Heart Mountain

HMA in the News

At HMA, we love what we do. We’re proud to showcase the talents and achievements of our students—we think they’re pretty great!


The documentary, Unbranded, follows four men and sixteen mustangs on an epic 3,000-mile journey from Mexico to Canada through the American West. The film is part adventure, part lesson in conservation, and all about personal growth.

What has made this film especially interesting to Cody’s Heart Mountain Academy students is that a local was part of movie Unbranded. Val Geissler, horse trainer/musician/motivational speaker, lives up the South Fork where he trains horses, sponsors young adults in mentorships, and inspires those around him with simple, yet striking adages of life, loss, and learning.

Heart Mountain Academy was fortunate to have Val and his current student come in and speak last week. That student, Owen Witte, is staying with Val for one month. He is currently enrolled in an apprenticeship with Val. Classes range from horseback riding to problem-solving. Owen said he never met anyone who poured coffee over cereal until he met Val. “That’s problem-solving… you don’t have milk for your cereal. But you have coffee. And with the two, you have breakfast.” 

Owen says he is up and at em’ by 4:30 a.m. He doesn’t want to waste any time being idle since “a month isn’t a very long time in the scheme of things. And I want to learn a lot from Val. He has so much wisdom to share and I want to hear all of it. Be it over coffee before the sun comes up or Val riding co-pilot while I learn to drive his truck. It’s a stick shift.”

An aging cowboy, who rubbed elbows with the likes of Willie Nelson and turned down a career in music decades ago to follow his dream of being a real cowboy, has walked straight into the classroom and lives of local students. Referring to himself as Uncle Val, he vows to return to check in with Heart Mountain Academy and make sure they remember life’s most important lessons including “It Ain’t Nothing But a Thing…”

What does that mean, you ask? Well, unless you have sat and talked a while with Uncle Val, it’s hard to explain. To put it in a nutshell, life isn’t always easy and things will always be harder, cost more money, and take more time than you expect. And that’s when you get resourceful and problem solve. Attaining goals is hard work. As Val Geissler says, “getting where you want to be takes repetition and consistency. Once you realize you can be whatever and do whatever you set your mind to… nothing will stop you. Because all you have to do is believe in yourself.” When you watch Unbranded, you see all of those things – goals, determination, and whole lot of work. 3,000 miles to anywhere is a long trip. On wild mustangs, it’s a mission. Val was a big part of that mission and now helps others find that determination within themselves.

And that, right there, is why young adults from across the world are coming to the South Fork in Cody Wyoming – to spend time with Val. Learn to ride horses, how to be a decent ranch hand, and learn some of life’s most basic lessons – taught in the most profound ways.