Mitch was born in Wisconsin and raised in a small town until his family moved to Mayer, Minnesota. At the time, Mitch was in the sixth grade and his life revolved around sports. Although the Gassens lived in town, his younger sisters loved horses and begged their parents to get one. When Mitch was a freshman in high school, his parents made his sisters´ dreams come true and bought a few horses for the family. “They were just backyard pets, and we had no idea what we were doing with them,” Mitch says.
While his sisters spent all of their spare time with the horses, Mitch was too focused on sports to pay much attention to them. “I liked riding the horses, but it wasn´t something I did on a regular basis or something I took seriously,” Mitch explains.
While he was in high school, his parents took the family on several vacations to a dude ranch in Colorado. When Mitch graduated high school, he and his brother spent a summer working at the ranch as wranglers. “That´s when I started to get serious about horses and riding,” Mitch says. “I enjoyed working with horses and liked the lifestyle.”
While Mitch returned home to Minnesota with a desire to learn as much as he could about horses, his mother had a new passion of her own brewing. She had discovered Clinton and the Method on RFD-TV, and had bought tickets to Clinton´s 2012 tour stop in Des Moines, Iowa. She was taking Mitch´s father to the event as a Father´s Day surprise. Mitch didn´t have a clue who Clinton was, but told his parents to have a good time. “They got back and Dad came into the house with the halter and lead rope, stick and string and the Fundamentals kit, and I thought, ´What the heck have you gotten yourself into?´” Mitch remembers.
When his father sat down to watch the philosophy disc of the Fundamentals DVD set, Mitch joined him. “It wasn´t long before I was thinking that what Clinton was saying was making a whole lot of sense. I had never heard anybody explain horsemanship and how horses think in that way before,” Mitch says.
His curiosity piqued, after watching the philosophy disc, Mitch put in the next DVD and watched with rapt attention as Clinton explained the roundpenning exercises. “I watched Clinton working with Bo and I thought the same thing I had with the philosophy – it made sense and Clinton´s steps made it seem like it wouldn´t be the hardest thing in the world to do,” Mitch says.
He went straight out to his family´s horses and started the roundpenning exercises with his mare. “Twenty minutes later, she was following me around the roundpen,” Mitch says.
From that point on, Mitch, who was a freshman at Iowa State, was hooked on improving his horsemanship and learning the Method. His parents recognized his passion and dedication, and told him that he should consider looking into Clinton´s Clinician Academy. “When my parents had gone to the tour, my mother had met some of the students in the program and had talked to them about it. She encouraged me to check the program out because she thought it would be something I´d do well in,” Mitch says.
Mitch wasted no time getting on the Internet and going through the Academy website. “I watched the video that featured several clinicians who´d gone through the program successfully and read all the frequently asked questions on the site. Once I figured out that I could make a career out of teaching horsemanship, I was fired up about it,” Mitch shares.
It was the spring of 2013 when he told his parents that he planned to finish his sophomore year at Iowa State and then actively pursue the Academy, and they gave him their full support. At the time, in order to apply for the Academy, prospective students had to complete a Fundamentals Clinic and were accepted into the program based on their performance in the clinic. The next available clinic for Mitch to participate in was in April 2014.
He decided to move to Oklahoma to stay with a good friend until he participated in the clinic. “My friend is a farrier and a big Clinton fan and he knows a lot of horse people, so I knew I could get my hands on a lot of horses to practice the Method with. I wanted to get as much experience as I could before the clinic and there isn´t too much you can do with horses in Minnesota in the middle of winter,” Mitch explains.
When April rolled around, Mitch attended the Fundamentals Clinic and honed his skills enough to be accepted into the Academy. “A month later I was moved to Texas and ready to start the program in June,” Mitch says.