Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sonita - an ode to Ray Hunt, 8/31/29 - 3/12/09

Early on in our life together Sonita decided she would tolerate my nonsense, but she was not putting up with anyone else.
I found this out the hard way when I was showing off my new saddle to my step-daughter, Jill. We were meeting with a group of friends to work cattle and Sonita was saddled and tied at my trailer.

"It looks really nice," she said, "can I sit in it?"

"Sure, you want me to slip a bridle on Sonita?"

"I'll just hop on, I just want to sit in it."

Jill ran her hand down Sonita's neck and reached for the stirrup.

Sonita squealed and struck forward with her hind foot.

"Yow!" Jill jumped back as the hoof whistled past her knee.

Jill stared at me with her mouth open. I pretty much stared at her with the same expression.
My sweet little three-year-old ground her teeth, pinned her ears and snapped her tail.

"Is she always like this?"

"I really don't know. Now that I think about it, nobody else has been on her. Let me untie her and bridle her, maybe she wasn't expecting you," I answered.

I dropped her halter and Sonita took her bit willingly enough. Jill took the reins and put them over her neck. As soon as she put a hand on her neck and took the stirrup with the other Sonita squealed again and struck out with her forefoot. She turned her head slightly towards Jill, her nostrils drawn up and her teeth bared with menace.

"You know, I'll look at your saddle another day. You've got your hands full with this one," Jill shook her head and walked back to her trailer, to collect her own, quiet, mannerly gelding.

I stepped up to the saddle. Sonita stood relaxed and comfortable.

I grabbed the horn and yanked back and forth hard.

She whacked her tail a time or two and gave me a dirty look, but she had a point. As soon as I quit she relaxed.

I got on and we rode to the arena, calm and happy.

I was enough of a trainer at that point I understood the problems a "one-man-horse" was going to give me. First of all, she was going to be pretty tough to sell. Second, a horse needs to have manners and accept the cards dealt to them if they're going to have a chance in this world.

I wasn't flattered or proud of the fact she wouldn't let anybody else on her. I was embarrassed. Somehow I was failing this horse and I had to get her straightened out.

Once we got home I tried a few more times to get somebody on my rotten little filly. Her reaction was always the same. She made it clear she was going to get violent.

The advice I got was always the same.
"You have to let her know who's boss. Put somebody up there who can take her on and let them knock some sense into her."

I am not adverse to making a horse "see the light" if I think it will fix my problem. But I was just beginning to get good enough to understand Ray Hunt and I was very seriously studying his methods.

One of my greatest teachers had been my good horse Mort. I wasn't able to force him to do anything. When I learned to ask, he had given me the world. Finding Ray Hunt had helped me understand why it had worked and given me safe training techniques for almost every horse I had worked with since.

Sonita kept finding ways to remind me I hadn't quite gotten a handle on my equine communication skills. It still didn't seem like the answer was to knock some sense into her.

I just let things muddle for a while and tried to pay close attention to what set Sonita off. Her anxiety levels were through the roof. She hated change. If you moved her feeder she would refuse to eat out of it for days. Although she hated every horse who was stalled next to her, she would go crazy when one moved and another replaced it.

"You need to face facts. That mare's never going to let anybody handle her but you," my boss told me with the eternal smirk he had on his face when he talked about Sonita barely under control.

I chose to ignore him and kept on thinking.

Finally, I came up with an idea. I got Sonita out one day and just ran her through the mill. I worked her as hard as her young body could take. She was dripping with sweat and blowing hard by the time I was ready to cool her out.

"Hey Kidlette!" I called my young daughter, "Hop on Sonita and cool her out!"

Kidlette came running over, excited and proud to get a chance on my horse.

"Get on quick so you don't get bit," I told her.

Before Sonita had a chance to react, I tossed the kidlette up on her back and off they went. Sonita pinned her ears and shook her head, but was too tired to do anything more.

Kidlette walked around quiet, on a loose rein and cooled her out, Sonita relaxed more and more into her.

It became a regular pattern. Before long Sonita learned that riding with the kidlette was a lot more fun than riding with me.

I started to let my daughter warm her up for me. It still went well.

Then I asked my friend and client Crystal to give it a try. Crystal was an adult. She knew Sonita well. She looked at me like I was crazy.

So I started over the same way. I worked the tar out of her and gave her to Crystal. She hopped on quick, not trusting the teeth and they walked off. It went fine. My boss came out and watched them putter around the stable yard together.

