By Mike Thomas, March 2010
March 30, 2005
While on their way to Fort Worth, Texas, on March 30-April 2, 2005, Ray and Carolyn gave a clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. At the same time, Ray was honored as "The 2005 Horseman Of The Year" by Western Horseman Magazine, the first such award ever given.
So, what was that day in the summer of 1981 about?
Friday Night, Summer, 1981 (June, I think...)
Ray and Carolyn were married the year before and the Madison River Cattle Company in Three Forks, Montana was their Spring, Summer, and Fall headquarters in between clinics. Ray had quite a few horses laid over on the ranch in between clinics. Whenever they had a break, it was Rendezvous Time at the MRCC. Their layovers were always filled with interesting, fun and educational times and great experiences with horses. Not one time did we ever have a plan. In between clinics, Ray might drop a horse or two off for a while, pick another or two up and head to the next clinic. Ray and Carolyn stayed at the main headquarters house when there, and it was an amazing point in time. The bunkhouse and apartments were filled with young students and family to Ray Hunt and they were on the ranch payroll. Carolyn several years later referred to these years as "the Golden Years".
One Friday evening, while I was bar-b-queuing steaks on the porch of the Manager’s House that looked out over the Headquarters unit, Ray, Carolyn, Sharon, myself, and our girls Michelle and Shannon were just having a good time, along with Julie Lord and her funny Shih Tzu puppy. (I miss those days very much.)
The cowboys in the bunkhouse and the cowboss, Mel, were off for the weekend. The cowboys included Mel Obrigewitch, Buck Brannaman (16), Preston Lord (18), Mike Beck (19), Jim Overstreet (20+) and Doug Kirk, and some "day work cowboys" who all had the weekend off. While visiting with Ray that night, I mentioned that on the East Side of the ranch, there were a bunch of broodmares being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I mentioned that I wished I could tie some insecticide repellant tags around their necks with baling twine. My thought was that when the mares stood, head to tail, using each others' tails for fly protection, they could get even more protection.
Ray immediately said, "Well, we can do that tomorrow!" My face went blank and I said, "Ray, there are at least 38+ head of mares, some of them 24 to 28 years of age, that have never been touched by human hands! They have never had a shot, a hoof trimmed or ever been haltered... ever! The "44 Mare" (buckskin) and "08 Mare" (grullo), if they catch you on the ground they will try to kill you! The others aren’t much better. Besides that, all the cowboys are gone for the weekend."
Ray looked at me and said, seriously, "We don’t need their help. You and I can get this done." I really don’t know if today I can really tell you what I thought at that moment very accurately. I do know I said something like, "OK, sounds good to me but I didn’t bring it up to bait you into this deal!" Ray gave that big Ray Hunt grin and said something like "we can handle it".
Saturday, 5 AM, Summer 1981
Ray and I chapped up, tacked up and gathered the 38+ mares on the east side around 6 AM and put them in the "Horse Alley" that fed two round pens. One pen was 55' and the second was 45', and they joined each other and both had gates that opened into the Horse Alley. I had built these pens about a year or more before. The 55' pen also opened to a big arena and the 45' pen opened into the 55' pen when and if needed. (In fact the reader can use Google Earth to zoom into Three Forks, Montana, go about 5 miles south and on the east side of Madison, and see the facilities for themselves.)
"I will rope and lass/halter, do the groundwork and get them halter-taught and then tie the insecticide tag on mine in the big round pen. You will rope, lass/halter yours and do your groundwork, and when haltered good, tie the insecticide tag on the one in the smaller round pen. When we have that done, we will lead each one across the Horse Alley to the big holding pen and move their hindquarters and take the lass/rope halter off in the pen directly across the Horse Alley, in front of the unworked mares. Then we will peel off two more and go until we are done." This we did that day for the next most wonderful 12+ hours I ever spent with my friend, the greatest horseman who ever lived!
For me, this was my baptism by fire. For Ray, it was just having fun! Ray could read each mare in 5 seconds or less while peeling one off for him or me in that Horse Alley, and knew exactly what they would be like to work. Sorting two mares off, making and knowing each horse into the round pens, was an art form.
Years later, I have finally figured out, he cut me only the mares he knew I might be able to handle. They were tough, but Ray took the toughest ones, including the "44 Mare" and the "08 Mare".
