Written by EHC
This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.16
“I have spent most of my life around horses. When I was growing up, my family farmed. We put our crops in and out with horses. Horses have always been a part of my life,” said Ray Hunt in his opening words to a crowd of horse industry craftsmen, product wholesalers and retailers at the Denver International Western/English Apparel and Equipment Market. This past January, Ray gave two presentations at the market. The following quotes are taken from the first of these presentations. The structure given to the quotes here was added later to help the reader move from topic to topic. Look for more quotes in an upcoming issue.
“My father was a great teamster. His horses were winners; he never made them losers. He was a horseman and maybe a little of him rubbed off on me. His judgement was very good around a horse. He knew when and how to go about doing things. I did not realize this until I got older. As I got older, I did things exactly like Dad did, but it didn’t work exactly the same way for me. So I found out there is something more to it, when you feel it in here (your heart), when you feel for him, when you feel of him; the confidence can go down through that body, or you can take it out.”
A horse is sensitive
“A horse is a very sensitive animal. He can feel a fly land on him. You folks who have been around horses know that because you put flyspray on him in the summertime. And yet when you ride him, you ride him like he doesn’t have any feeling. You ride him with a chain curb strap, a tie-down, martingale, wires, pulleys and cables. Why?
“You’re destroying what Mother Nature put in there.
“I did so many wrong things for so long, until the horse came along that wouldn’t put up with me. I couldn’t believe that. I couldn’t pound and hammer and make him all right. I’m not proud of what I’m saying. And Tom Dorrance came along and said ‘Ray, that’s really not necessary anyway.’ So he showed me how to go about things in a different way. I had to do some of the same things, but my presentation was altogether different. It’s how I hope you would present things to me, and it’s as I hope I present things to you, I have to allow you time to learn it.”
It takes a lifetime
“I need to know my job, what I’m trying to teach, and you don’t learn that overnight. It takes a lifetime to learn how to live a lifetime. I see young people that are around horses for four or five years, and they know it all. They haven’t even scratched the surface. It’s amazing what a horse will get done in spite of them, and if he didn’t fill in, we wouldn’t get much done with horses. It’s amazing what the horse will do for us if we treat him like he’s one of us.
“Now somebody has got to run this program. If I was running a company, they probably hired me because I knew what I was supposed to do. Anybody can hang up a sign that says ‘Horse Trainer’ and here comes the victim. Anybody. You don’t need to know anything to work with a horse.”
What gets in the human’s way
“There is no way that the horse will ever try to take advantage of you. He’s as honest and as truthful as anything you could ever work with. He has no ego that gets in his way. He has no pride that gets in his way. He doesn’t know what win or lose is. And those are the four things that get in the human’s way. It’s very sad. All the horse is trying to do is survive; he’s trying to make it. So I try to work with him like he was me, just like I hope he would work with me.”
“I have to have discipline. My company should have discipline. If I’m a schoolteacher, I have to have discipline; otherwise, the children will run me out of the classroom. Or I can’t teach them, because they are walking around the classroom looking out the window, and they aren’t paying any attention. I don’t have to have a club or a gun to do that.
“So it’s got to come from us to the horse. And what is your responsibility? It’s no different than raising a child. So this horse is running over you, walking on you, doing things you don’t want. Why would you let him do that? Who is the instructor? Who is the teacher? Who is taking care of this outfit?
“All you are doing is offering this horse a good deal, no different than you would offer it to me. I have to run this outfit or it’s going to run me. If I’m not running that company or keeping that ship on course, I’m going to run it into the ground or run it into another ship. So I have a responsibility .
“If you’re running the company and it goes broke, do they beat you? No, they fire you and get someone who can make them some money. So you have a responsibility to ride him. Maybe you don’t, but I’ve got a great responsibility here to make out of this horse what Mother Nature would like for him to be. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but you can make a sow’s ear purse that carries just as much money as a silk one.”
How we do it
“It’s not so much what we do, it’s how we do what we do. And all you are trying to do is get this horse to where you can operate the life in his body, through his legs to his feet, through his mind. The mind might come last because he don’t understand. But you have to give him space to learn.”
What I can offer
“This will fit any horse. It can be Bold Ruler or some old long-headed Mustang. He has a brain, he thinks, he feels, he has feelings. So it isn’t the horse to me; it’s what can I offer the horse so I can get a return.
