A Place to run when you need to Slow Down

A look at Oniya Ranch

Four years ago, Kristi Overgaard left her fast-paced career for 580 acres and a dream. She traded her corner office and crowded airports for solitude and fresh air, and the Las Vegas lights that once lit her window at night have been replaced by a Montana sky, scattered with stars.

Kristi is the founder of Oniya Ranch, a private retreat near Roberts, where she shares the peace she’s found on the prairie with those who need perspective or are seeking balance.

“I needed Oniya,” Kristi says. “That’s why I created it.”

The ranch, located in the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains, offers accommodations for up to nine individuals or more with double occupancy. Executives and creative professionals who are looking for a reset and renewed inspiration are encouraged to set their work aside and come without an agenda.

“I understand that ‘overwhelm’ that leaders and creative types feel,” Kristi says. “I know how it feels and I have some tools.”

At Oniya, the days are open-ended. Guests can start their morning with a guided stretch session in a sunlit studio or try breathwork exercises led by Kristi. They are encouraged to spend the rest of the day gazing at the sky, walking through the fields, pausing in the aspen grove and listening to the birds. She calls it nature immersion, and Kristi asks her guests to be guided by what their bodies are telling them. Is it to rest, move, stretch or breathe?

“Remember that humans are a part of nature,” Kristi says. “We have to get back to that natural ecosystem.”

Everyone eats together outside at a community table, and Kristi’s sister, Karla Aus, prepares the meals with all-natural and organic ingredients in the lodge kitchen. Everything she prepares is sugar-free, dairy-free and gluten-free, and alcohol is not permitted at Oniya. Despite those perceived restrictions, guests always comment how good they feel after a week with no sugar, dairy, gluten or alcohol, Kristi says.

Guests can opt-in for coaching sessions with Kristi or participate in her equine-assisted learning program. But none of those offerings are required. 

“What the world needs now is play, and fun, and joy, and that’s what we aim for here.” Kristi says.

Five weeks of each summer season are set aside for Oniya Walks, a Montana version of the Walk to Camino. Two years ago, Kristi did a Walk to Camino in Italy and came home thinking, why not do that here at Oniya?

She established five unique meditation trails covering more than 11 meandering miles throughout the ranch. On the trails, guests will encounter breathtaking views, birds, wildlife and a oneness with nature.

“When you come here and you go out walking on the land, you’re on your own, literally immersed in the land,” Kristi says.

Montana always played a leading role in Kristi’s life, no matter where life took her. She spent her early childhood in Plentywood, later moving to Billings and then to Las Vegas. She says she’s grateful for the learning experiences that both worlds offered.

Kristi’s work has always been in the creative space, and she excelled in brand marketing. She ran her own design and advertising firm, one11, based in Las Vegas, before going to work as the “chief officer of awesomeness” at Switch, a global big tech and infrastructure company. Throughout her career, Kristi was known for her no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is approach. It became known as her “Montana style.”

“Whatever I was up to, I put everything into it,” Kristi says. “While I loved what I was doing, it was really a lot.”

Whenever she could, she would retreat to Montana for a break from her fast-paced professional obligations. Horses were a common thread throughout her life and Kristi always kept horses, despite her busy schedule.

“I always thought, this is not a real life, and I always had a dream of coming back to Montana and having a ranch with horses,” she says.

Although she loved her work, the intense pace of her career eventually began to erode her wellbeing. On the verge of burnout, Kristi asked to take a sabbatical, knowing there was a good chance she wouldn’t return to her career.

“I knew it was time. This lifestyle was just not sustainable,” she says.

She spent the year traveling. The year was a turning point and, although she didn’t know it, it also became the foundation for Oniya. In Bali, she received training in breathwork, and in New Zealand she was given a book called “The Spirit of the Horse.” It focused on the healing power of horses, and led her to Canada where she became trained in equine-assisted learning.

“During that year of retreat, I was reintroduced to the horse,” Kristi says.

Of course, her time also included stays in her beloved Montana.

When Kristi returned to work, she says, “I don’t know what I’m going to do but I can’t be doing this anymore. I’m going home.”

Oniya, which is Lakota for “breathe,” was already on her mind. Kristi began her search for a ranch and horses for an equine-assisted learning program. She wanted a herd of horses for her project but didn’t know where to start. Out of the blue, she received word that a herd of horses from the renowned Cavalia Odysseo were available.

Cavalia Odysseo is a live, large-scale production that includes up to 70 equine performers and 50 human performers in a Cirque du Soleil-style show. Seven purebred Arabians were retiring from the production and available — but not to just anyone. Kristi gave her pitch in hopes of convincing the producers that the horses would be well cared for in their retirement in Montana. Three weeks later she got the call. The herd was hers.

“I had to go get a ranch — fast!” Kristi says.

She’d already been looking and had seen the real estate listing for the Roberts property several times, but never gave it a second glance. It came up on her radar again, and this time Kristi asked for a showing. She walked the property and knew instantly that it was the ranch she’s always wanted. Kristi made an offer that day and 30 days later it was hers. The Cavalia horses showed up the day after closing.

Kristi brought her own horses to the ranch as well and began the process of transforming the ranch into a retreat center. The ranch is run entirely by women and is home to 15 horses, two donkeys, a bottle-fed calf, some chickens and one extra-large livestock guardian dog named Tate.

Horses are at the center of the whole operation and equine-assisted learning is Kristi’s specialty — although she will tell you that she doesn’t have much to do with it at all.

All the horse and human encounters happen on the ground, and at its most basic level, equine-assisted learning works like this: Horses have a naturally calming effect on humans, and that sense of calm opens the door to a deeper level of learning.

“When we ask questions, the answers usually drop right into us because were quiet enough and open enough to hear them,” Kristi says.

In the arena, surrounded by the herd of slate-gray Arabians, exhausted executives learn to lead from their heart, and with a horse one-on-one, tapped-out creatives find inspiration.

“Horses to me are with the most wild, magical and mystical domesticated animals. Just to be with them is pure magic,” Kristi says.

Oniya Ranch’s brand is a heart. The single-iron relic dates back to the 1800s. Like the Cavalia horses, it came to Oniya by serendipity.

Not long after Kristi bought the ranch, a nearby ranch was holding a closing auction. When she looked at the sale flyer and saw the brand, she knew it belonged at Oniya.

The sale was intense, and many out-of-state buyers had their eye on the heart brand, but like so many times in Kristi’s life, she had her mind set. She bid with the flick of her chin until it was hers. At the end of the sale, the auctioneer asked where the brand was going and Kristi said, “It’s staying in Montana.” And the crowd of locals cheered.

The long-retired branding iron hangs above the fireplace in the lodge and won’t be used to brand any animals.

“It’s our brand, but it is in our whole operating system as well,” Kristi says.

Hearts are tucked into the décor, and even the cucumbers on the salad are cut into heart shapes. On the hillside near the highway, white rocks are placed in the shape of a heart.

“I’ve always said Montana has my heart,” Kristi says.

TO LEARN MORE about Oniya Ranch, visit oniya.com


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