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More Than a Mentor - Keith Reflects On How Ray Hunt Personally Shaped His Horsemanship

It was Ray Hunt's birthday the other day [August 31st], and it was a well-published event on social media! Looking at all of the social media posts made in his honour, got me to thinking of all of the people that Ray had an influence on in his life.

There were many people wishing him a happy birthday that I'm sure never had the opportunity to meet Ray in person, and were only able to connect with him through his philosophy. Whether they found it in articles, his books, watching him in videos or through a clinician carrying on his message. I truly believe that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has has a more significant influence on horsemanship than Ray Hunt, ever!

When I get to thinking about the first time I ever heard of Ray Hunt, I think it would have been an article in the Western Horseman magazine. That was how I got all of my cowboy news back then. You see, I can't pinpoint when I first discovered him precisely, because, well, truthfully, back then, I would have been more influenced in my horsemanship by the movie The Rounders than by a magazine article!

The movie The Rounders was about two cowboys that were hired out to start colts/broncs for Jim Ed Love, an Arizona rancher. These bronc stompers, played by Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford, would gather up a bunch of broncs and break them to ride. This was, for the most part, how horses were started back in the day. The round pen was a coliseum, and I guess that would make me the lion tamer.

So that's how we would go about it at home. We had a round pen that we would put them in and get them caught. The first thing that would be done was to get a set of hobbles on and sack it out. Then came the saddle and a snaffle bit. Then many times, with the hobble still on, I'd get on and off. On and off. On and off. Then off would come the hobbles and the horse, still thinking it was hobbled, would stand still long enough for me to get on. Most would buck a little, some not at all. Looking back, it surprises me that they all didn’t buck with the little, if any, preparation that was given to them. Now you see, back in those days, I had aspirations to be a great bronc rider, and this was just a chance for me to hone my skills. I didn't learn until later on in my life that riding broncs and starting colts had little in common, at all.

Later on, in my career, I had heard a little about Ray's methods, but not enough for me to track him down to learn more. But fortunately, about that time, my brother Mark went off to college in Glendive, Montana. There was a class in horsemanship and colt starting given by a local rancher that was a great way to pick up some extra credits at the college. Now this rancher/clinician was a Ray Hunt follower that shared many of Ray's methods with his eager-to-learn (or just eager to gain credits) students. Many of which my brother shared with me when he came home on his breaks. Concepts like riding your colt with no halter on his head, using a flag to get forward motion, and making your idea into the horse's idea. A lot of what I heard from Mark I took for nonsense because I wasn’t ready to hear it yet. I wasn’t ready to change my program to the horse's program. You see, what I was doing was working for me, or so I thought. If the colts wanted to buck a little, fine, I was a bronc rider, and practice makes progress, so let ‘er buck!

It wasn’t until I got older and didn’t want to make a bronc rider every time I started a colt that I began looking for a better way. One afternoon, a friend of mine dropped off some videotapes of a fellow named Buck Brannaman. These tapes were about ranch roping in the California tradition, and I thought that had to be the coolest thing I had ever seen. So, I started doing some research on this Buck Brannaman fellow and found out he was doing a clinic soon in southern Montana. Lucky me! He was going to be in my favourite place to visit.

So, myself, my brother Mark and a friend of ours loaded up and headed for Sheridan to learn all that we could about ranch roping! The clinic had two sections, ranch roping and colt-starting. We thought, “cool, we not only get to see some might fancy roping but also maybe some good bronc riding too!”

Well, spoiler alert, there were no bronc rides made at that clinic. I don’t remember a lot of the ranch roping but what I observed in the colt starting absolutely blew me away. What Buck was getting accomplished in minutes had been taking me days to get, or longer, if ever! Buck started, if my memory serves me, seven colts at that clinic. He started and rode them all. Of those seven colts, there were two, maybe three, that in the wrong hands would have been broncs. None of them, not a single one, bucked with Buck. And in no time at all, he was riding them outside. Trotting through the sagebrush, swinging a rope and talking about how he learnt his methods from, you guessed it, Ray Hunt! There was that name again, Ray Hunt. But what was different now was that I was ready. I was looking for a better way, not only for me but for the horses, and a better way presented itself. It was a life-changing event for me, and it started me down a path and onto a journey, that I’m still on today!

What I saw that day just whetted my appetite for all things Ray Hunt and this “better way.” I would attend every clinic that Ray put on in my area. I read his books, as well as the books of other great horsemen, and I became an eager student of horsemanship. I attended Bucks clinics every time I had the chance, as well as many other clinicians who followed Ray's methods. We would host people like Bryan Neubert, Tammy & Curt Pate, Martin Black, as well as Buck himself, out at our ranch, whenever we could. I’m happy to say now I consider Buck a friend.

Even though Ray has been gone now for more than 12 years, his legacy and his teachings live on. And as long as there are great hands sharing the lessons they learnt (like Buck & Mel Hyland), his teachings will continue to benefit horses and riders, for all of the time to come.

Happy Birthday, Ray!

- Keith J Stewart

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