“That’s what has made things so interesting to me for the last 40 years. And I’m still learning. I’m probably the best student at each one of these things because I know how much more there is to learn, if I could get ahold of it. I don’t know if I ever will or not. I’m not discouraged by that. I hope you folks will get there first so you can come back and help me.”
Fear and discipline
“Spurs are no different than a bat or a crop, or a whip. It’s an aid to help get discipline. He should not be afraid of your crop, or your spurs, or your bat or your whip or your romal. He should not be afraid of it. But the way most people use it is, ‘You better be afraid or I’ll hurt you.’ Then he is thinking wrong. A horse doesn’t want to get hurt, no more than you or I. You’re going to have to do something to make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy. But you should never do anything to hurt him on purpose.
“In our day we had discipline and we had manners. We didn’t have any money. This was back in the 20s and 30s. We just had ourselves. When father told you something; you didn’t stand there and chew the fat, you got headed that way. You didn’t say ‘why’ or ‘I don’t think so’ or ‘give me a better reason.’ You headed that way because he had nine of us hardheaded kids to feed.
“When he told you something, you did it, and I wasn’t afraid. But if I didn’t do it, I knew I was going to get a spanking. So discipline, respect and fear can be real close together, but they are as far apart as the day and the night.
“A lot of times to get a response you might think you have to get him afraid. Don’t get him afraid, I don’t want him to be afraid. But I want the highest degree of respect. You don’t get that overnight. What I give, I will receive. What I give him, I can take back. I cannot take out of him what I don’t give him. I can’t take out of you what I don’t put in there by teaching you something. I have to present it in a manner that you can learn it, so I can take it back. Now how are you going to do this? Get a bigger stick and hope to hell that it works out? I’m not being rude, I’m just telling it like it is.”
A reason why
“It’s got to come from here (your heart). People are working on their horse; their horse is all right, (your heart) has got to get in order.
“You ask me why I do things. You don’t have to do none of this. But there is a reason why I do what I do, and the horse is why. And then you show him and he says, ‘well I’ll be darned.’ But I ask people ‘Well, why did you do that?’ And they say ‘Well, that’s what they say to do.’ What? How is the horse going to learn if you don’t know why you do what you do.
“And look what the horse has to go through. Please, I’m not condemning anyone. But know where you are at. Can you really teach this thing? Everyone should have the opportunity to teach one, But how would you hope he would help you to understand? I think you folks can do the job; I hope you learn to see what’s taking place.
“It’s amazing what you can learn once you have already learned all there is to learn. Some people think they’ve got it all figured out; they are just scratching the surface. There is so much to be had here it’s unreal. And what I talk about, most people will never ever reach that goal. That doesn’t matter.
“Try to stay on the edge of trouble. If your horse starts to get really troubled back off and do less. That is so hard for the human to do. Why? They are afraid they have lost. Especially the cowboy. He wears a high-crown hat and high-heeled boots and he’s a tough son-of-a-gun. So he’s not too apt to see what I’m talking about; he’s too tough. For the lady it’s a little easier for her because she’s going to wait until her husband gets back, so she’s going to back off a little bit. At that point if I could I would just pour a little bit of that woman into that man so he could back off a little bit. Then if I could just get her to be a little bit braver, that would be great but you can’t do that.”
“You have to have guts and determination if you want to look for what I’m talking about. If you don’t, that don’t make you wrong. What do you want to do or accomplish? And what are you capable of accomplishing? It’s your concentration, your coordination and your reflexes in that order. But the concentration isn’t near deep enough.
“The human has to have confidence in himself. And lots of people don’t have the confidence. And the reason they don’t have it is that they don’t have the experience.
“The definition of confidence is knowing that you are prepared for the unthinkable.
“You say ‘Oh he might spook, he might buck, he might fall down, he might rear.’ So look what he’s working with. He knows you can’t handle it, and that don’t make him wrong to know that you can’t handle it. And he might do any of those things because something might scare him or he might slip and fall at any time and yet the people can’t handle that, but they want to go on with their horse. If he turns around quick, they fall off.
“So confidence again is knowing you are prepared for the unthinkable, and I don’t know how you are going to get that without experience, That still don’t make you wrong. You know where you’re at, you should know your capabilities. That’s no sin and no crime. You’re being honest with your fellow man. You’re being honest with him; you’re trying to keep him out of