One Day with Ray, Tom and April

By Mike Thomas

I am not writing a profile for these two great horsemen of the Trinity of fine horsemen, as I am not sure I am qualified to do so at this point, even if it has been over 30 years. Rather I would like to relate to the reader a very incredible event between these two great men and a very fine bay mare, an event I can see just as clearly today as I did on that day.

The Clinic was over for the day, in the late 1970s…

I was standing and visiting with Tom. Just about all the people who were attending or participating in the Bozeman, Montana, clinic had left for the day, and I was still trying soak up anything Tom might have to say. Ray rode up on April, the bay mare, and asked Tom if he had a few minutes to watch him and April in the indoor arena and maybe check them out. Tom, of course, agreed, and he invited me to walk over with him to watch Ray.

We arrived through the north door. Ray rode April in and started to warm her up to do what he had in mind. I had known for quite a while how great April was but had no idea what was about to happen.

Then it happened...

Tom and I stood in silence watching Ray and April. The first profound thing happened right away. Tom watched every move that Ray and April were doing with an intensity of sight that I had never seen anyone do. Ray and April moved like they were floating on air, every move extremely accurate! Transitions in gaits were done seamlessly, no change in expressions on either of their faces. The transitions up and down were pure perfection. The multiple spins on the outside hind leg in both directions were seamless and amazing as they transitioned up and down in speed smoothly, without any visible effort from either, each giving 100% to the other. The slide stops were a total thing of beauty and peaceful to both, just like every other move.

I had been around Ray for a few years at this point and had just expected to see this profound work. What that previous sentence means is, I didn’t have any clue about what my eyes saw and my mind completely missed.

After 15 to 20 minutes of watching Ray and April’s work, I looked over at Tom on my left, and Tom had tears freely running down his cheeks and he had that big wonderful grin on his face! I was virtually stunned at this reaction! It dawned on me that I just did not have the knowledge to see what Tom Dorrance could see and it quite frankly shook me up beyond belief. I knew right then and there that there was so much more to this high level of horsemanship that I could not/did not comprehend!

Tom looked at me after that entire time spent in silence and said, “Mike, you might never see another moment like this in your life. It might happen to you someday and then be gone for a long time, or it might never happen. There is a moment in this horsemanship when the horse and the human are truly physically one, a moment when at the same time they are mentally one and also spiritually one, and you have reached true unity, true perfection.”

His face was dry after that and he finished watching Ray and April. Now it was my time to realize that I had one hell of long way to go to understand what Tom and Ray and April showed me that day. Soon Ray and April rode up to us, Ray dropped his McCarty reins on April’s neck, and they were still one. Ray asked Tom: “What do you think Tom?” Tom said: “It looked great Ray, it looked great.”


These two great horsemen and one fantastic bay mare April then quietly rode out of the barn and over to the trailers. Both men had an incredible moment in their combined lives and I was a witness that day. Their combined attitudes, demeanor and time flowed with vivid respect for each other, and April as well. Later I knew that I had just witnessed a display of horsemanship and lifemanship that maybe one in a million people could ever be privileged to see, appreciate and remember for life.

I went back to the ranch in near shock, trying to understand what I actually witnessed that day. By the way, I am still in shock about what I saw that day, and have never gotten to see again at that level of perfection and incredible respect for each other.

I have tried to tell this story many times to others and gotten this kind of response: “Oh yes, I have had many of those moments of perfection!” I always walk away knowing that person has no clue about what happened that marvelous day. Is it a limit of their knowledge and experience, or is it a genuine semantic limitation of our unfortunate language?

Friends, in case we forget: isn’t this the level of horsemanship and lifemanship that we all want? I don’t know what you are doing but I am still working on it at 68 years, with 64 years in the saddle - and I still don’t have it right! But I Still have a lot of TRY and I am not going to QUIT!

With Incredible Respect to Ray, Tom and April (Herself),

Mike Thomas (Himself)