"I guess she's not such a one-man horse after all," I said.

"Guess not," he replied. He looked like I'd spit in his Cheerios.

Ray Hunt died a few days ago. He wasn't a personal friend, just a man who spoke to me long enough to influence the way I interacted with horse for the rest of my life. I can't tell you how sad I felt when I read about his passing.

I found this article on the Internet. I reprinted it here, I felt like it said it all.

Ray Hunt by Rob Oakes
March 15, 2009 6:45 pm


We all have our Ray Hunt memories and stories. Mine all go something like this, “I once rode with Ray Hunt, and it changed my life.” Yours might be similar. In fact, many of Ray Hunt stories I’ve heard start in much the same way and conclude in similar manner. In fact, I’ve found that after some repetition that the stories are eerily familiar. They typically involve a “problem,” an old man who watches and listens from a fence, a bit of conversation, and a “solution.” They might happen one-on-one or amongst a crowd of hundreds. But despite their similarities, every recollection is important and tremendously personal.

Why? What makes a seriously gruff and short-spoken cowboy so special? After all, he didn’t carry formal education or degrees. He didn’t possess a pristine competition record. Yet nearly every trainer, rider, con man and huckster I’ve ever met will go out of their way to talk about their “Ray Hunt moment.”

The man himself was bold, brilliant, often controversial and occasionally brutal in his honesty or criticism; as he liked to say, “I’m here for the horse.” Everything else was secondary. Sure, helping improve communication and understanding paid a rich dividend, but Ray wanted no misunderstanding: he was the horse’s representative and advocate. And for an individual who sought description or honor like oil seeks water, it was one of the few titles he ever claimed.

What made Ray important were his ideas and vision. A vision composed of thousands of tools, notions or thoughts. Each one, ultimately, a detail that could significantly impact a horse and human relationship. As a result, every Ray Hunt story includes wisdom, cryptic mutterings, and smashed bits of where Zen simplicity met Western practicality at high speed.

“Fix it up and let [the horse] learn it.”

“Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.”

“When a horse is right on his feet, he’s right in his head.”

“Control the life in the body, so then the mind gets it. When the mind understands, then the feet to understand.”

Ray spoke a language that was utterly his own, and it could be irritatingly difficult to parse. After all, what does life mean (beyond the obvious)? If the head gets it, then of course the feet are going to get it. The head controls the feet. The language was philosophical, poetic and far too practical. That is, until deciphered, after which it was simply perfect.

Going to see Ray wasn’t purely an educational experience, but also a social and sometimes spiritual one. Everywhere he went, he attracted the curious, the devout and the desperate in the hope that he could help them solve their “problems.” For those who came in the right frame of mind, the results could be utterly transformational. As the man sat on his horse to speaks, mutter and criticize; a new world might open for those present. A point of view where the horse is treasured teacher, mentor and friend. And while it might have been a profoundly personal, it was something to both see and share.

Today, as we mark Ray’s passing, I find that I already miss the future pilgrimages which will never be. But even though Ray Hunt has left the stage; he is hardly gone. Forty years of travel, teaching and muttering have ensured that the his ideas and legend will never die. The advocate did his job and shared the horse’s message. So while the new “Ray Hunt” moments might not involve old men and fences, that’s okay. There will still be new Ray Hunt moments.

33 comments:

Redsmom said...

Janet, I hope you will share your own Ray Hunt moment with us, when you get a chance to write it up. Thanks for the Sonita storylette. You're always so imaginative with training ideas.

badges blues N jazz said...

love the brave kidlette! just trusts moms judgment and gets on Sonita~ lol

mugwump said...

And SHOULD she have trusted Mom's judgement? I seriously wonder.

gtyyup said...

Yes, I agree with Redsmom...that would be a good read.

It's sad to see our trusted heroes leave...then what I see taking their place are the dog and pony show clinicians...ugh... Mugs, who do you feel is worth spending the time and money as a clinician?

mugwump said...

gtyyup-I'm going to think on that. There are a few. But I'm going to go ride while I still have some light. Be back in a bit!

Longtrot said...

I had a Ray Hunt moment. Went to a clinic on my three year old. It was my first clinic, had no idea what to expect, but had heard he was good and my mare was so green.

I walked into a world I didn't understand. The other participants all knew each other and seemed to wear a uniform of sorts-- white shirt, chinks, vaquero hat. I was there in my endurance saddle feeling awkward and out of place. One of the partcipants remarked "she doesn't get out much does she?" I wanted to load her up and go home.

