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Tribute to Ray Hunt

By Heather Smith Thomas, Salmon, ID


May 2009 Issue  


     Ray Hunt wasn’t the first to travel a different path in handling horses, but was probably the person most responsible for teaching others about it. Ray was one of the first people to hold horse-handling clinics, long before they were called “clinics.”

     Born in Idaho in 1929, Ray grew up on a ranch near Mountain Home. As a young man, Ray worked on ranches in Nevada and California . He met Bill and Tom Dorrance, who had a large influence on his training methods. Tom helped him with a difficult horse named Hondo. Tom had a unique way with horses, and Ray became the person Tom mentored to communicate his message to other people.

     Ray Hunt passed away March 12, 2009. Pat Parelli after learning of Hunt’s death, said, “He leaves a large legacy of compassion for horses, and truly helped change the way people think about being with a horse. Now that Ray has graduated into horseman’s heaven, I am even more dedicated to carry on his message.” Parelli met Hunt in 1983 and credits Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt and Ronnie Willis as three masters of horsemanship who became his mentors.

     Another student, Tim Westfall, puts on clinics to teach people more about horsemanship and low stress stockmanship, using Hunt’s methods. Westfall recalls Ray saying that Hondo was the horse that made a different method necessary, and that Tom Dorrance was the man who made this possible.

     “I would add that Ray Hunt is the man who took it to the world. If Ray hadn’t taken it upon himself to spread the message, there would only be a handful of buckaroos who had the opportunity to work alongside Tom, who would even know about any of this. Ray’s greatest contribution was that he shared this knowledge and taught it to so many people, in so many different disciplines of horsemanship; he took it worldwide,” explains Westfall.

     “A lot of folks are getting to where they are not so quick to blame the horse for a problem,” says Westfall. When Ray used to ask Tom Dorrance for help with a problem, Tom always said you need to look at what happened before what happened happened.

     “Tom would say, back up and tell me what happened before that. This is basic to trying to understand the horse. We are the teacher, but Ray pointed out that we learn the most by listening to the horse,” says Westfall.

     Bryan Neubert, who now makes a living with his clinics, was 14 years old in 1968 when his neighbor Bill Dorrance introduced him to Ray Hunt. “I ended up working for Ray several times, starting colts. It was fun, because it was just he and I. Sometimes we’d trade horses, and I could feel what his horse felt like, and I got to see how he rode the ones I’d been riding, and then I got to feel what they felt like after he’d been on them for awhile. That was very educational,” says Neubert.

     Ray was quite different than Bill Dorrance in the way he taught. “Riding with Ray was pure fun. Bill was very careful that I didn’t get into trouble with a young horse. He’d watch me closely. Ray, however, would allow me to get into trouble, and learn from it. Both of them were valuable teachers, but I learned more from Ray,” says Neubert.

     Ray’s life influenced Neubert and others to teach more people. Ray changed the way people think about horses. One of the things he often said was: “I can’t teach you this. I can only get you aware of it.”

     Almost everyone you talk to who knew Ray Hunt will tell you he made a difference in their life, not just their horse-handling. “It’s really a whole philosophy of life,” says Westfall. It’s also more enjoyable to work horses this way. It doesn’t have to be a struggle. You are dealing with a 1000-plus pound animal and you aren’t going to win, using force. You must work with the horse’s mind. “It goes from your hands to their minds, to their feet; you control their feet through your mind,” says Westfall.

     “In order to work with the horses’ minds, however, you have to understand their mind. Ray used to say you have to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. That’s the essence of ‘feel’, to understand things from the horses’ point of view and then let your idea become their idea. Then you get everything you ask for, way beyond your wildest expectations,” explains Westfall.

     For more information about Hunt, look at his

Heather Smith Thomas is the author of numerous articles and 20 books. Her most recent book is the Cattle Health Handbook, and it is a companion volume to her Essential Guide to Calving. Heather and her husband ranch near Salmon, Idaho .



IN REMEMBRANCE – Memorial services were held for Ray Hunt in Texas and Australia , and Mountain Home , Idaho (March 28, 2009).

     After attending that gathering, Tim Westfall said, “When I looked on that empty saddle, with Ray’s hat, chaps, riata and spade bit, it hit me hard that he’s gone. For me, one of the most important lessons I learned from Ray is that when you think it can’t be done or you think you can’t understand something, you need to reach inside yourself and dig some more. It has to come from inside you and you’ve got to want it more than you ever wanted anything else in the world. There’s no such thing as quit.”

     Ray’s wife Carolyn made these comments at the memorial: “Few of us will ever do anything that will be recognized or remembered by more than a handful of people. We are not great. Greatness comes along so rarely that when we see it, we want to touch it. Ray Hunt allowed us to touch greatness, to be a part of it. He was a truly great horseman, who offered us all a chance to be a part of something great. Ray believed in you and had the capacity to make you believe in yourself. He believed in the horse and encouraged you to believe.”

     “Once you’ve known Ray you will carry him with you forever. You hear his voice, see his face, and long for his approval. You remember his tongue-lashings and lectures. With each success you want Ray to know about it. With each failure you want to apologize for not being right within yourself. Ray refused to accept “can’t” and taught us not to use it as an excuse. He taught us that the horse and life are only going to give back what we are willing and capable of putting into them.”

     “Ray hunt was a legend in his own time. His legacy will live on through his students and all who come after. His dream was to someday see a child working with a horse, mentally and physically attuned to each other. When the child is asked, “Where did you learn to work with a horse that way?” the child will answer: “Is there any other way?”



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