By Dana Delgado
BERTRAM — Nationally acclaimed horsewoman, trainer, and owner of the recognized Flying M Ranch knew early on what life would hold for her.
As an only child reared on a ranch, Marsha Johnson’s friends were few and far between. A horse, however, presented to her on her third birthday, changed everything.
Her beloved first horse, Chico, became not only her friend and confidant, but would be the foundation for a lifelong passion and partnership with horses.
“My parents and my grandparents raised me to believe I was very lucky,” said Johnson. “So the horses were my family and still are. We raised horses so there were about 30 to choose from and I did not stay with one horse,” she said. “They all needed riding and we had plenty of ranch work. We did not think fun and entertainment. It was work. That is what we did.”
Over the years, the lessons learned from her relationships with horses at the family’s various ranches including those near Alpine, Blanco, Wimberley, Valley Mills and San Marcos, proved to be invaluable. Besides learning the benefits of hard work, Johnson said she learned to be positive and independent while nurturing her passion for horses.
That lasting relationship with horses has resulted in Johnson’s Flying M Ranch, a unique facility that has been recognized nationally for its training of well-broke and gentle horses as well as for its novel riding programs, clinics and camps for riders of all ages. While establishing itself as a premier training and riding ranch, the Flying M has also gained recognition for cultivating a family of riders who enjoy fellowship with other riders and their horses.
For decades, Johnson has achieved acclaim in the horse world as a trainer, teacher, mentor and competitor. While amassing numerous honors in a variety of disciplines, the Bertram resident said that her greatest joy comes from the successes of her students.
“I get a thrill out of their accomplishments and their big smiles,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to share with others what a great friend a horse can be.”
Located at 1335 CR 264 in Bertram, the Flying M Ranch offers a host of horsemanship skills while building confidence, and serving up plenty of opportunities for relaxation and fun.
“Success is our specialty,” said Johnson. “We teach safety, de-spooking, trail obstacles, and communication with a horse.”
According to Johnson, she personalizes every training session to accommodate individual needs.
“I work with folks at whatever their level is and what they need to get better at and where they want to go,” she said. “I have no specific plan until they show up and we visit and I figure out what is needed.”
The Flying M Ranch offers a variety of programs including individual and group training sessions for riders with a range of experience and age, but has taken on a particular focus on adult riders who have not ridden for years. Also offered are Cowboy and Cowgirl Weekends, which provide riding and training opportunities and can provide ranch accommodations upon request depending on availability. Riders have the option of bringing their own horses or using one of Johnson’s gentle horses.
Weekend sessions are scheduled for March 18-20, April 8-10, May 6-8, and June 3-5, but pre-registration is required. In addition, seven scenic horseback trips are scheduled throughout the year including one trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado in September. Two riding outings are slated for Ruidoso, New Mexico and four are planned for Caprock Canyon.
Over the years, Johnson’s experience, training style and unique programs have drawn a loyal stable of riders from around the world.
“Marsha taught me how to ride and how to relate to our horses,” said Belinda Williams, a frequent rider at the ranch. “Marsha matches each rider with the right horse after she considers the personalities and skills of each. This is how she shares her love of horses with others. I knew nothing of horses when I started and now I’m showing horses. One of the biggest rewards of riding horses is all of the fantastic people you meet and become friends with. These people become part of your horse family and the relationships last a lifetime!”
Darlene Parker, an EMT-P Captain from Marble Falls, has been riding at the Flying M Ranch since 2007.
“The Flying M is special because of the people and the horses,” Parker said. “It is a low-drama environment that quietly calms both people and horses. The confidence that is gained by taking the reins of a good horse is immeasurable.”
Retired teacher and school administrator Margie Sowell found the ranch online.
“I had wanted to return to trail and recreational riding after not having ridden for many years,” she said. “Marsha seemed to be the person who could help me achieve these goals. I contacted Marsha and traveled to the Flying M. Within half an hour, Marsha had me on a horse and riding again. That day, I was adopted into her horse family. I have had the opportunity to ride several of Marsha’s super horses as well as the opportunity to meet, ride with, and become friends with Marsha’s ‘horse family.’”
Helen Crowther, a native of England, discovered the Flying M Ranch three years ago. Recovering from an accident, Crowther said that riding helped build her confidence.
“It has been hard work and you have to make a commitment, but the ranch is a happy place,” she said. “My husband wondered why I was going so often that he eventually bought his own horse.”
The Flying M Ranch also serves as a boarding stable and horse training center, which is renowned for its de-spooking program where horses are taught to navigate through a series of obstacles that might be encountered on a trail.
If you are in the market to buy a horse, Johnson has a reputation for matching gentle horses primarily geldings to the right riders.
“The backgrounds of our horses vary greatly, but most have a ranch/working history,” Johnson said. “We work very hard to find horses with sensible, solid minds and bodies.”
Johnson further said that the horses go through rigorous health screenings and receive extensive training to meet her standards of being gentle horses.
Overseeing a successful riding program for the Houston YMCA Camp in Wimberley in 1959 was the inspiration to launch her own riding programs for both adults and children that prepared them for shows, rodeos and trail riding.
Her first of many individual successes was a World Champion Youth exhibitor who won in 1971 and was followed by a multitude of all around championships among other accomplishments.
Johnson has been recognized in the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Journal and was featured in a training film by the association for her horse de-spooking program. In addition to conducting AQHA clinics, Johnson has held training programs for the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame.
Flying M Ranch is located off of State Highway 29 at 1335 CR 264, just two miles east of Bertram. For more information visit www.flyingmtexas.com.