Category Archives: Shauna

Kindness Matters

Through the years I have been inspired by many horse people, some well known and some just “average” people. My desire to be a better horse person has also been inspired by a young person who wasn’t involved in horses at all. She lived life with many health challenges but did so with an uncommon joy and positive outlook. Her motto in life was “Kindness Matters”. She showed me that the essence of all things good (like happiness, peace and laughter) came not with WHAT we do but HOW we do things. Through kindness in her day to day actions she brought a vibrancy that motivated others.

My daughter and Kahlo

My daughter and Kahlo

Remembering that motto when I work with my horses is like a key that opens doors in building a partnership with them. I have on occasion seen people interact with my horses who are impatient,frustrated and punitive in their responses to undesirable behavior by the horse. It seems to me that those undesirable behaviors only increased in frequency and intensity as a result. I have also seen other people interact with my horses who can set clear boundaries or expectations of behavior but with patience, tolerance and encouragement which then snowballs into more and more desirable responses and positive motivation by the horse. Acting with kindness seems to be an investment in future behaviour.

In his book, “David and Goliath”, Malcolm Gladwell explores the relationship between those in a position of power and those without. Although he is examining human relationships in a political sense, the analogy to the horse human relationship is an easy parallel to draw. In 1970 , Leites and Wolf published the paper “Rebellion and Authority: An Analytical Essay on Insurgent Conflicts”. It basically outlines that those in power don’t have to worry about how the powerless feel about their enforcement as long as the enforcement is severe enough to make the powerless reconsider any further acts of defiance. This belief system explain why some humans feel that punitive measures are useful in horsemanship. I’ve heard the remark after a horse receives a physical punishment for an undesired behavior, “well, he won’t try that again!” History in human conflict proved that this viewpoint had flaws and limitations, just as most horse people will relate a story of a horse that simply will not respond to punitive measures. A new “Principal of Legitimacy” has emerged to promote peace in conflict. Gladwell summarizes this as,”When those in power want obedience from those without, it matters primarily how the powerful choose to behave. Peacefulness exists when those asked to obey feel that they have a voice, the authority must be predictable and the authority must be fair.”. I have found that allowing my horses to explore their options in response to requests, to be consistent in my expectations of their behaviors and to be fair in my attempts to teach them results in a far more peaceful relationship.

Simply, even in horsemanship, Kindness Matters.

One of my favourite horsemanship authors is Mark Rashid, who has also made the connection that Kindness Matters. “it is my belief that becoming aware of how we participate in the world on a daily basis and how we perform our everyday, mundane (and or not so mundane) throughout the day all add to our ability or inability to ultimately develop the kind of awareness and sensitivity it takes to be really good at working with horses….it doesn’t begin with working with our horse. It begins by doing all those everyday things with as much feel and awareness as we possibly can, and then bringing that awareness to our horse.”. I feel the awareness and sensitivity Mark talks about are found within kindness.

I think my friend discovered at a very young age that infusing kindness in how she went about her day to day actions was more important than simply getting them done and embraced it on such a deep level. She has inspired me to find a deeper understanding of it in life and with my horses. She recently lost her battle with her health challenges, but she has inspired many to carry on with her motto “Kindness Matters” and I humbly ask you also to consider how it may apply to you and your horsemanship.

Legacy Of Legends 2014

Legacy of Legends - Buster McLaury

Buster McLaury working a colt from horseback

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.

Legacy of Legends

Buck is entering the arena

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.