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Ray Hunt Wickenburg Clinic, Nov 22-24 2009

By Mike Thomas

Our friend and most respected horseman Ray Hunt (Himself) put on a clinic hosted by Lee and Mark Smith of Wickenburg, AZ. This clinic has been, and is, one of the most respected clinics of the year for many years. Ray was in much better shape than he was a mere year ago and his enthusiasm was phenomenal. He was a very effective teacher to the inexperienced and an educator for those of us that have known him for over 30 years.

Carolyn (Herself) (often overlooked) was/is the driving energy that lets Ray carry his teaching of horsemanship to the world, for over 30 years now. A beautiful woman, wife and real partner, that has ensured that Ray will be available to all of us for as long as possible.

This website is dedicated to Ray and Carolyn Hunt; out of respect for his lifelong devotion to represent the horse in all situations, and let the human try and understand his lifelong dedication to the horse. This website gets paid nothing for anything, it is out of love, respect and loyalty that after 30+ years around Ray and Carolyn that I can still do something to let the world know, what a great horseman that took great horsemanship to the world… and made it stick!

My comments for the “blog” slideshow celebrate the students in the clinic along with Ray and Carolyn Hunt. First names are mostly used in pics as it is not a promotion for anyone, including myself or Nancy Rae: ”Web Wranglerette”. Enjoy our friends… my friends of the Inner Circle of Quality Horsemanship and The Trinity of Horsemen.

Mucho thanks to Lee and Mark Smith! A wonderful clinic and very sensitive to our friends that made it work: Ray and Carolyn and terrific students with great horses!

Nancy’s “blog” response follows. Her viewpoint uncovers abstractions that I could not possibly do and I am grateful for her talents. Husband Derwin has been very understanding.

By Nancy Lee

Ray Hunt: "It's not all that simple, to get that animal to thinking your thoughts. But that's what you want to do."

It's a clear crisp November morning at the Diamond S Ranch, Lee and Mark Smith's cattle operation about 30 miles southwest of Wickenburg, Arizona. Mike and I are waiting for Ray and Carolyn Hunt to arrive at the arena. People are riding their horses up from pens at one end of the arena and from a second set of pens down by the old ranch house. Cows low, horses whinny, and there's an air of contained excitement that was to continue throughout the 3-day clinic.

A Ray Hunt clinic is the Burning Bush of horsemanship. You get an awful lot in a short time. You won't understand it all at once, guaranteed, but if you remember as much as you can, and work on it and try things, you'll get more out of it than most anything else. You have to work on the short statements, repeated often, like you'd work on a piece of dried jerky: come back to a phrase, consider it another way, stack it against new experience. You keep thinking "aha, now I've got it" - and then soon, you realize there's more to get. A day or a month later, you go "aha, now I've got it!" Mike tells me this can go on for thirty years.

Here are some of the things you'll hear:
  • "Think."
  • "Get him to turn loose first."
  • "It's the little things that make a big difference."
  • "How can something so simple be so difficult?"
  • "I don't want fear in my horse, but I do want the highest degree of respect."
  • "It's fix and wait, again."
  • "The horse doesn't understand if there's no meaning or purpose."
  • "Direct the life in the horse"
  • "You have to keep the preparation to the position."
  • "Don't try to get it to happen. Get it ready and let it happen."

These statements, and others, unfold as you apply thought and experience. The concepts mirror those expressed by other thinkers, such as the following statements by Albert Schweitzer. Placed side by side, they illuminate one another.
  • Ray Hunt: "A horse thinks all the time. Humans only think once in a while."
  • Albert Schweitzer: "Man is a clever animal who behaves like an imbecile."
  • Ray Hunt: "My horse isn't my slave. He's a living, feeling, decision-making animal."
  • Albert Schweitzer: ""Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life."
  • Ray Hunt: "If you get unsure, the horse will get unsure. You need to be sure so the horse can be sure."
  • Albert Schweitzer: "Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing."
  • Ray Hunt: "There's a difference between forcing and encouraging. There's a difference that the horse feels - you make him want to (do what you ask)."
  • Albert Schweitzer: "The thinking (person) must oppose all cruel customs, no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo."
  • Ray Hunt: "Think."
  • Albert Schweitzer: "As soon as man does not take his existence for granted, but beholds it as something unfathomably mysterious, thought begins."

