Agent learns leadership lessons from a horse

  • Published
  • By Linda Card
  • AFOSI Public Affairs

When Air Force Office of Special Investigations Special Agent Katherine Licht arrived at her new duty station in Montana, it was a dream come true.


After arriving at Detachment 806, Malmstrom Air Force Base, she realized she could finally chase after her equestrian dreams in “Big Sky Country.”


“I always had my eye out for my dream horse, to accompany my childhood horse who is now fifteen and was brought to Montana from Illinois,” SA Licht said. 


One day her dream horse popped up on a horse for sale app on her phone and her dream soon became reality. 


Her new horse’s registered name is CVC Wild Look. Storm, as she is known by everyone, is a 9-year old registered American Quarter Horse. 


“She hardly cost a thing, and I wondered what the catch was,” SA Licht explained. “She was a beautiful registered 9-year old Quarter Horse mare. I soon found out she was as wild as they come. As a baby, she was thrown out on a Montana range and left to go wild, until I arrived in her life.”


It wasn’t easy for Agent Licht to befriend the wild mare. It took months of ground work, trust-building and desensitizing exercises before Storm could be ridden. But, they kept at it. 


Desensitizing a horse teaches an unbroken horse not to panic when exposed to certain objects or experiences. Inexperienced horses, like Storm, also need to be desensitized to the halter and saddle before they can be ridden. As long as the horse is not aggressive, you can desensitize it yourself with no special equipment. 


Patience and persistence are key. Best results are achieved with short, daily training sessions that may continue for months if the horse is young or has not been handle by humans very much.  Ground work exercises help cement the foundation of mutual trust and acceptance of leadership roles between a horse and rider.


“She would bronc me, blow up and trusted nobody,” SA Licht said. “Everyone told me to sell her and that she would make a better bronc then saddle horse.”


For many months, any free time SA Licht had away from her OSI job and other Air Force commitments, she spent with Storm at the base stables, known as the Big Sky Riders Saddle Club, where she is club president.    


“Now, just a year later, Storm is my go-to, trusty steed who takes every competition in stride,” SA Licht said. 


With only eight months under saddle and nine years of the wild in her blood, Storm has competed in local ranch sorting, team-penning competitions with cows, and now---Skijoring.


Skijoring began several hundred years ago in Scandinavia as a way for people to travel during the cold and snowy winters. Towed behind a reindeer on long wooden skis, these early travelers found skijoring a useful and practical means of getting from one place to another when the roads were impassable.


Montana is also known for its harsh winter weather. And like Scandinavia, if you are not an outdoor person and don’t like outdoor winter activities, it can be a very long, miserable season for you.  If you’re a serious horseman, you are always looking for opportunities to keep you and your horse fit while getting some quality saddle time during the winter months. For many riders and most horses, cold and snow doesn’t hinder riding activities, as long as you use common sense, dress for it and remember to practice good winter safety habits.        


Montana is home to extreme winter sports and many western horse riding and rodeo competitions, so Skijoring seemed like a natural winter competition choice for SA Licht and her wild Montana pony. Skijoring is like waterskiing behind a horse. SA Licht says it’s a great winter outdoor equestrian sport for Montana. It totally fits into the western lifestyle loved by many Montana equestrians. 


“We compete at numerous levels of ranch sorting and team-penning from Open to Novice divisions,” Agent Licht said. “As long as we can comprise a team of the right levels, we compete. In Skijoring, we compete in the Sport (Intermediate) Class due to Storm’s agility levels.”  


Besides communicating well with horses, SA Licht has applied some of her communication and leadership skills to her OSI career. Because communication between a human and a horse is a non-verbal skill, SA Licht can easily relate some of that to investigative skills she uses as an OSI agent.   


“People don't understand how much they speak non-verbally, especially once you get to know them,” Agent Licht said.  


Since Storm came into her OSI life, SA Licht realizes there are a lot of similarities in communication and leadership skills, whether with people or animals.


“People can force their hand with how they want things done, but it normally results in both parties being disgruntled and doing it because they have to,” SA Licht says. “When you teach a wild horse to trust, they place a certain amount of confidence in you. They accept you as their leader.  This confidence and trust is why I think Storm and I succeed together as a team.”  


“I know what Storm is thinking because of her body language, and I know how to adjust what I'm asking of her, so we are both happy with the outcome.  I can turn around and be in an interview the next day and laugh at myself because to get anywhere in life with communication, we need to be kind, explain ourselves and our expectations well. In the end, you always catch more bees with honey then vinegar,” SA Licht said.


Agent Licht is very proud of the work she does as an OSI Special Agent and she loves living and working in Montana. And she finally found her dream horse, a special mentor who has taught her   more about love, mutual trust, leadership, and effective communications.


“It’s great that Storm is able to earn her keep and be my most reliable horse to date, but more importantly, she has taught me to never give up,” SA Licht said. “Time, trust and kindness will always prevail, and when you have your whole heart invested, the feeling will be returned.”