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.”
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.