My mare was antsy, having a hard time dealing with the other horses trotting and loping perfectly on the rail. I wondered why they were even there, soperfectly turned out, so well mannered, and wanted to disappear as my mare crophopped in her excitement.

At some point Ray had us gather round, and startrd talking to us, offering some of his Rayisms. My mare had a hard time standing still; she was tossing her head and pawing the ground while the rest of the class horses stood hip cocked on lose reins.

"Move her feet" Ray said without even loking at me, so I did some circles and moved her hip and fore as he had showed us while he continued to talk.

At some point Ray pulled me out as an "example" and taught me to ride the line. I felt myself relax as I rode an imaginary line. My mare felt the purpose in her movement.

That was 10 years ago, and still think "ride the line" when things get a little challenging.

And I remember that day, even though I wasn't wearing the right clothes, didn't ride the right breed, Ray winked and smiled when he saw I "got it." For those of you who met Ray you understand this was rare, but I treasure that moment.

I still have the mare, and still think of that day. Have pictures too which now are extra special.

HorseOfCourse said...

Mugs, you know this is what I covet.
Your knowledge, and the knowledge of the Ray Hunts in the world.
The knowledge that comes through working with horses professionally over years.
Dealing also with the problematic horses.
A knowledge that comes through wanting to learn more, and not necessarily do things like they always have been done without querying why.
Being “on the horse’s side”.

I envy you.
Without working with horses professionally, you can only learn so much.
And I am very grateful that you share your thoughts here with us, so we can get part of that knowledge as well. Thank you!

Another thing.
In November, you spoke about your 6 yo, which you wanted to turn into a bridle horse in the best way possible. Is that your yellow mare? How is it going?

drifter said...

Did ya'll catch that Crystal was one of Janet's test riders on Sonita?

Can't wait to hear the end of (or next chapter in) the Sonita story.

I never had the chance to meet Ray Hunt, but he was definitely a special horse person.

Redsmom said...

Longtrot, great story!

Justaplainsam said...

Great story, and a great man.

Seems like its been a bad week for horse people. Along with Mr. Hunt, in our area we just lost a young girl to a horse accident, and another older lady was hurt badly, they still dont know if she will regain the use of her legs.

Makes ya wonder why we do this some days....

mugwump said...

gttyup- I'm going to go out on a limb a little. I'm going to post on clinicians and cinics in general, I'm guessing tomorrow.
HorseofCourse-Yes, she's my yellow horse. She is running rampant on pasture for the first time in her life. I am riding Pete until he's sold, so her education is at a standstill for now.It's all right though, the break is good for her and I'm looking at the aged events for her, so it doesn't matter if I'm slow getting to her. It would only matter if I went too quick!

Longtrot- You have more with him than I. I observed a few clinics and had a few conversations.I don't know if my story is particularly interesting, but his impact on me was huge.

justaplainsam- I understand, I went through the same thing when my friends got hurt. But
I never thought I shold quit. I just knew I had to re-evaluate what I was doing. Which is why I'm where I am now.

manymisadventures said...

I like your strategy for getting Sonita used to other riders.

I've just started doing something very similar for Pandora, though she doesn't get violent with other riders - just very anxious. I work her hard, then have my mom hop on and cool her out. It worked very well last night...she was very mellow and relaxed. My next step is to have a couple PCers whose riding I trust get on and do the same thing. After that, we'll see about people doing something other than walk around on a long rein.

I feel like I've missed out on the Ray Hunt boat. Is there anything I can go watch or read to find out a little more?

Justaplainsam said...

I know Mugs.... If I thought I was having a "do I really want to do this" moment after congress, its nothing compared to now....

Spent the weekend listening to "I want clumps of hair on your spurs when you get off!", and other such things.... if this is the way to the top, maybe Im better off at the bottom!

mugwump said...

manymisadventure-http://www.rayhunt.com/ will help. There isn't a lot. I have his and Tom Dorrances book. I haven't seen his videos, but I thought of him as more than a colt starter. It was more of a philosophy.He didn't sell tapes, reins, rutabega sticks or anything else. He just showed up, got a lot of people riding better and moved on.
So I can't vouch for his tapes, they came later, after I had been at his clinics.
Maybe somebody else out there knows more.

Fyyahchild said...

