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A Legacy Of Legends


By Lisa Sparks

March 2017, Fort Worth, Texas

The seventh annual A Legacy Of Legends event took place at Will Rogers Arena in Ft. Worth Texas on March 3-5, 2017.  My horse buddy, Carolyn Lepard and two teenage girls, Sarah and Anna, traveled to experience this historical event.  To carry on the ideals of legendary colt starters Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance was the primary focus of this 2017 gathering.

Thirty riders – from ranch owners to ranch hands and scholarship winners – came together to learn what these horses, from six different ranches that specialize in pleasure, running-bred/cow-bred combinations, and performance horses with good looks and great minds, in general could offer.  Colt starters for 2017 were: Rory Bauer, Kyler Beard, Mindy Bower, Reata Brannaman, Buck Brannaman, Trevor Carter, Joel Conner, Noah Cornish, Zach Curran, Anthony Desreaux, Nick Donohue, Joe Ensign, Wes Ferrazzi, Barb Gerbitz, Harley Green, Nathan Greiner, Isaac Johnson, Kip Fladland, Frank Lamb, Jaton Lord, Carlos Mancera, Andy Martinez, Zoe Mazepa, Buster McLaury, Sheryl McLaury, Tiffany McLaury, Roby Moreland, Mesa Pate, Townsend Prince, Ricky Quinn, Wayne Robinson, Mark Smith, Michael Sparling, and David Stuart.

Tom’s skillful way of looking for the good in people and animals encouraged people to seek better ways to prepare their horse for riding. Ray had a more direct approach that brought change in a rider’s ineffectiveness toward the horse, because when he saw the horse, he saw the rider, too. 

The arena had three round pens with 30 participants working their unbroken horses morning and afternoon from groundwork, first saddle, first ride, to riding with a snaffle bit around the arena. This was the stage of activity for the audience to watch and learn.

Buck Brannaman has been a student of this philosophy since his young, ignorant cowboy days when his horse ran away with him.  He stated, “As I began to attend Ray’s clinics, I looked more confident when my horse ran away, and eventually I got better and he quit running away.”  While talking to the audience and instructing the young riders, he cued the 3-year-old he was riding to move off his legs, while relaxing in the hackamore bridle.  A frightened horse needed some support, so he rode over and roped the horse, working him from horseback until he was being led by following the rope.

“Sometimes a young horse needs the company of another horse while you work.”  There were times that he would ride over to the audience and answer questions about their horses.  “The horse just wants to know what we want him to do. 

From the moment of birth, he knows how to move his feet and be a horse.  It is our job to observe what he needs from us.  You must get those feet to communicate with his mind.  We all seek the same thing: to be better with our horses.” 

Carolyn Hunt, Ray’s widow, wanted to continue the flow of his knowledge for the generations to come so that young people can benefit in their experience with horses as a partner leader.  Scholarships were awarded to young, potential colt starters to allow them to work with professionals who had worked with Tom and Ray, staying true to the techniques that make horses soft. 

A silent auction was held to fund the scholarship program for 2017, which benefits a large number of female applicants.  Funding comes entirely from event proceeds and sponsors.  Scholarships pay for the expenses of working with a horseman, clinician, trainer who emulates the philosophy of Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt.

Buck’s daughter, Reata is following in her father’s footsteps, starting colts and working with students from the University in Montana as she builds her own reputation in the equine industry.  Noah Cornish, from Oregon, has been attending Buck’s clinics since he was seven years old and is now starting colts. Ray’s grandson, Jaton Lord, helped mentor Carlos Manera, the Western Horseman Scholarship winner, and conducts clinics of his own.  Curt Pate’s daughter, Mesa, came to learn more about thinking from the animal’s perspective, something she uses in raising bucking bulls and training horses.

The vendors displayed merchandise characteristic of the vaquero influence of the working cowboys with bright colors, high-grade leather, silver, metal work, and artwork.  Custom chaps, saddles and boots were on display to order. 

Jeremiah Watt’s popular snaffle bits were shown to highlight a kinder, clearer touch to the corners of the horse’s mouth.  Hackamores to bring your bridled horse to the next level were available.  Quality horsemanship deserves quality riding gear.

When Buck was describing the marriage of two herd mates as the most common interference with a horse accepting leadership, a loud squeal pierced through the arena from Buck’s mount calling to his buddy.  He promptly moved the horse’s feet into the round pen before they could stick in the ground to posture a buck or rear.  He reminded his horse that he had a bit in his mouth, then moved him out with his legs to direct the feet to go forward.  Buck spent time untracking the hind feet to bring the front end through, as demonstrated extensively throughout the colt starting.  “I have a window of time before this stallion completely takes over.  When I direct him in this moment, I am the leader and I have his respect.” This horse-designed rodeo ended with a soft expression and licking and chewing.

A lot of time was spent by the participants riding the colts with a rope halter and one rein lead rope, throwing it over the head side to side to create the lateral bend necessary to separate the horse’s front end and back end.  The cue to the horse to move off leg pressure is first introduced in the groundwork.  The horse yielding to your leg evolves into the advanced leg yield.
I spoke briefly with Carolyn Hunt about how I would like for my community to be influenced by this.  She smiled and informed me that Jaton Lord may be coming to the Mid-South area this summer. 

The clinic had started in the late afternoon with a number of dressage horses and riders.  The dressage moves improved when riders worked off a soft feel from Buck’s instruction.  After the final day, the teenage girls in my group ran down to meet some of the girls in the clinic from Nebraska.  They shared stories about their horses and their riding experiences. 

Yes, the Legacy of Legends benefits the scholarship program, but it also reaches the hearts of anyone who wants a better ride and understanding from the horse’s point of view.  My lasting impression from this experience is the community that develops as a learning environment, from the proven approach that keeps making the relationship between horse and rider better.  I will be there again next year with my group to benefit from what Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt started, and Buck Brannaman and Carolyn Hunt are continuing.

Find more information about the 2017 gathering of A Legacy of Legends at: The eighth annual A Legacy of Legends will be held March 9-11, 2018 at the W.R Watt Arena, Will Rogers Event Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

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