About a year before
Ray and I, about a year before, had a quick introduction to the "44 Mare" one day while we were horseback, separating mares from colts, so we knew how treacherous she could be. Ray was riding the incredible April and she was doing her awesome work, and while separating "44" from her colt, "44" spun and fired with lightning speed, and caught April in the right shoulder. The sound of "44's" hoof connecting with April's right shoulder was as loud as a .30-.06 rifle shot and could be heard at least 100-200 yards away! April took the shot, never blinked an eye and got "44's" baby cut off.
They proceeded with their work like nothing happened. Had that kick from "44" hit Ray’s right leg, it would have been instantly shattered, not just broken, and he knew it! The look in his eye was just as determined as April's was! What people should know now, after all these years, was that the look in Ray’s eye was one of real concern for April, and it was not long before we quit for the day and he spent the rest of the day and night looking after April, and he hurt more than she did. The amazing April knew Ray Hunt from the inside out and Ray Hunt knew April from the inside out, and they were one: Mentally, Physically, Emotionally, Spiritually One! Tom later said: "True Unity!" (See "One Day With Ray, Tom and April" from a year or two later.)
A few weeks before, I had the mares in a different Horse Alley, with "44" in it, trying to sort some mares on foot. Mel had warned me to watch her before this and I didn’t listen; he was on the fence. She saw me, took aim, and ran over the top of me mashing my whole body in the mud, like a bowling ball making a strike. I was fully railroaded in a split second. The only thing that saved me was that the Horse Alley was deep in mud from spring thaw, and when she mashed me under the mud, it cushioned the blows from this beautiful rank-as-hell mare that damn well knew what she was doing, and was not scared one bit. She could lay plans on how to get you and kill you, and had the patience of Job, to hunt you down and eliminate the stupid human!
What a mare, what a lady! April was about 14.3, Blood Bay/Bright Bay, maybe 1,000-1,100 pounds, a real pleasant kind of a mare to be around, big soft eyes that never left Ray once, that I ever saw. I have many pictures of Ray and April, mostly in my mind. Tom loved her too. We all loved April! When you saw Ray and April, it was almost like an out of body experience for the people who cared about such things! The mares in this story learned a lot from April and Ray.
"44" and "08" were two very powerful mares, standing around 15.3 hands with "44" tipping the scales at near 1,400 pounds and "08" about the same height, weighing in around 1,350 pounds, with lightning-like speed! Both were in their late teens, and every colt and filly they ever produced had the same outlook on life and could buck like no others! The two mares and their progeny were like flying boxcars! Both mares were by Moon Hancock, Himself, and I mean that reverently.
Back to the Day, A Year Later…
Years of horsemanship, real knowledge, real reading of the inside of a scared mare, grinning and understanding is what Ray could do in a split second, and never be wrong. Years later, I realized, while we gathered a'horseback, that Ray had studied each and every mare and understood each one insofar as who lined out first, last and in the middle to travel across the road. Ray read each mare on how they related to each other, the leaders, the followers, the intimidated and unsure ones. Ray knew exactly which mares he was going to work and the ones I was going to get to work. Ray Hunt could look at a pasture of mares and within just minutes, exactly know what each mare would be like to work with, even though she'd never been touched by human hands!
Ray and I started that morning running in this herd on horseback to the corrals, round and holding pens and we somehow understood each other, working without words. The mares came out of a pasture, across a road on the east side of the Madison River near Three Forks. Once we drove them into the Horse Alley and settled them, we tied our horses up in the 1905-built barn's tie stalls and went to work. We did not need to talk much because we knew how to get this part done.
We gave time for the mares to settle while we went about arranging gates and pens, and somehow we knew how we were going to proceed. Ray had given a few clinics there even the year before, when he married the incredible and amazing Carolyn. The year before and other times, we used the same round pens, horse alleys and arena for more than one Colt Starting and Cow Work Clinics. Somehow I could see Ray’s mind working and filled in behind my friend as we prepared for the day that we both somehow knew would never be forgotten by either one of us, a very special day, working mares that had never been touched, just Ray and I.
The round corrals that I built on the east side of the ranch were real solid and very well built. (The pics in this article were taken 30+ years later). When Ray got his mare and I got mine, we actually could not see each other while we worked, except during fleeting moments while looking through the cracks, and they were very small. Ray and I that day talked through the fence once in a while, him straightening me out, and we both laughed a lot.
Both of us were working individually and yet as a well-oiled team, with Ray showing me something special about how and what his life was, and is, all about! He knew before we started that this was going to a fun day and he allowed me one of the greatest day two men can have with some real tough horses, laughing all the way! Ray brought out of me skills I did not know I had that day, and it was an incredible moment in horsemanship history!
