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Be a Great Student of the Horse, by Craig Cameron

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What is a horseman? I am often  asked, “How do you become a horseman?”  Many times I am asked after a seminar or  demonstration if I have a horsemanship  certification program.

Well to begin with, a horseman is  much more than somebody who rides horses.  A horseman, to me, is a communicator  and an educator of horses and the people  who wish to ride horses. To be a great  teacher first you must be a great student.  So, to be a great teacher of horses you  must be a great student of the horse.

Horsemanship is a trade that can be  honed to an art form. Most specialists  today such as doctors, lawyers, electricians,  school teachers, and architects are  required to have many years of formal  training under a highly qualified professor  before they can be licensed to practice  their trade. Often times these professions  require up to four to eight years of intense  and regulated study before receiving their  specialized degree or certification. In the  same way horsemanship is a calling that  takes years to perfect.

John Ross was a young man trying to  answer that difficult call. At the age of 23  John Ross had already traveled thousands  of miles through numerous states working  with literally hundreds of horses at the  many Craig Cameron colt starting, cattle  working, ranch roping, and horsemanship  seminars.

Some might call it luck that young  John Ross would have such a job and such  an opportunity. But like I always say, “The  harder I work, the more luck I seem to  have.”

John Ross’ hard work and determination  created his own luck. He was a young  man that would not be denied. He grew up  with the teaching that being a cowboy was  the greatest thing anyone could be. From  Eastland, Texas ““ heart of Texas ranch  country ““ John Ross was influenced by his  grandad and uncle who were old time  ranchers and cowboys. At age 13, John  was riding lots of young horses for the local  old timers who would  come and get him to test  out their newest sale  barn broncs. He was  one of those kids who  would just get on anything  ““ more try than  sense, like they say.

Dempsey Ross,  John’s older brother and  influence, day worked  young John in all facets  of ranch and cowboy  work, and once said of  his little brother, “After I got through with  John he didn’t fear anything but God.”  John, man on a mission, enrolled at Cisco  Junior College paying his own way by  working odd jobs and riding young horses.  In July of 1996, John Ross transferred his  studies to Tarleton State University in  Stephenville, Texas and we had just purchased  a ranch 15 miles to the north near  Bluff Dale. Even though I was doing and  incredible amount of traveling on the road,  Dalene and I were making plans to build  the greatest working horse ranch and clinic  facility in the country. John had heard about  my move into the territory and my plans. He  wasted no time making his presence  known and the importance his presence  would have in my plans. John Ross  showed up at our Double Horn ranch looking  for work; he was willing to do any job ““  shoveling manure, building fence, washing  the truck and trailer ““ -if I would school him  in the art of horsemanship. As a horseman  and clinician I had never had a full-time  hand and wasn’t interested in having one  now. I have always chosen to work alone; I  liked and preferred it that way.

Cordially, I tried to dissuade the young  man. John just as cordially would not take  no for an answer. The way I saw it he was  resolved to learn the trade of horsemanship  from Craig Cameron. He routinely  showed up at the Double Horn grabbing  wheelbarrows, brushing horses, washing  horses, and trying to make a spot for himself  at the ranch.

About this time I was riding a rough  string of outside horses. The rankest of  these broncs was a big rawboned, rangy  colt owned by my good friends and world  champions, Bud and Jimmie Monroe. I  knew this horse pretty well and he was as  raw as young John Ross. I sent the persistent  boy into the corral to do some ground  work with the horse. My real intention was  to gauge the caliber of experience the boy  had by watching him handle the horse on  the ground, preparing the horse to be  mounted. Attending to other business I  came around the barn just seconds behind  John Ross ““ literally seconds ““ but that  was all it took as I realized with a sick feeling  the wiry, young cowboy was already  astride the nervous bronc.

Immediately, the battle began. The  unprepared horse exploded into a bucking  frenzy. Even though the young twister rode  with admirable tenacity, the trip was more  than he could bear. The bronc scored a  reckless victory. Rising from the dust  wounded but not beaten the boy spitting  blood was determined to go again. In that  instant, looking from an impatient, snorting  colt to a very embarrassed, battered boy  but I saw something in the pair. What I saw  was heart, determination, and a willingness  to try, all traits that are admirable in any  horse and in any person. Wisdom and  experience prompted me to restrain the  youth and teach John Ross his second lesson  of horsemanship that day. The principle  of working through understanding was  used in place of force. An hour later John  was riding the same horse who was now  calm and untroubled, at an easy trot and  canter in both directions in the round corral.

Enthusiasm is hard to stop and John  Ross was full of enthusiasm. Even though  John could only work every other day,  because of college, he came with a quick  smile and an open mind, willing to give.  Day by day, and week by week, question  after question time marched on. Teaching  the young apprentice was much like teaching  a young horse; it takes time and understanding,  patience and consistency with  repetition being the key. You don’t make a  great horse or horseman in 30 days. It is an  unending process. Just as I begin teaching  a horse on the ground that’s where I started  with John Ross. Now known as John  Ross the journeyman!

Great work is as important to a young  horse as it is to a young man.  Understanding the nature, mechanics, and  instincts of a horse are a must. Bringing  along the young horseman is identical to  bringing along the young horse; they must  be allowed to make mistakes. It is through  your failures that you find your successes.  For the horse and horseman there must be  an atmosphere of freedom-freedom to try  and to work. As time passed on, ranch  chores and ground work turned into  groundwork and riding.

I always say that habits are the easiest  thing to make and the hardest thing to  break. Just as a horseman develops  cadence and collection with a young horse,  I found myself trying to develop hand position, seat, feel, and touch with the young  cowboy. Lacking finesse and awareness of  the correct hand position,  seat, feel, and touch I would  have John work through exaggeration  such as having him  lay all the way back on his  horse, ride with extremely low  hand position, ride with eyes  closed to build the allusive  physical, mental, and emotional  feel of horsemanship. Other  times I would prompt the  young man to ride bareback,  sideways, and backwards. We  began saddling and bridling,  mounting and dismounting  from the right. We rode bridleless,  bareback blindfolded, for  long rides out into the pasture  and woods. To promote balance  and timing, we would tie  up our reins and ride through  the narrow, heavily wooded  trails guiding our horses  through a feel using only our  legs, hands, and mind.

Like a young horse, after  the repetition of consistent riding,  you begin to see the  improvement of the horse or  the man. By not pushing too  hard or too fast positive results  are inevitable. There are no  shortcuts to greatness. Great horses and  great horsemen are made and the making  takes time. There must be willingness on  the part of the horse and horseman to take  the time or to give the time in the quest for  success. The young horseman is sometimes  amazed at the number of miles and  horses that we go through in a year’s time.  I smile to myself and think, “Yeah, now he  is paying his dues.” I tell him,”Every mile  and every horse is an education.” For  young, talented, hard working John Ross  his future with horses as an up and coming  trainer or clinician will be outstanding. He is  continually sharpening and fine tuning his  horsemanship skills every day.

I remember years ago on a long road  trip John asked me how long would I keep  riding and handling all these rough horses.  I told him, “I’ll be riding till hell freezes over  ““ with a good hand like John Ross by my  side we’ll be riding on ice.  ““ Craig Cameron

Craig Cameron  Double Horn Ranch  The Making of Great Horses  & Horseman,  http://www.craigcameron.com

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 1, Issue 4.]

 

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