The 3rd annual Legacy of Legends was held from January 31to February 2 in Las Vegas, Nevada at the South Point Casino and Convention Centre.
The event is a self described labour of love by Buck Brannaman and Carolyn Hunt endeavoring to keep alive the teachings of two horsemen, Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance, that both have passed on. Previous students of Ray and Tom’s came from all over the country to share their stories and wisdom. Presenters included Buck Brannaman and his daughter Reata, Buster McLaury, Peter Campbell, Paul Dietz, Wayne Robinson, Mindy Bower, Nick Dowers, Jaton Lord, and Kip Fladland.
An additional goal of this event is to raise funds to provide mentorship placements for horsemanship students who want to develop skills in the tradition of Hunt and Dorrance. In addition to ticket sales, money is raised from a silent auction, a saddle raffle (courtesy of Kent Frecker Saddles) and two of Carolyn Hunt’s colts (from some of Ray’s original bloodlines) were auctioned on the last day. The mentorships were initially one month duration but as Carolyn Hunt explained, this was only enough time for the students to scratch the surface of knowledge so the committee has now expanded it to three months. This year they had 49 applicants for 7 placements with various horse trainers who had learned directly from Hunt and Dorrance.
Each day began with 3 hours of colt starting, featuring different trainers working alongside one another with the same colt for an hour. As traditional horsemanship would dictate, if a horse needed more time they adjusted the schedule. “Take the time it takes according to what the horse needs,” was an oft repeated phrase.
This was about each horse getting ready to be a human partner, not a Trainer’s Challenge type of contest where the horse can be the ultimate loser. In fact, Jason Lord was asked why he didn’t do more with his colt on the third day and he replied that the colt was one of his own and he was going to take all the time he needed in starting her. He judged that the horse needed to soak on what had been taught previously, before adding new information.
Mindy Bower presented daily on Retraining Problems in the Jumping Horse. She showed how giving a horse choice, and having patience in letting them make a choice rather than forcing a jump can boost a horse’s confidence and willingness. Even non horse jumpers can appreciate how Ray Hunt’s basic principles can be applied to any discipline, not just the western ones.
Melanie Smith Taylor, a gold medal Olympian who learned from Ray Hunt, demonstrated applying Ray’s principles in coaching three young riders over jumps each day. She remarked, “I’m not sure I would have won more events than I did had I learned from Ray from the start, but I know I would have had much happier, comfortable horses.”
Buck Brannaman presented a two hour horsemanship class daily, working with riders of different ages on horses of various breeds and advancement. Starting with groundwork and eventually working in the saddle, he took the students through a progression of exercises that develop leadership and athleticism.
Jaton Lord and Nick Dowers, who are both currently excelling on the show circuit, showcased how they use Tom and Ray’s wisdom for reining and working cow horse events. They explained the rules and judging of the events for those not familiar with the sport.
Each day ended with an hour of roping demonstrations where the horse clinicians simply played and had fun working together. The weekend culminated in a roping contest for bragging rights.
It was quite notable that when clinicians weren’t on stage in the arena, they were in the stands watching and learning alongside the rest of us. Many remarked that this was a great opportunity to learn from one another and to be reminded of techniques that they had learned but maybe had forgotten. This was a down-to-earth event where presenters were quite relaxed, many jokes were told and a few even teased one another.
The Legacy of Legends was very worthwhile to attend, not only for the learning opportunities from such a wide array of people but also that it supports a mentorship program that ultimately will benefit many horses.
Most importantly, it really makes Tom Dorrance’s and Ray Hunt’s teachings come alive for those of us who never had the privilege to see these horsemen in action.