The Next 12 hours+
From "early-thirty to late-thirty", Ray and I worked each and every mare, with him sorting which two we would get next into one of the round pens. Ray sorted each horse off and sent her to me down the Horse Alley, working the gates, with the big round pen being for him. Thus he picked off the "tough one" he wanted, and he could read any and every horse in under 5 seconds, watching how they were in the herd in the Horse Alley. Since I was running the gates of the big round pen, he picked his first. Then I would advance to the next round pen, open the gate and he would pick one for me to work in that pen. Each mare would kill anyone that got in her way and not think twice about it; would not even try to avoid you. If you got killed, so be it. They had spent their lives defending themselves and babies from some very stupid-ass humans on a horse that thought they were Cowboys. (Horsemen, they were not!)
Then we both went into our round pens and went to work with each of 38+ mares that had never been touched by human hands for any reason. We went to work, with very little time to talk anything over or ask a question or visit. Each of us got busy! Somehow, I knew Ray was going to have a fine time with his mare and somehow I knew I was going to have my best day ever with each and every mare, no matter how wild, scared or determined each mare was, ranging in age from 8-26 years. If my friend believed in YOU, all things were possible with a high degree of probability. Tom was the same way.
Every mare was very powerful, the result of forty years of selective breeding for speed, strength and a lot of fire in their spirit! They were a wonderful group of great broodmares that had survived mountain lions with their babies, wolves, coyotes, snakes and the worst predator of all, the human. These mares were very special indeed.
When we stepped into the round pen, each mare was extremely wild, what some would call crazy, trying to jump out, hit fences and blow snot in every direction. About four mares did not do that, and Ray made sure I got them - he knew!
The first 10-20 minutes was about helping them find a place to just stop, rest, find a place of peace and let them think; a place with no pressure. This went both ways until they kind of mentally, physically, and spiritually turned loose, and found this was not paying off for them, and they started looking for a better deal. Then we would rope them and start on the Lass/Halter Teaching. Some took almost an hour, some took only about 30 minutes. Each mare we worked that day found a new wonderful way of life they would never forget, nor would Ray and I ever forget. Each mare was a winner that wonderful day when the world and time stood still.
So Ray got the tough ones and gave me the easy ones. There was no lunch break, water break, piss break; you did it on the fly! In just a few hours we both were wearing a lot of Montana real estate in our mouths, nose, ears, hats and hair, and we laughed with each horse that we led over across the Horse Alley and led into the pen, rolled their hindquarters, released, and got two more to work on. We rarely spoke all day. We knew what our job was and we were doing it, this most incredible day. Every mare WON!
Ray made sure that he got "44" and "08", the toughest of them, and they made the fastest turn around of all of them! Ray took the least time of all on these two and turned each one into the gentlest lamb, and that alone, while I was very busy on easier ones, taking longer, was astounding to me! It only took Ray Hunt less than an hour each to turn "44" and "08" into damn near kids' ponies. I could not believe my lying eyes! I asked Ray, "How is that possible?" His answer was, "That is all they ever wanted, to trust a human!" The tough ones are often the easiest, once you understand their fears in life, and take care of business, developing trust!
Please don’t take this wrong, dear reader. Please understand there will never be a Ray Hunt again! Don’t ever quit on your young aspirations of greatness with the horse. That is all Ray Hunt lived his life for, and it was not wasted, not one moment of 80 years!
That day is why I am writing this piece of history today, February 28, 2010. I could not be at the Ray Hunt Memorial Clinic to celebrate my dear friend's life so I thought I would write something that really did happen, so many years ago, and yet seems just as fresh as yesterday. Like Carolyn said, "Those were the Golden Years, when Ray was the full measure of a man and the greatest horseman who ever lived!"
The last mare of the day
The last mare of the day - and I can still see her now - was a big racy sorrel that really was not mean, but she could lose it real quick! She was a high-headed upside-down mare that could see danger in the left eye and a route of escape in the right eye; not a dangerous mare, but who could explode, and if you got in her way, she like the others could put you into an early grave, and she would have been right. Like Ray said for so many years, that mare did not invite either of us into her life. We decided to get into her life, and that is why the responsibility we have as horsemen is so important! It is not her fault if we are stupid enough to let her kill or hurt us!
"Sorrelly" was the last one of the day. I had done mine and took her across the Horse Alley and returned to watch Ray lead her across the Horse Alley to be dumped into pen of mares worked. Ray and I were laughing that we actually got to the last mare. Ray had his lass rope around her neck with a half-hitch on her nose as she went through the last gate of the day, 12+ hours since we started. We were both tired and near exhausted, but yet laughing.
