Ray Hunt, Horseman… THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A HORSE WHISPERER.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A HORSE WHISPERER. There never has been and never will be. The idea is an affront to the horse. You can talk and listen to horses all you want, and what you will learn, if you pay close attention, is that they live on open ground way beyond language and that language, no matter how you characterize it, is a poor trope for what horses understand about themselves and about humans. You need to practice only three things, patience, observation and humility, all of which were summed up in the life of an old man who died Tuesday (July 20, 1999) in California, a man named Bill Dorrance.

Dorrance was 93, and until only a few months before his death he still rode and he still roped. He was one of a handful of men, including his brother Tom, who in separate ways have helped redefine relations between the horse and the human. Bill Dorrance saw that subtlety was nearly always a more effective tool than force, but he realized that subtlety was a hard tool to exercise if you believe, as most people do, that you are superior to the horse. There was no dominance in the way Dorrance rode, or in what he taught, only partnership. To the exalted horsemanship of the vaquero — the Spanish cowboy of 18th-century California — he brought an exalted humanity, whose highest expression is faith in the willingness of the horse.

There is no codifying what Bill Dorrance knew. Some of it, like how to braid a rawhide lariat, is relatively easy to teach, and some of it, thanks to the individuality of horses and humans, cannot be taught at all, only learned. His legacy is exceedingly complex and, in a sense, self-annulling. It is an internal legacy. The more a horseman says he has learned from Dorrance the less likely he is to have learned anything at all.

That sounds oblique, but it reflects the fact that what you could learn from Dorrance was a manner of learning whose subject was nominally the horse but that extended itself in surprising directions to include dogs, cattle and people. If you learned it, you would know it was nothing to boast about.

There is no mysticism, no magic, in this, only the recognition of kinship with horses. Plenty of people have come across Bill Dorrance and borrowed an insight or two, and some have made a lot of money by popularizing what they seemed to think he knew. But what he knew will never be popular, nor did he ever make much money from it. You cannot sell modesty or undying curiosity. It is hard to put a price on accepting that everything you think you know about horses may change with the very next horse.

From an article by Verlyn Klinkenborg ‘Death of a Legendary Horseman’ – NY Times July 24, 1999 – http://www.nytimes.com/1999/07/24/opinion/editorial-notebook-death-of-a-legendary-horseman.html

Tom Dorrance

Tom Dorrance

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2 comments on “Ray Hunt, Horseman… THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A HORSE WHISPERER.
  1. Editor says:

    Just listen, if you can do it… Thanks!

  2. Editor says:

    Reblogged this on Rancho Comancho and commented:
    There is still hope, if somebody was writing about this kind of people… And if there are still ears and minds ready to listen. So long, Bill.
    Poche parole per ricordare un cowboy passato di là dal fiume nel 1999, dopo 93 anni passati quasi sempre a cavallo. L’articolo è ripreso dal New York Times, quindi non proprio la massima espressione del mondo di Bill Dorrance, ma l’intento è buono e il senso della cosa pure. Il finale del pezzo, soprattutto, è da sottoscrivere in pieno: “e’ dura accettare che tutto quello che sai dei cavalli potrebbe cambiare non appena incontrerai il prossimo”. Un bravo anche a Verlyn che scrisse il pezzo, allora. Keep riding!

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