Kathy Armsby Speaks About Ray Hunt

by Kathy Armsby, copyright 2009

It all started about 25 years ago, sometime around 1984.

After hearing a lot of talk about this guy Ray Hunt, who was changing everything we thought we knew about the "art" of horsemanship, I decided to check it out. Ray Hunt was coming to a ranch in Lakeside, California for a colt-starting and horsemanship clinic. I thought about clinics the way I thought about group therapy, so I was skeptical at best. But the possibility of experiencing a change in everything I had known, or not known, about the horse was very intriguing and a little scary.

So it was with great excitement that my husband and I drove down to Lakeside and arrived at the ranch where the clinic would be held. The ranch owner introduced us and Ray allowed all of us to peek inside his trailer. I was struck by the beautiful works of art and wondered if there really was something different about this guy. In a few minutes, we'd arranged ourselves around the round pen and watched as Ray came into the pen, very quietly. He had a young colt with him that appeared to have little experience being handled. Ray went right to work with this colt, explaining all the while how he would make it difficult for the colt to do the wrong thing and comfortable to do the right thing. My mind was whirling, trying to comprehend this way of doing things, and all the while thinking, "sure..." After years of hearing how to make the horse do this and that, I was now being told "make it easy to do the right thing". Wow!

By lunchtime, Ray Hunt had patiently - but completely - changed forever the way I looked at "working" a horse. By the end of the weekend I would look at dancing in a different way, as well. During the clinic he asked me "what would you think if I asked you to dance and then dragged you out onto the floor?" Knowing the answer, we both laughed, and he explained that when he reached for his dance partner, and the partner accepted by giving her hand, he felt she was reaching back. It completed the picture for me. When you reach for your horse, you want your horse to "reach" back.

This "dance" of give and take, and the right thing being rewarded, and the wrong thing being just difficult enough that the horse would make up his mind to do the right thing, was so amazing to me!

Even though it has been so long ago, and I saw him ride in person only once, I have never forgotten the way he used his hands while riding his own horse and while working with the colt. I had never seen anyone use their hands so eloquently, nor heard anyone talk of working with a colt in terms of dancing. In Ray’s hands, it was a dance. The horses seemed to float around the round pen with barely a touch, and seeming, all the while, like they felt safe enough to think.

Through the years, I followed Ray’s progress and growing popularity whenever I could. I was interested to see whether he still taught the same things and walked the same walk. I was happy to know he always did. Life took over, and in the years to come, I raised my children, cared for aging parents and buried a husband. I showed reining horses and did a little here and there, always learning and keeping in touch with the horsemanship (Ray Hunt) movement that was growing, quietly in most circles, until the release of the movie "The Horse Whisperer".

Then, in March of 2009, came the most earth shattering news: Ray Hunt had passed away. I had heard of his ill heath and I had been so worried. What his influence, and the influence of the Dorrance brothers, had done for the horse was so comforting for me; it was comforting to know that the work was continuing and the "secret" was still being told.

I began hearing about Paul Dietz, who was trained and influenced by Buck Brannaman and Ray Hunt, but never had an opportunity to go to a clinic or watch him work. Then a long-time friend of mine suggested we host a clinic at our local riding club and highlight Paul Dietz. We forged ahead and set the date for the clinic. The day came and Paul began the clinic. In a short time, I realized he was talking about many principles I had heard so long ago from Ray. After the first day I was once again enlivened by talk of "soft feel", "dancing", and "making it easy for him to do the right thing". Paul, despite his youth, has a gift.

He is quiet, soft, tough if needed, and thinking all the while about how to better the life of the horse through communication and connection. He has a huge work ethic and I am very proud to have been working with him now for a few years, promoting his work through clinics locally. During this time, I had heard that Ray's health was continuing to fail. Whenever Paul was in town and talked about seeing Ray and working with him, it brought back to mind my one-time meeting with Ray, and how that meeting had changed everything I had thought about the horse.

In early 2009, I heard that Buck was coming to do a clinic in New River, Arizona. Paul was sponsoring that clinic and asked if Suzanne and I would like to come. My friend Steve, who had introduced us to Paul, urged us to go, saying that we would "never forget it".

Suzanne and I paid our deposits and excitedly waited for the day we would be off to Arizona.

About 10 days before we were to leave, I got the worst news I could have heard, and was shocked and saddened to hear that Ray had left this earth for greener pastures. I knew that Buck and Ray were very close, having spoken to Paul and Steve, and knew this would be a life-changing event for those people whose lives Ray had touched.

Off to Arizona we went. Suzanne had never met or experienced Ray’s methods so she continued hopeful and excited, having been a student of Paul’s. I was apprehensive. How was Buck Brannaman going to give a clinic to all of us students after going through such a great loss?

Well, the first day of the clinic was so bitter cold. Wind was blowing and I was freezing. I entered the arena, chattering and waiting for our clinician to enter. Enter he did: quietly,  with fluid movements and quiet hands, he guided his horse around the arena. I instantly was taken back in time by his soft hands, quiet legs and a demeanor that said this man was special, too. It took me back to that day many years prior when I saw Ray enter the round pen, and the way I felt when I left the clinic that November day so long ago.

I was locked on to his every word and knew we were all in for a treat. I do not think I was aware of anything else. My horse Chic and I were in for something very special. With the pain of Ray's recent passing still in his face, he began to speak about the days leading up to the clinic. He spoke of being with Ray, and talking with him, and quickly I could tell that Buck felt he had lost a very important part of his life, and that he had been passed the torch and he had a special job to do.

Buck was up to the challenge. It was a tearful start to the best four days of learning and "dancing" with my horse that I had ever been privileged to experience.

The work was hard, intense, emotional and stressful, but work I did. I realized how important to the horse this clinic was, and how important it was for Buck and Paul. On the second day, I left the arena at mid-day and was heading up to the truck. A man I had noticed in the arena was there with his camera and his chair, and he called my name. I wondered how he knew my name with all the people in this clinic, but I went over to him.  He was a very sweet man who said the most important words I had ever heard: "Kathy, you have a lot to offer the horse".

I walked a few steps and tears began rolling down my cheeks. It brought all the work I have done and all the thought I have put into my horses, all the miles and hours spent finding the meaning of the "dance", to the forefront. It also helped complete the clinic for me, complete something that had started so many years earlier when I met Ray Hunt. It brought meaning to all I have strived for, since that round pen experience some 25 years before.

Do not ever stop learning and don’t ever stop making it "for the horse". You will wake up and realize you are in on a "Great Secret" you must tell everyone about!!

Thank You, Mike.