The Inner Circle of Quality Horsemanship


Quality horsemanship as demonstrated through the quintessential horseman is a beautiful thing to behold and approaches spiritualism when the horse and horseman become one. A true horseman can address all horses, all breeds, all uses that a horse might be asked to do.

There is an "inner Circle of Quality Horsemanship" that meets the standards previously set forth. The absolute center of this circle has been occupied by Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance, Bill Dorrance, Jim Dorrance, Fred Dorrance, previous generations of Dorrances and several generations of "True Horsemen" before them.

Ray Hunt (himself) brought this incredible level of quality horsemanship to the world for the last 40+ years and counting. Before that he was very busy putting his friendship and horsemanship together with Tom Dorrance in particular and the other Dorrance brothers as well. Tens upon tens of thousands of people and horses have benefited from Ray's efforts all over the world. Many of Ray's students are also doing clinics all over God's creation called Earth.

Many of these clinicians genuinely attempt to adhere to the values of the "Inner Circle" and would never think of trading off the names of those of the Inner Circle. They are truly dedicated horsemen that have ridden for years with the Inner Circle and to this day, never pass an opportunity to ride with Ray again or spend time with Tom. Unfortunately, others are gone. Each one of these current and future horsemen know that they must return to the center of the Inner Circle at every opportunity before it is too late, to find a way to reach a new level of quality horsemanship. While these dedicated current and future horsemen are not yet in the Inner Circle, they hope someday to be there, a very high place of honor.

I have chosen the word "circle" for a specific reason, as it represents the circle of life as well. This circle of life is also about quality horsemanship and lifemanship, whether it is with your family, your community or your horse. It is to a horseman about riding the big circle of life.


Do you know how to recognize a Horseman?

Let me be the first to tell you that any of the horsemen I have or will name in this article, or future articles, and some not mentioned, will REFUSE to call themselves a horseman. They will tell you that they have not yet reached the place in life to claim this honor, but all will say, Someday I hope to be one." It is easy to spot those that are not horsemen - they claim "They Are One!" Even worse, some think they are "Horse Whisperers".

Please do not misunderstand me on one important point. There are some other important and significant "inner Circles" of quality horsemanship, although they are few, infrequent and rare When true horsemen meet each other from any part of the world, they bond quickly. True horsemen know what they know, and know that those that adhere to the principles of quality horsemanship with all breeds, all disciplines, all knowing, can and will have a smile on their face when they meet or work together.


Who am I?

My name is Mike Thomas, a very lucky human being. I have had the genuine privilege of riding and associating off and on, with Ray and Tom for about 26+ years. I am not a clinician! Regardless of my experience, I do not consider myself qualified to be one, and could not ever think of trading off the names of the Inner Circle. In 1975, I heard of Ray Hunt and did not believe the incredible stories I was hearing about what this man could accomplish with a horse in less than an hour. It sounded like another "Gimmick Guy" to me. Little did I know that within just months I would be hired to be general manager of a highly financially troubled ranch in Three Forks, Montana.

I was only there a few short months when Ray Hunt hit Bozeman, Montana. (That clinic alone is worth another article.) By the end of the first day of the first week, I decided to commit our entire 140-head horse herd to the assistance of Ray Hunt. The ranch was the now legendary Madison River Cattle Company of Three Forks, Montana. We ran one to two thousand plus head of cattle per year, farmed 4500 acres, irrigated and dry land. The point of all this is that I could take 5 colts and 5 started horses and 5 cowboys to Ray Hunt clinics and when they came back, the colts were "on the payroll"! We repreated this every 2-3 weeks through the spring, summer and fall in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho and other places. This built one of the finest collections of started and developing horses anywhere. This also developed the cowboys because with each clinic they had new skills and abilities at working with the entire herd as well. What each one learned then was extended to many other horses that never saw a clinic - a great investment!


Who is Buck?

There was one person, a "kid", 16 years old, who now has developed into a phenomenal horseman. I hired him at 16, thinking he was 18, because he had just graduated from high school. This "kid" had extraordinary gifts! He was extremely intelligent, athletic, had a strong desire to succeed and never fail, smarter than the boss (even then) and was really searching for something to hang his hat on for life. He found it with the "Inner Circle' and the horse!

The "kid" had just gone through a very turbulent time in his life. His mother, Carol Alberta Brannaman, had passed away from diabetes. Her sons, Buck and Smokie, were the "Original Sugar Pops Kids", in a cereal commercial on national television. She passed away just after seeing her last airing of that commercial. This was later learned by the boys from her caregiver at their mother's funeral. The caregiver said, and Buck later interpreted, that she was waiting to see her boys on TV one last time and hear their voices, in her mind. The boys knew they were in trouble. They knew they needed helpf from someone other than their father.

