By Mike Thomas (Himself), 2010
Once upon a time, long ago in Three Forks, Montana, a very beautiful lady drove into Madison River Cattle Company in a canary yellow Cadillac with a color-matched two-horse trailer, and little did any of us know that the driver was on the verge of changing the horse industry forever! When she pulled up, stopped and got out, we saw she was shy, pretty and unassuming. All of us were near dumbstruck when this fine lady drove into the ranch following Ray Hunt. That did not change for the next 30+ years. We had no clue, that day, what an incredible impact one fine lady could have on the entire horse industry.
The first time I saw Ray Hunt
Starting around 1973, I started hearing stories from respected cattlemen, horsemen and cowboys about a guy called Ray Hunt. Earlier, while going to rodeos in California in the early- to mid-1960s, I became enthralled with stories of "Californio Horsemen" and "Bridle Horsemen". Names like Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Don Dodge and others were circulating among my peer group, always with respect. I had no clue who these men were, but liked what I was hearing about their horses and made a commitment to know more.
In the early- to mid-1970s, stories were circulating about Ray Hunt and what he could get done with a horse. Every story seemed impossible and I did not believe any of them. Then it happened! In 1978, Ray Hunt was coming to Montana and I had a whole lot of 2, 3, 4, & 5 year-old Moon Hancock (6666 breeding/Triangle Lady 7),/Silver Black (Old Sorrel 209 bred/King Ranch) colts that were running in the hills for the previous years of their life and had only been touched once or twice when gelded or just weaned and was a slam jam, bam intro to the human. They also had a 30-year herd reputation for bucking for no reason at all, and that reputation was all over Montana and the Northwest!
I had recently taken over the ranch with lots of major problems and about 60 head of these unstarted horses, and nobody wanted to ride them. So I had a big reason to meet Ray Hunt, and could only hope that the stories were true and that he would become a friend to the ranch, colts and cowboys, including myself.
So when I heard that Ray Hunt was coming, I signed up the first four colts in the colt class and five horses in the horsemanship class, and history was made. It continues to be made by all involved. We attended dozens of other clinics in the Northwest over the next several years, and I have never regretted that decision.
Ray pulled into Bozeman, Montana in an old pickup, with a camper, well-used bumper stock horse trailer and a dog, and during the next week, took us all by storm with his incredible horsemanship. We devoted the ranch and all of the rest of our natural lives and all horses forever to this incredible horseman. When he got some money, he would check into a motel for the weekend, heal up, and watch Bonanza or old westerns on TV, with his dog.
Cattlemen, ranchers and cowboys were networking only via land lines, cattle buyers, auctions, local cowboy/farmer whiner cafes and stock growers' meetings. The word was spreading in the grand old Cowboy-Rancher network, with not one computer or cell phone yet invented that anyone could use.
The rumor was that Ray, who was recently divorced, had met a recently-divorced lady somewhere around Mountain Home, Idaho, and they were starting to "hook on" to each other. In those days, ranchers sometimes had no news for days or weeks, so any information from soap salesmen, cowboys or any other source that had been around northern Idaho, was welcome, and at that time, the subject was "Who is Ray’s girlfriend?" In Montana, we were hooked onto this guy who drove a near broken-down rig and made magic with horses. So any info on him was the hot topic of the time.
Then Carolyn (Herself) pulled into the ranch in that Yellow Cadillac, and we were struck with shock and awe.
The next several months
Of course we wanted to know if this lady could actually ride a horse. Indeed she could, even though she felt the pressure of everyone who might be quick to criticize, and in the first couple dozen clinics, she was kind of a tag-along girlfriend. Then things changed forever. Everyone who met Ray and Carolyn knew that they would team up their horses someday! Carolyn covered all of the areas that Ray was not so good at, and did it in a style that was to guarantee that Ray Hunt would be the greatest horseman/clinician in all history. During the next several months - the months prior to and after the wedding - many things changed.
Carolyn's son Preston Lord and daughter Julie Lord moved into the MRCC Ranch. The Ranch also became the Montana layover between clinics in the spring, summer and fall, and for several of their horses. Preston, age 18, moved into the bunkhouse, and Julie moved into Sharon and our house. Buck Brannaman, age 16, and Mike Beck, age around 20, were in the bunkhouse with his great Border Collie. Jim and Ann Aller Overstreet moved into the married-people condo/apartment building. Doug Kirk and family were in another condo/apartment, and all these folks were under 30 years old. (All buildings built around 1905-1910).
The bunkhouse that had previously been filled with ex-convicts was now turning into an Ice Cream Kids Bunkhouse/Social Club and Young Married Couples Apartments! Oh yes, dozens of young people in southwest Montana started to make commitments of their lives to the horse and Ray and Carolyn, at the ranch and in several states!
