Now when you read the title of this post I'd appreciate it you would inject a "southern Baptist preacher calling from his pulpit a declaration of faith with enough force and conviction to shake the window panes!" accent into its enunciation.... for theatrical effect. Throwing your hand up in the air is strictly optional.
What am I talking about? The Gurus. The Gods. The.... HORSE TRAINERS!! *insert scary music from the infamous shower scene in the movie Psycho!* Don't know what I am talking about? Click here)
Last year I was a horse expo called the Mane Event- a collection of horse related trade booths, breed exhibitors, and a forum for local trainers and out of town gurus to strut their stuff in various demos and clinics. I really enjoy Mane Event and have always come away up a few ideas and down a few dollars.
One of the attractions that draws the largest crowds is an event called "The Trainers Challenge". Three professional trainers draw a colt each, (all unbroke geldings or mares off the same ranch, with similar breeding, conformation and temperament) and are allotted an even number of timed one hour sessions over the course of the weekend in which to break out their colts. On Sunday night the expo is closed with a competition to see who has managed to put the best handle on their colt by testing them at various maneuvers (standing quietly to be saddled and mounted, lope both directions, over poles, load in a trailer, etc.) Its all very exciting, very political and the choice of winner is often controversial. The trainers use this forum to demonstrate their techniques and ultimately solicit clients and sell DVDs. They also have to walk a fine line between pushing their colt hard enough to get results (and look good) but not too hard (so they look like a bully!)
The Mane Event has brought many well respect clinicians from around the US and Canada (Van Hargis, Steve Rother, Jay O'Jay etc.) to compete but one of the main stays has been a local trainer named Doug Mills. I'd like to make clear that I have absolutely nothing against Doug Mills, whatsoever. He seems like a nice guy, a good trainer, and his clients all seem very devote. Which brings me to my point. This post isnt about his methods, the Trainers Challenge or how many times he's won the event (3) or if he deserved to (which is open to speculation). This post is about his "believers".
We've all seen it, a local (or not so local) Guru who can do no wrong and who's God like stature in the equine community draws a fervent crowd wherever he goes. That's Doug.
So last year I settled into to watch the trainers challenge, wedged cheek to jowl in the stands around a round pen, when Doug Mills stepped in to begin his session. I wasn't surprised when the rafters shook with frenzied excitement, or that the crowds had swollen to double it's size since the last "outsider" trainer had started his session... or even that the judges had sat up in their chairs with renewed interest. I expected all of that. Because this was Doug Mills, our local hero.
Now part of the trainers score during the "training" sessions actually comes down to how well the clinician manages to communicate his techniques and if he keeps the audience's attention while keeping both his methods and language simple enough for his disciple's to understand. So Doug walks in to the pen and starts working with this colt, all the while chanting away about what he is doing and why, being his usual engaging and charming self when I noticed that a woman in front of me was taking each of his speculative questions and answering them as if he had spoken to her directly.
Doug: "Now do you see how Dusty clenched his tail there and braced up while I was throwing that there blanket over him?"
Lady in front of me: "Yes! He sure did."
Doug: "What do we want to do about that? Should we keep approaching it the same way or draw back a little?"
Lady: "Draw back! Right?" *nodding her head in wonder*
And so it went. But she wasn't the only one. Oh no! It was then that I noticed how the majority of the crowd was nodding along or calling out answers as well. You might be asking, "Well, whats wrong with that? Clearly he is a good clinician and has engaged his audience?" And I would say you're right....except... you must take into account the zombie like, glass eyed looks on the faces of my fellow horsemen and the sense of zeleous devotion that permeated the air around me with a freaky cult like atmosphere... Somehow I felt that, had Doug asked his "people" to stand up and dance like a chicken, they just might comply. 'Cause these people- they'd drunk Doug's Cool-Aid.
Sounds far fetched, right?
Well let me tell you when I decided to cut tail and run. Doug's colt had a break through! I heard a faint but distinct Hallelujah come from the small, gray haired lady in front of me. Just then Doug the Prophet exclaimed some sentiment of a deep, intellectual, universal truth... something Ray Hunt-esc like "let your idea become the horses idea"....to which the crowd sighed and mumbled words of affirmation. As if they had just become enlightened to some Divine truth. Doug nodded his head solemnly and called to the audience... "Can I get an AMEN to that?"
His believers called back, in perfect harmony, "AAAAAY-MEN!!!"
August 31, 1929 - March 12, 2009One of the founding fathers of natural horsemanship, a God and Guru in his own right, passed away March 12th. Ray Hunt inspired people to change the way they related to horses. I am grateful that he was able to make the impact that he did on our psyche as horsemen, though he was the first to admit that he didn't do it for us. In his own words- "I'm here for the horse- to help him get a better deal."