Ray actually got off the rocks laughing! I said something stupid like, "Are you OK?" Thus ended One Hell Of A Day! But the story is not OVER!
Saturday Dinner at the "Land of Magic", Logan, Montana
I don’t quite remember how Ray and I communicated with Carolyn and Sharon that day about meeting at The Land of Magic Steakhouse, but we did. I think we used the 2-way ranch radio, but I don’t know when, because we did not take one break all day. Maybe it was when we walked back to the horse barn, after the rocks, to unsaddle our horses, probably. As I remember, Ray and I left the East Side, drove over the hill and down into Logan. Sharon, Carolyn and girls were already there. Ray and I walked in, still chapped up, got to the table and gave quite a shock to everybody. We had so much Montana dirt on our faces that some said later, "Nobody could tell if either of you were white, black or brown!"
We sat at the table while others looked, and laughed at the day we enjoyed fully. Ray got his salad, Roquefort and 1000 Island, and only two drinks, and then the incredible steak and the incredible double-baked potato. Somehow Carolyn, Sharon, Michelle, Shannon and Julie knew that Something Special happened today! Ray and I never said a word about the day. Carolyn, Sharon and the kids knew something funny happened to the two friends that day!
We all slept very good that night, so long ago, each and every one of us, knowing something special happened that Saturday in June, 1981!
Monday AM: The Real Funny Part of The Story
Monday morning and the weekend was over, and Mel, around 5 AM, looked out across the road from his house and saw mares with insecticide ear tags standing head to tall and enjoying the lack of mosquitoes! I knew this was going to happen so I asked Ray to come to the office early and just hang out, because the cowboys that were off for the weekend would never figure out how "they" got those ear tags on a string of baling twine around each mare's neck!
Ray came down to office around 7 AM and, on time, Mel walked in and saw us both sitting there. With polite stumbling of words something like this came out, "How did you guys get those tags on? Did you run them through a chute?" I said "no" while Ray looked at a magazine, with a toothpick dangling in his mouth, and I said, "Ray and I halter broke them on Saturday". Mel said, "Bullshit!" Ray grinned, the toothpick rising and falling with his hidden smile, pretending to read a magazine.
Sharon then arrived, knowing the story, grinned and agreed to meet at office. Within a half hour later Sharon, while Mel was saying "bullshit", went out in the pasture, haltered "O8" the grullo mare, and led her to us. And she was "as gentle as a dead pig"!
Needless to say that Ray and I just had an attitude of horsemanship that day, knowing what happened: just another day in the West, with knowledgeable grins of understanding and friendship with the horse.
The Real Lesson from Broodmares
The broodmares carrying their next baby could, would and did know how to get through the winter with their incredible knowledge of life. They did not ever depend on a human to survive. They somehow knew they could paw the snow off the grass, they knew how to break ice that was not too thick on the frozen water tank, streams and if that did not work, the snow was water too. The really great mares never depended on human ever. That is why the horse has survived for millions of years without the "two-legged predator’s" help, that thinks they know more than a horse! Apple treats don’t mean shit to a mare pawing the snow for a morsel of grass at 25 degrees below zero and they are/were not cold!
All the mares and ancestors mentioned had given birth to colts for four generations on that ranch, with several owners over the years. Mares that had never been touched ran in the hills, mountains, valleys, rivers, foaled out in the snow of spring, some blizzards and ate the green grass of summer, where they met the sire of next Spring's surprise foal they loved. The ranch was known for horses that could buck for no reason at all! Why not? The mare gives 50% of the genes and 95% of the environment to the point of weaning, when they never see each other again.
After that day with Raymond, every mare that now could be lead, because they wanted to follow a human, became a much better mother at teaching her colts that "you do not need to be afraid! Especially if you hear the word: Ray Hunt! He will help you! His knucklehead friend ain’t too bad either - they are friends, you know!"
From that day forward, every new baby, every two year old, because these great mares had no more fear about the humans in their life, were a real pleasure to work with and for the rest of their lives for others. Every colt that dropped, grew and later weaned was a pleasure to work with, and not one ever bucked, or ran off! Does not mean, they couldn’t be a little uncertain when the wrong human approached. I never met a horse that did not appreciate a Horseman, especially Ray Hunt, Our Friend as well.