Mugs - Sorry for the loss of someone you respected. I'm not familiar but with him but I know the name. I'll be doing a little research myself. Some of those phrases he used sounded familiar from somewhere... :)

Longtrot - I love that some good advice crosses all disciplines. What a wonderful story.

Hey, good news. I've been riding my mare in a western saddle and staying on even when she has acted up, but the acting up seems to be decreasing now that I'm staying on her. I knew I could do this but she did have me doubting it for a minute.

Question for Mugs, if you know the answer which I'm sure you probably do. I'm thinking about trying my gelding in a Tom Thumb for trail riding. I've never ridden in anything but a snaffle on my horses except the curb I used when I was a kid and didn't know anything about anything. The quarter horse I ride uses a jointed Tom Thumb. I feel like it provides a bit more leverage without being too harsh. Am I correct? Do I need to do anything special with my gelding to switch from my D-ring to the Tom Thumb? Any help is appreciated.

I'm looking forward to the post on clinics. I've never been to one but I've always been curious.

Shanster said...

Lovely tribute... wonderful read. Thanks!

mugwump said...

Fyyachild - I am not a fan of Tom Thumb bits. To me they are a poor combination of a snaffle (direct rein) and a leverage bit (neck rein) the only problem is, they don't really do either.
They do however, cause quite a bit of discomfort.
The short shank gives the horse very little "pre-cue", but twists and pokes around as soon as the rider engages her hand.

It's true a longer shank gives the rider more "torque", but it also creates more warning between a raise in the rein hand and a pull.

Personally,my usual progression is a ring snaffle, hackamore then curb with a solid mouth. Although I have used broken-mouth curbs and correctionals, I prefer a longer shank and usually favor a solid mouth piece.

There's a good article by Mark Rashid that explains Tom Thumbs better than I can. http://www.todayshorse.com/Articles/TroublewithTomThumb.htm
I'd check it out.

Kathryn said...

mugs and laura crum, just wanted to tell you I ordered my first laura crum book today! I like horse fiction and mysteries but wasn't aware of the books until this blog ... and partly I'm hoping it will slow down my frantic checking of blog for a new entry ...

OldMorgans said...

Lovely tribute to Ray Hunt. Thank you.
I never saw him in person, but his teachings have changed my life with horses.

sagebeasties.blogspot.com

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

Sonita's stories always make me laugh. She and my Crabby Old Bat were clearly separated at birth! Although Sonita sounds more scared/defensive whereas Buffy just scopes you out right away and figures out what she can get away with.

Esquared said...

I haven't seen the tapes but I've been thinking about buying them so here is what I know. One is all about colt starting (its called colt starting). There are two others, one of which seems at least semi focused on colts but the other two appear to be just a bit more general purpose and philosophical in their descriptions.

Laura Crum said...

I love how the Sonita story is evolving. And thank you, Kathryn, for ordering my book. I am always interested in feedback, so let me know how/if you like it.

I am desperately trying to finish book number 11 by the end of the month so am swearing off blogs for awhile. I'll be back when I'm done. Happy trails.

mommyrides said...

Hey Mugs!

I'm a relative newbie to your blog and I gotta tell you I'm enjoying it tremendously! It is wonderful to encounter a group of people with similar interests and goals, such as doing right by their horse. Don't know what your readers are like offline, but on they seem real sensible and share a common desire to improve their horsemanship skills, for both the betterment of their horse and themselves.
I may be putting myself out there but it's also very refreshing that the language used is genuinely polite and well-mannered. Is so depressing to read some of these blogs were people get so hostile and the language used degenerates into something you would hear in an R rated movie.
Anyway, thanks Mugs for your wisdom and your willingness to help people solve their equine problems. I know I am learning much and thinking more.
Hope you have continued success in all your future endeavors.

Fyyahchild said...

Thanks for the article. Geeze louise, now I feel bad for riding Buzzy in it. Gotta talk her mom into going to a snaffle since Buz doesn't neck rein and doesn't need anything more complicated

Deered said...

Ahh, today has cleared up something for me - I wondered why people said Tom Thumbs were harsh - this is what I think of with a tomb thumb - it's got smuch shorter cheeks than a full cheek (or fulmer as we call them) snaffle, and I have seen them on small ponies mostly.
http://tinyurl.com/dy888k


I think our full cheek snaffles are the same, http://tinyurl.com/cvdqy7
However I have really only seen them (And used them with the keepers. Both horses I used them on started chucking their heads if when ridden without keepers on the bits.
http://tinyurl.com/d3l4yg

Georgia said...