In short, we all committed to the future of Ray and Carolyn together for life, and all of us over time became infatuated and loved the idea of their marriage. Once I got a rumor that they had an argument about the future, and I really started to sweat.
I knew that Carolyn was the right answer for Ray Hunt for the rest of his natural and unnatural life. Oh yes! Carolyn and her horsewomanship really improved and she was not about talking about it, she was doing it, and giving incredible effort and dedication. This made us all in those days really love the future wife of Ray Hunt (Himself). She built bridges to the future and did it with class, and that has not changed to this day. It was in the spring of 1980 that we learned a marriage was in the works, and we all knew Ray had just saved his ass!
Carolyn had all of our votes! She proved to everyone involved that she had the try to follow the greatest horseman taking what we all believed in to the world! What follows was far more exciting than I can put into words.
The marriage of Ray and Carolyn, till death did them apart
In late August, 1980 we had a colt starting and cow working at MRCC with Ray and Carolyn and during the noon hours Ray, Carolyn, Sharon and I were running to Bozeman courthouse and getting them a Montana Marriage License, Gallatin County. Ray never took his chaps or spurs off while running up the stairs of the court house. This was followed by confusion of blood tests and getting a marriage license in Gallatin County and being married on Saturday, the day after the cow working near St. George Lake, near Philipsburg, Montana.
This part was all arranged and done by the very beautiful TJ Vietor of the Vietor Ranch in Philipsburg, MT. What a week! Plus Ray, Carolyn, Sharon and I stopped off at a camera store to get a camera, an Olympus One 35mm for the occasion on Saturday.
The wedding, on August 31, 1980 - Ray’s Birthday, was beautiful in every sense and TJ Vietor was the incredible horsewoman force and deserves all the credit. TJ had the church, the scene and all difficult arrangements made so that it flowed better than any Hollywood movie could ever do. TJ got it done, and I was the drafted wedding photographer with their new camera. Oh yes - Ray and Carolyn drove up in the Yellow Cadillac!
The next 28 years…+3
Carolyn always had, from the get-go, what it would take to help Ray take the horsemanship of the Trinity of Horsemen to the world. She knew all of Ray’s lack of knowledge in the business world and protected him like no other could. She was the "business spine" and knew what she had to do to protect Ray until his last day. Oh yes, she was there for that as well, March 12, 2009!
Dear Friends: Ray gave us all he had in himself! Carolyn made sure with years of love and major health difficulties that we could enjoy Ray to the very end. Yes, she was there then as well. Carolyn is and was the glue that held Ray together for all the rest of us and is responsible for all of us over the years to enjoy Ray’s life.
It all started and ended with The Yellow Cadillac
At Ray’s Memorial Service in Era, Texas on March 21, 2009, I approached Carolyn and said: "I still want to do a story called "Carolyn and The Yellow Cadillac'." Carolyn laughed at a time when any kind of a laugh was hard to muster up. She then smiled and said "find Julie (her daughter) and ask her about the Yellow Cadillac!" All the while she was smiling with a wonderful loving smile, and we both knew the significance of this car that yet today remains at Rattlesnake Ranch in Mountain Home, Idaho.
I found Julie (Lord) Ristau talking to a group of fine ladies and said, "Mom told me to ask you about the Yellow Cadillac." Julie laughed and told me the not-so-final story about the Yellow Cadillac: "Last summer at the ranch I had to take Ray into Boise to see a skin doctor. The choice was a pickup with air conditioning or the Yellow Cadillac, and Ray wanted to go in the Yellow Cadillac with no A/C. When we got to the doctor's office, Ray went in and I went to the hardware store for supplies and was really grateful to get into the air conditioned store, and my britches were wet from sweat from the white leather seats, and the relief was wonderful! Then I went back to pick up Ray and heard him laughing with the skin doc and then he came out, he got in the Yellow Cadillac and we headed for Mountain Home. When I asked Ray about the doctor, he said something like 'Nice guy but I don’t want to ever see him again!'"
During the journey home, Ray was loving and enjoying his memories of the Yellow Cadillac, heat and all, even if Julie suffered, big time. Ray loved that damned Yellow Cadillac even during his last summer at Mountain Home, Idaho.
The Yellow Cadillac now resides in Mountain Home, Idaho. The car that changed the horse industry and brought us the wonderful Carolyn that made Ray’s life dream come true. The Yellow Cadillac is just one wonderful icon of the incredible Ray and Carolyn and their dedication to all of us. If you spill a tear, don’t worry, I spilled enough to irrigate an acre of good alfalfa hay.
Carolyn and Ray with the Yellow Cadillac that because of their love, changed the horse industry forever, a true partnership in life. Folks: I would love to hear the stories that Yellow Cadillac could tell if it had a voice!
Vaya con dios amigos,
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