Maybe I started out wanting to emulate Grandpa. He was my hero. What kid didn’t want to be just like their hero? But in reality, what he did for me was open a door. Behind that door was a whole new world. In the world of the horse there can be brute strength and hard skills but there can also be magical beauty and artistry, the likes of which I wanted to be on the inside.
I’m not sure that I set out with the goal to be a horseman.
What I wanted back then was to be Roy Rogers who could whistle, the horse would come running and we’d go get the bad guys. I was like most kids in that respect.
Grandpa started teaching me the serious stuff and getting me onto as many different horses as he could because he didn’t trust my safety and education to some knot-head who shouldn’t be allowed a stick horse much less a real one. But I also think he saw that I began to want better things between the horse & myself, at least I hope he did.
I’d also like to pinpoint the day, the moment when my game plan changed. Part of it had to do with maturity but the biggest change was in seeing what happened when you put a horse and Grandpa together for any length of time. At some point things changed. It wasn't mechanics, put your hands here, your leg there. It was artistry as delicate as spider webs and as special as angel hair. It was beauty and elegance.
A fellow named Jack came out to trim and put shoes on my mare. He’d worked out in Montana. He was extremely talented with horse’s feet. He took his time in his work and even more pride when he got the feet back to a point of correctness. The first day he came out, he spent a lot of time talking to Grandpa. It became apparent that as much as Jack knew, he was picking Grandpa’s brain for information he didn’t have.
On a follow up visit, Jack told me how lucky I was to have a guy like Grandpa to teach me. “He’s probably forgotten more than most will ever know in a lifetime of working with horses. He’s got a lot of feeling for the horse. It’s rare.”
It was one of those moments when I knew it wasn’t just because he was my Grandpa. The magic really was there, it wasn’t just family prejudice.
Jack used to call me and we’d talk for hours about horses and about Grandpa. One day he told me to get a book called, “Think Harmony with Horses” by Ray Hunt. He thought I’d like the book and that Grandpa would approve of the author. I’ve no doubt that –back then- guys like these, who put the horse’s needs in mind, were thought soft. They were born in an era where horses were roped; saddles put on, rode out until they quit bucking and then put to work. I believe there were few out there who went against mainstream.
Men like Ray Hunt, the Dorrance brothers, and three of the Johnson men in my family apparently didn’t have any problem doing it their own way and making no apologies for being different. It takes courage to be different. If a lone rock stands against the flow of the river, the water wears the rock down depending upon what it’s made of. I will be forever grateful that there were guys like these who didn’t let anyone wear them into doing it the old way. By standing fast in the middle of the stream of the norm, they began to change the course of the river.
I started out doing the horse thing with Grandpa because it was fun, it was something new to do together but I didn’t just have the ‘horse crazy girl bug’ that comes and goes. I fell in love with horses and I set out to find that same kind of magic for myself that I saw between Grandpa and horses.
And when I got the book Jack recommended and told Grandpa some things I learned there he grinned and said, “You got that from a book?”
“I sure did.”
He grinned and nodded, “You finally found a horse book worth reading. What else does it say?”
I no longer wanted to simply emulate my hero. I wanted to develop my own magic and own it. Somewhere along the way showing horses stopped being the Holy Grail. There’s nothing wrong with showing horses. But for what I wanted between my horse(s) and I was very different now. What I really wanted was the dance, the artistry with horses.
There came a point where I started to feel like – maybe I would be years from being on his level, maybe a lifetime – but I could at least talk to him as someone who some day would be a solid horseman in her own right.
I never considered myself to be a hotshot, up & coming, star pupil but what I lacked in talent and brains I did my best to make up for it in determination. I’m not the most graceful person in the world but when I fall down, I always get up one more time than I go down. I never figured to get anything I wanted in life by falling down and staying there. And I knew I'd never have the dance I sought with a horse by straying from Grandpa's lessons.