It takes a Great Horseman to understand how broodmares raise their babies without fear, but very real caution and to be very careful about the two-legged predator, especially Horse Trainers and many Klinicans!
A departing message from Mama at weaning upon final separation, for all life to follow…
"If you are lucky, little one, after I have tried, with all of my knowledge, to protect you in the first six months from mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, snakes, rivers, rocks, big logs, badger holes, the weather, blizzards, drought, disease, parasites and more in these hills, you might get lucky and meet a Horseman, like I did! Dear Foal who I will never see again, that horseman was Ray Hunt."
"It wasn’t that many months ago, your Daddy shoved his Pedigree into me and now I have you and I treasure you. I have tried hard to protect you every step of the way, we are horses and that is our role in life. I respect what little I have done for you. Please meet a Horseman! Not a Horse Trainer or Klinican! Be careful of the company you keep, or you shall be known as a victim of another two-legged predator!"
Like in all life, various species, including the human, if Mama does not have an environment that is safe, the youngster is probably going to be protected, by Mama, the best way she knows how. But Mama can only live the life of nature she has known. What Ray and I did that day was to understand Mama! We both knew that the Sire was eating good grass, somewhere else and quite pleased with his role in life.
If Mama is happy, then a lot of good things can happen in a great start in life before weaning. Then Mama says: "Yes, please find a Horseman to give you the first saddle, the first ride and have no fear because you will never need fear, with a Horseman; your life will be good... trust me."
What you might not know about those days is that Ray Hunt and I were some of the first to ever ride fillys (cowboy spelling) on ranches! For years that was near heresy to ride one. Fillys were selected for broodmares on pedigrees with combined bloodlines and "how pretty they looked". All too many of them picked their wives the same way! They meant good, but that is what they had been taught. Ray Hunt was always about paradigm shifts in thinking and so were Tom and Bill Dorrance, and I am so thankful for what they taught us about horses and ourselves.
Ray and I knew one thing! Don’t ever pick a broodmare prospect until you can ride them and really see their physical, emotional, spiritual skills in life, those with a great love for their role in life. If Mama was one hell of a filly to ride, a winner anywhere she is, regardless of the task at hand, she will be one hell of a Mama! That filly needs a chance to be selectively bred to the right pedigreed Sire, because she has proven, She has Heart, Try, Guts, Stamina, Soundness and is a loving creature. She can take her natural instincts of self-preservation, knowledge of life, teachings (not training) and kindred spirit to every baby she has and they can be a winners, too!
Life for our friend Ray Hunt was never easy. He learned an internal strength and the horse was his teacher, all the way to the end. He gave us, each and everyone of us, all he had within himself, never weakening, not once, despite the odds. So many times in life Ray knew how to turn physical pain into the backbone of his character, resiliency, never weakening, no excuses, ever.
Today is Tuesday, March 2, 2010, and the Ray Hunt Memorial Clinic is over and a lot of fine young people did their very best to honor his life. Quite a few are now 3rd and 4th generation young horsemen and horsewomen in the making and are doing what Ray dreamed, in his dream for the horse and the people that will work with them.
Like Ray said so many years ago, "Someday I want to see a young person riding a horse, showing great feel to the horse and it looks good. I want to stop and ask that young person, 'Where did you learn that?' The young person responds, 'Is there any other way, Sir?'" "That is my dream," Ray said, the first day I ever met him in the 1970s!
Oh yes, one more thing! Many great horsemen and breeders also knew the horse Mama well. After the breeding season and the weaning, they turned the stallions into the pasture with the weaned babies. The Stallion could and would and did protect all the babies from all predators. Pop was a pretty damned good baby sitter, when all was said and not quite done! This took about a few million years to perfect and I am thankful, not one two-legged predator can take credit. Especially Klinicans! Real Horsemen and Horsewomen know of what I speak!
Mike Thomas Remembering Ray, Thanks Pard!
Special Thanks To TJ Vietor, for her support in life, especially after Ray passed on March 12, 2009, and over 30 years of friendship. TJ now gives me encouragement to write these moments of the past, present and future. She knows! She also knows “What A Little Too Much Boo is! Special Thanks to Nancy Rae Lee, Web Wranglerette for her patience and understanding of a knucklehead.
My Dam: Janie B. McCarthy of Mountain Home, Idaho said one time, when her only Colt accidently did something right: “Mikey, your good deed has given my heart a Good Push!” A really good Mama! Since April 8, 1940, the same day Three Bars and I were born, and he had a good Mama too! I don’t know yet which one of us hit the ground first and I do not care!
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