| March 15, 2009 6:45 pm

imageWe all have our Ray Hunt memories and stories.  Mine all go something like this, “I once rode with Ray Hunt, and it changed my life.”

Yours might be similar.  In fact, many Ray Hunt stories start in much the same way and conclude in similar manner.  They typically involve a “problem,” an old man who watches and listens, a bit of conversation, and a “solution.”  They might happen one-on-one or amongst a crowd of hundreds.  But despite their similarities, every recollection is important and tremendously personal.

Why?  What makes a seriously gruff and short-spoken cowboy so special?  After all, he didn’t carry formal education or degrees.  He didn’t possess a pristine competition record and on a bad day, his criticism could feel downright abusive.  Yet nearly every trainer, rider, con man and huckster I’ve ever met will go out of their way to talk about their “Ray Hunt moment.”

The man himself was bold, brilliant, controversial and occasionally brutal in his honesty or criticism; as he liked to say, “I’m here for the horse.”  Everything else was secondary.  Sure, helping improve communication and understanding paid a rich dividend, but Ray wanted no misunderstanding: he was the horse’s representative and advocate.  And for an individual who sought description or honor like oil seeks water, it was one of the few titles he ever claimed.

What made Ray important were his ideas and vision.  A vision composed of thousands of tools, notions or thoughts; and each one was a detail that could significantly impact a horse and human relationship.  Thus, every Ray Hunt story includes wisdom, cryptic mutterings, and smashed bits of where Zen simplicity met Western practicality at high speed:

“Fix it up and let [the horse] learn it.”

“Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.”

“When a horse is right on his feet, he’s right in his head.”

“Control the life in the body, so then the mind gets it.  When the mind understands, then the feet [will] understand.”

RayHunt - Teaching Ray spoke a language that was utterly his own, and it could be irritatingly difficult to parse.  After all, what does life mean (beyond the obvious)?  If the head gets it, then of course the feet are going to get it.  The head controls the feet.  The language was philosophical, poetic and far too practical.  That is, until deciphered, after which it was simply perfect.

Going to see Ray wasn’t purely an educational experience, but also a social and sometimes spiritual one.  Everywhere he went, he attracted the curious, the devout and the desperate in the hope that he could help them solve their “problems.”  For those who came in the right frame of mind, the results could be utterly transformational.  As the man sat on his horse to speak, mutter and criticize; a new world might open for those present.  A point of view where the horse is treasured teacher, mentor and friend.  And while it might have been a profoundly personal, it was also something to both see and share.

Today, as we mark Ray’s passing, I find that I already miss the future pilgrimages which will never be.  But even though Ray Hunt has left the stage; he is hardly gone.  Forty years of travel, teaching and muttering have ensured that the his ideas and legend will never die.  The advocate did his job and shared the horse’s message.  So while the new “Ray Hunt” moments might not involve old men and fences, that’s okay.  There will still be new Ray Hunt moments.


2 Responses to “Ray Hunt”

Bronwen wrote a comment on March 16, 2009

Beautifully done. Thank you.

Brian Baldwin wrote a comment on March 17, 2009

That was Ray in a nutshell. Thank you. My moment was about 6 years ago in a clinic in Tucson, AZ. I had a little blue roan Hancock QH that was used as a roping horse. We were all trotting when Ray told everyone to stop. I was slowing down and wallering around, but not stopping. Ray yelled, ‘you, on blue! What are you doing?’ ‘Trying to stop’ I said. Ray bellowed, ‘What do you have those reigns for?! If you aren’t going to use them, whay are you riding?’ I had always been trying to do as little as it takes, but not as much as it takes. This was an important lesson that I learned. And I still struggle with it today, trying to be light, and I always recall the direction from Ray. The secondary lesson of course was not to take it personally when Ray yelled. It was for emphasis, to be heard, and to get the point across. I respected Ray’s being straight with me and we became friends.

The last time I saw Ray was at Lee Smith’s in Aguila, AZ not long ago. When it came time to say goodbye, shaking his hand, I thanked Ray for all he had done for me and my horse, and for everyone else and our horses. Ray put his hand over his heart and said, “Thank you son, that really does my heart good to hear that”.

Truly the last of his generation, Ray was not only a master horseman. He was a friend, and a kind, generous human being. God Bless Amigo.

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