The years of traveling with his mother and father all over the United States, trick roping, television programs ("What's My Line?" and others) before the age of ten, had take their toll. Their father was angry, confused, bitter, lost and out of control. The phenomenal and legendary sheriff, Johnny France, of Ennis, Montana, saw a major problem with Buck and Smokie, and their father, and went to work. Sheriff France and the wonderful "Shirley Family" intervened and the boys' lives were given a new beginning, a jump-start. I did not know all of this history when I hired him, but as time and clinics went forward, it all came out.

A most amazing part of this, that has never been written, was when Ray and Buck met in the first few clinics. During the next dozen clinics or so, Ray spotted some inner trouble in Buck and his relationship with the horse. These issues were worked out between Ray and Buck over more and more clinics. Do I know what went on? I think I do, but it is no one else's business to know, it's a private covenant in my mind, but I am grinning.

Buck experienced what all of the dedicated students of the "Inner Circle" experience. That experience for the first dozen clinics is a combination of: amazement, shock, disbelief, belief, a new sense of pride and shame, discovery and confusion, "I got it!", "No, I don't," and may other paradigm shifts.

With each and every clinic (dozens) he just kept on growing in confidence , ability and was really starting to believe in himself. I stand with the Shirley family with a deep sense of pride that we collectively believed in this extraordinary human being - BUCK BRANNAMAN! A man truly dedicated to the "Inner Circle" to this day.

His whole story is in "The Faraway Horses", by Buck Brannaman, from Lyons Press, and featured on NBC Dateline this past winter, with reviews of the book by Tom Brokaw and Robert Redford.


Over the years

During all the years I have been around the "Inner Circle", I have observed qutie a few others that have had the inner strength and quality of horsemanship that can help many people and many horses. The common thread is to do honor to the "Inner Circle". Some are clinicians and many are not, but will continue to pass their horsemanship on to others, and other generations of horses and people to come. Thus, "The Legend of the Inner Circle" will continue and thus prove the values of lifemanship and horsemanship that are worth preserving. The winner, of course, will be the horse. A few years later (1985), I was to meet another "kid", who would and has made a major contribution to the "Inner Circle".


Paul Dietz: A horseman with humility

Humility can be an incredible asset in dealing with horses and people. Paul has studied for many years on how to bring a "new dimension" to horses, students, workshops and clinics. He always goes back to the Inner Circle to learn a new level of quality horsemanship and treats those near the circle with respect and humility.

To Paul Dietz, quality horsemanship is equal to quality lifemanship, were life is a journey and needs to be enjoyed by the horse and the human. He spent years working with Buck, Ray, Tom and Bill, and continues to return for help from the "Inner Circle" and those close to it.

His mental preparation for each and every lesson, class, workshop, demonstration or clinic, is nothing less than phenomenal. If you and your horse are looking for a better way, a Paul Dietz experience can be a great experience. Every student and horse is treated with respect and humility. Each student leaves with a life plan for his or her horse and each other.

If you are looking for PIZZAZZ, fancy ads, Mr. Excitement, awards, bells and whistles - GO SOMEWHERE ELSE!!! If you are looking for help - a Paul Dietz experience will help you, open your mind, body and soul, and your horse will appreciate your dedication and your decision.


How do I know that?

I first met Paul Dietz at the ripe age of 14 in 1985. His father, Gene Dietz, asked me to help load a bay gelding in a two-horse trailer. That was an easy day. But while doing this, a 14-year-old was watching. Gene Dietz worked hard with me to bring Buck Brannaman to Phoenix and Scottsdale. Two years later, it finally happened at the now infamous "Mohawk Clinic" (see Buck's book).

I asked Buck if Paul could get a free "slot" in the Horsemanship class. Buck said "Sure!" The grounds were that he was already helping me. This kid not only helped me work horses, he was like a magnetic shadow studying every horse and me for weeks and months.

Paul spent every available summer in years to come working with Buck, exposed to those of the "Inner Circle", and some might say.. "the rest is history".

Do NOT miss an opportunity to know what I know about the people I know and deeply respect. Your life and your horse's life will improve if you can give it a chance to succeed. Do not set your horse and you up for failure. It is not fair to either of you! The progress will happen quickly if you can dedicate yourself to the values of the "Inner Circle of Quality Horsemanship".

Don't be confused with the dozens upon of "Horse Whisperers" and the others who are behind every other fence post. Attend the clinic of those mentioned in this article and find out whom they recommend for further assistance besides themselves.


To be continued...


Copyright Mike Thomas