leading the horse to shut down and the owners to lose hope in developing a willing, happy partnership.

“Never go farther than the horse’s confidence; don’t set them up to fail. Horses remember drama, so resist a focus on teaching the horse; instead be more aware of your own reactions.”

Butlerhill Equestrian Center

Cindi Plendl and Spud ride through a smoke bomb at Butler Hill Equestrian Center.

While Plendl describes herself as “old school” she has little tolerance for the use of ignorant force and says humans are the problem, not the horse.  Currently Butler Hill Equestrian Center offers problem horse, de-spooking, intro to cattle and intro to obstacles and problem solving clinics, in addition to military drill practice for proper desensitization. The clinics feature unique and unusual obstacles and the opportunity to expose horses to group settings where riders can learn ways to confidently lead their horse through any situation. During the summer Plendl leads trail rides and hosts shows on her obstacle course. She also takes horses in training. Her goal for those that come for instruction is simple.

“I want people to succeed and get over their fear, to believe that they can do anything with a horse.”

Find out more about Butler Hill Equestrian Center at or on Facebook.


Published in April 2016 Issue

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Cover Stories
Catherine Madera

Catherine Madera attended Walla Walla University in Eastern Washington where she majored in communications/journalism. After winning a national competition for Guideposts Magazine in 2004, Catherine concentrated on non-fiction inspirational stories. Since then, she has published numerous personal and ghosted stories for Guideposts and their affiliate publications. Catherine has published in many regional and national magazines/newspapers and her work is included in several anthologies. She specializes in equine-related topics and profiles and serves as editor of The Northwest Horse Source. In 2010 Catherine’s non-fiction story, A Hero’s Work, received the Merial Human-Animal Bond award given by American Horse Publications. She has also authored three works of fiction and provides editing/writing assistance through Word Horse Writing Services.

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