Of course, besides all the talking and thinking, there's a lot of action, too. The Wickenburg clinic was unusual in that it included both horsemanship and cow-working. Ordinarily, you do one or the other.

Mornings began with Ray speaking from a plastic lawn chair perched on the back of his Freightliner, explaining his thinking about horsemanship. Riders, mounted on their horses, stood quietly in a small horse-human herd and listened. Then Ray would ask for questions and people took turns riding up to him and asking something. Over three days, I heard one question repeated several times: "How can I get my horse to stand still (or settle down, or whatever)?" and Ray would tell them not to make the horse stand still; to get him busy doing something and he'd settle down on his own. He'd say that you don't want to kill the life in a horse. Instead, you want to use it for something.

Once questions were over, horsemanship class began. Twenty-odd riders were asked to move their horses along the arena rail, half in one direction and half in the other. They were to leg-yield away from each other when passing. It doesn't sound awfully difficult but to a horse, passing a lot of oncoming strange horses can be unsettling. If the other horse doesn't move away quite right, the rider has to ask for some agility, to adjust. This exercise sometimes results in spills when the horses get moving faster and riders get over-faced. No one hit the dirt during the riding part of our clinic, though a couple of people got spilled during the talking-and-standing-still part!

Riders were asked to count cadence, calling out each foot as it left the ground, walk/trot/lope along the rail with turns inside and out, and direction changes, and other exercises designed to challenge the rider's communication with their horse.

Cow-working sessions were held in the afternoons. Single riders first moved a cow down the arena and through a gate, then two riders joined to do the same thing, then paired again to move two cows at a time. Cow exercises got progressively more difficult each afternoon until, on the third day, riders cut "dry" cows out of a herd and moved them to a separate pen: real ranch work.

Compared with other horsemanship clinics, a Hunt affair is strikingly non-commercial. There are no racks of merchandise - just a few DVDs and rope halters laid out on the registration table, an old folding banquet table that'd been pressed into service. Friends jump in to help Carolyn Hunt write up duct tape name tags and during breaks, people spend time talking with old friends and new acquaintances instead of shopping for a halter that might magically make your horse well-behaved, or a $1000 set of DVDs that shows you which spots to push and gear to use, to make your horse happy about working with you.

That is not what you get here. Instead, you're asked to change yourself so you can get better communication with your horse. You're told to wake up and watch; to empathize; to become the horse in your imagination so you understand how he understands what you're asking. This is easily a lifetime journey - not a quick fix that you can buy and stick in your pocket.

A lot of people make the Hunt clinic experience what it is: Carolyn, who makes sure everything works, from registering auditors to hunting down microphone batteries to working cows through the release gate; clinic hosts like Lee and Mark, who fill in wherever needed and provide facilities like pens, trailer parking, a large arena and cows to work; clinic riders and auditors who know exactly how special it is to be there and who mean to make the most of it; and Ray Hunt himself, an extraordinary force housed in a body that's unavoidably aging but which remains remarkably tough and resilient. If you shake his hand, you'll feel his bigness - his power and warmth. And if you feel it, you bet the horse will feel it too.

Albert Schweitzer said, "In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."

Those who attend clinics to learn from Ray and Carolyn Hunt are thankful for their work to protect the inner fire of horses, and feel rekindled themselves in the camaraderie of like souls. It means no less than this: in our partnership with horses, we become more what we would hope to be.

Clinic Slideshow by Mike

Start the slideshow by clicking the white triangle. Slideshow controls are at the bottom of the image. If they vanish, you can see them again by rolling your cursor over the image. To read captions, pause the slideshow by clicking the Pause control (two vertical lines).