If you’d have told me in 2008 when I moved to South Dakota that I could live a drama free life, I’d have laughed at you. I trained barrel horses for a living for crying out loud! I was surrounded by girl drama, angst, their “men issues”, and gossip. “Man hating horse beaters”, one of my mentors used to call them. Most all of you all know what I’m talking about.
What I found when I got here, was a way of working with horses where the horse is never wrong, emotions are always in check (because you’re supposed to have fun riding), a place where you smile when something doesn’t go your way, and you set it up again and… wait for it… wait for it… YOU WAIT. Seriously. You wait. You wait for the horse to figure it out. You set it up so the horse can learn; you’re not giving him the answer. You’re not telling him what he should do, you’re allowing him to exercise his mind, and his instinct. A horse will always take the path of least resistance; that’s what’s so honest about a horse. As humans we can learn a great deal about ourselves and what we lack, in character, through a horse.
I know we can all agree that having our horse be our partner and friend is the ultimate goal and so much of what we do on a day to day basis shapes that relationship. If you’re like me and want to improve it, keep reading. This year, I got to attend the Third Annual Legacy of Legends Event held at The South Point Hotel and Casino and I’m very grateful to share my thoughts with you.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Legacy event, allow me to give you a brief introduction. The Legacy of Legends event was established after the death of Ray Hunt. It was, according to Buck Brannaman, Martin Black’s idea. He, Buck and Carolyn Hunt, among others, didn’t want all of Ray’s teaching and wisdom to die with him. The event was founded then, if you will, to preserve the teaching, ideals and legacy of Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt, both legendary horseman, who had an uncanny ability to get along with all horses. Their teachings have been done the world over. These men changed the way many people think about horses. This foundation, if you will, works in a couple ways:
1) The foundation awards scholarships to students interested in studying Ray Hunt/ Tom Dorrance Style Horsemanship. The scholarships are given based on an application and essay, and as the foundation gets more money they give more scholarships. The students get to spend time with one of several clinicians/horsemen, that are schooled in the Ray Hunt/Tom Dorrance methods.
2) They host an event (which for the past few years has been held at the South Point), in which horsemen (from different equine disciplines) mentored by Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance come together to share their knowledge in “mini” clinics. Scholarship recipients get to come and start colts or ride in Horsemanship Classes at the event.
This year (as well as in years past) they held a colt starting – with the scholarship winners being guided through the process by Buck Brannaman, brought in Melanie Smith-Taylor, an Olympic Gold Medalist in Show Jumping, Jaton Lord (a top 30 rider in the NRCHA and Ray’s Grandson), Lee Smith, an Arizona rancher, dedicated Ray Hunt student, and clinician, Wayne Robinson, a long-time Ray Hunt Student and two-time NCHA Open Futurity Finalist and four-time Semi-Finalist. Seven colts that he started in 2010 made various finals in the 2011 Futurity, and of course Buck, who taught the colt starting, advanced horsemanship class and Ranch Roping.
All of the folks above, were students of Ray, who was mentored by Tom. What I find most fascinating is that they’re from so many disciplines. It just goes to show that a horse is a horse, regardless of what you’re doing with it. I’d like to say that what I saw this weekend was just a review of things I already know, and in many ways it was. They’ve been starting colts and training horses on the ranch here in the Ray Hunt Method for 20 years. However, I’d not be doing it justice to simply say it was a review. It was so much more.
I was inspired, once again, go home and do the best I can by my horses, and realize that the more confident I become in believing I can help them, the better they will be;
It was educational because I saw things I’d never thought I’d see done on a 25 ride colt;
And it renewed my spirit in the goodness of humanity and the spirit of hard work- as clinic participants ranged from novices to seasoned horsemen.
In the colt starting, three kids (and Jaton Lord who handled a slippery colt) -some experienced in these methods, some not – got those colts ridden without a single jump or misstep. Buck rode his 25 ride colt, Reuben (who his daughter, Reata, had started the year before at the same event). He flagged the colts from the back of him, while helping him cope with the sound from the flag he couldn’t see and we watched as Reuben tried hard to stay with him while he snubbed off a more sensitive colt for his first rides.
I was reminded that this style of horsemanship is about becoming your horse’s leader. It’s about becoming a horseman (A journey, not a destination) which to me means you put the thoughts and feelings of your horse first. It’s not about training. It’s about teaching your horse to learn, to think, and about always being honest with him. You want your horse to look to you when he’s in a bind- not check out on you. I know we can all agree that the foundation a horse receives is exceptionally important, and there’s no denying that starting colts this way makes a very self-assured horse, as long as we can stay out of their way. That’s the hard part.
The harder part is learning to accept each horse as an individual, allowing them to learn at their own pace. Their pace is probably not ours, but they’ll be a better, more self-assured partner if we’ll be honest with ‘em, and wait for ‘em to think their way through things and learn. To be honest with our horse means we’ll not snatch or jerk or knock on him when he tries and it’s not the answer we want. It means we won’t rush him, when we’re teaching him to think. If we don’t do those things, he will always try hard to please us. A horse by his nature, searches for the release, and if we teach him to look for the release in a consistent, kind manner, that’s what we’ll get. It’s about riding the horse from their very first ride, with the same quality and respect we’d give our finished, nicest horses. In other words, treat him like the horse we want him to be.
The hardest part, for me, is patience. Learning to take your horse from where he is that day – putting aside where you ended yesterday – aiming to have him softer and quieter at the end of the ride than he was at the beginning. If that means you take three steps backwards, well, that’s what you do. I used to obsess (and still do on occasion) about my horses being perfect. Making a “perfect” turn, keeping a “perfect” headset, and I’ve had to let go of them being perfect with every step. I’ve had to learn to aim for perfection, as a journey, not a destination. Horses don’t understand competition. That’s a human notion, and to exercise my patience means I’ve got to let my competitive nature go, so that my horses can learn at their pace.
I have many miles to go, or rather, ride, on this journey, and while I’m never going to be perfect, I can always try – like I expect my horse to do. When you’ve ridden horses for as long as me, and you come across something that requires extra patience, where your competitive drive can get in the way (at least mine does!), I cannot lie and say it’s easy. But what I’ve come to realize is this: the same principles I try to apply when teaching my horses apply to people too. I saw that tenfold at this event. Applying those principles to my life outside my horses is why I am no longer sucked into drama. I have learned to treat and expect the same from people as I do from my horses: Set it up and wait. Take that person from where they are that day; treat them like you want them to be. Be aware of who they are and how they are, so that you aren’t shocked when they do something that suits them.
Horses don’t like drama. In fact they avoid it altogether if they’re all able. They’ll go so far as to shun the troublemaker from the herd. That’s a lesson we can all appreciate! Even us carrying our bad energy, bad day, or someone else’s drama to the barn, can lead to our horse being hard to catch; can lead to a bad ride; or can lead to us being bucked off. I’ve been there. Horses are very aware of their surroundings, and they’re better at reading body language and energy than we are- they’ve had to be to survive.
I believe that good horsemanship doesn’t start and end at the barn. The underlying theme is to make the right thing easy, move at your horse’s pace, remember that life is good, that we can surround ourselves with peaceful, good, people, and taking the path of least resistance is best.
For more information about the Legacy of Legends Event, or to apply for a scholarship visit: http://alegacyoflegends.com
PS. To see all the photos I took from this event, click here.