Wow what great stories! Thank you!

I am just learning (still) so please excuse any dumb questions...

Longtrot -- can you tell me what Ray Hunt meant by "ride the line", and how you did it?

Mugwump -- If you had thought Sonita was just being dominant instead of fearful about new things would you have taken a different approach? What would you have done instead?

Also, I am wondering if you have any insights on my (kind of related) problem.

I have an 8 year old mare. I will tell you a bit about her in case it helps. I have had her for 4 years. She is well trained. She is aloof, fights all other horses ( never backs off and has multiple scars from this) doesn't have or want a human or horse friend, will snap/bite when being groomed, will try to strike or bite when being blanketed. We always tie her for anything like this cause you can't trust her otherwise. Had her vet checked numerous times for physical issues -- nothing.

She has an aloof personality for people and horses. If another horse likes her she doesn't seem to liek them back.I have never seen her in a grooming session with another horse.

She will "test" you on a ride (pin her ears and swish her tail and ignore or try to delay a response to a cue) to see how much work she has to do.

You might wonder -- what is good about this horse? Well she is fearless on a trail ride, could care less if other horses are panicking around her, neckreins like magic with the softest touch and has the worlds nicest smoothest gaits.

But what to do about the bad manners? I have tried the tough-line method of slamming her one (to put it awkwardly) if she snaps or bites and she will stop and reluctantly behave. But you can tell she is stewing and a bit pissed that she had to stop, and maybe just waiting for her next chance?

Is there a Ray Hunt type approach for this? Or is the tough approach the right one?
She is super nice AFTER a ride and grooms without snapping , although she once gave me a good bruise for doing up her blanket.

I feel sorry for her that she has/wants no friends, and would like to get a mutually respectful relationship going. I would like her to like me. I suspect she just doesn't respect me and really doesn't want to be having to do this riding thing, but she will tolerate it. She acts the same way with other riders and my trainer - and we all use the same method to correct her. It works (for a day, or week) but she never stops trying - just like she never stops feuding with other horses.

Thanks for your insights!

t_orchosky said...

Laura - do you have a website, or a list of books? I hate to read a series of books unless I start at the beginning and I really like the sound of your books!

Laura Crum said...

t-orchosky--Thanks for your interest. My website is http://www.lauracrum.com I think if you click on my name in the comments, you will go right there. The first book in my mystery series is "Cutter", which is usually available from Amazon or your bookstore may be able to order it. If you go to my website, you can read the first chapter of Cutter (and my other books) to see if you're interested. Thanks again. Oh, and Janet has reviewed a lot of the books here on mugwump chronicles, so that's another way to check them out.

Fyyahchild said...

Deered - The first bit you show isn't what I was referring to as a Tom Thumb. See pic at the link below.

http://equisearch.com/horses%5Friding%5Ftraining/tack%5Fapparel/bit%5Fgallery/tomthumb/


Anyone have experience with a Kimberwick like the one pictured here:

http://horses.about.com/od/choosingandusingtack/p/loosering2.htm

Fyyahchild said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathryn said...

Yep, will do. I did order Cutter because I like to go in order too ... and was able to get it from amazon. I'm excited to have a new series!

gtyyup said...

fyyahchild~I was going to suggest a Kimberwick when I saw your comment on the Tom Thumb bit.

I know this isn't probably what most trainers might do, but it's worked for me. I've progressed my horses from the snaffle to the Kimberwick to a curb bit.

The first Kimberwick I bought didn't have the slots, it just had the D-ring that the reins attached to. It also was a solid mouth vs the jointed mouth. So, I don't have a comment about the use of the slots, but can see how they can be used to progress the horse.

I like the Kimberwick because I can still use the direct rein if I need to without the bit going crooked in the horse's mouth and it does give a lil' bit more of a bite than the snaffle, but not too much.

Then I move the horse on to a curb bit that has a D shaped ring at the side of the mouth as well as the ring at the end of the shank...I can progress the horse in that curb from the upper D to the end of the shank.

I think bits are all about the horse though...what might work for one, may not work for another. Try borrowing some bits before you spend a bunch of money on bits that don't work for you.

So, that's my 2 cents worth on that.

Esquared said...

Deered:
your horses probably didn't like a full cheek without keepers because without keepers the bit can twist/shift and poke them

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