I really believe God has had a plan for my life as he has for you also. I still don’t know what God has in mind for me. As Ray might say, I don’t know where I’m going but I’m not lost.
I was raised on 160 acre ranch, 3 miles outside a small rural Nebraska town. We raised some alfalfa and had some small grains on about half of the acres. The rest was used as pasture for the milk cows, a few beef cattle, and my ponies.
My parents provided much opportunity to work, grow, and learn. We had a large garden, did some farming, and had some livestock to care for, however, there was not much insight with the horses. My farther was raised on a poor dirt farm in southern Nebraska and used some horses for farming. In the 1920’s and 1930’s times were tough and he left that environment to seek an education and professional career. My mother was ranch raised on a western Nebraska family ranch, however, she was blinded at age 17 and was not able to see what I was doing with the horses, but she knew what the horse could do for the inside of a man or boy and saw that I had an opportunity to experience them.
When I was 5 years old a local merchant, that raised and traded many horses and ponies, made a deal with my parents and I to bring me a well-broken pony to ride. Every year after that through my early teens, he brought me several ponies each year to break to ride; 3 to 12 per year.
This provided me with much experience and yet without much guidance, agenda, or opinion on how to do things. By the time I was 10 to 12 years old I rode sale barn horses either to show them for sale through the ring or after the sale so some trader could see what they had bought. I also started riding horses and ponies for other parents that had bought for their kids, but their kids couldn’t get along with them.
What turned out to be a very strong influence in my life with my horse growth was spending a lot of time playing with the neighbor’s children and their horses. They used their horses for ranch work, however, whenever I was there to play there was no real work or agenda or what of how to do anything. Their father spent much time watching us as we tried to do new things with our horses. Ever once in awhile I would hear him say, “Watch he wouldn’t kick you”. I soon learned to slow down, change my approach or angles or something bad was about to happen. I often say I never knew the value of those words and maybe never will. I do have some appreciation for what those words taught me. Early I learned to take responsibility, change my approach and not to blame the horse. I learned not to make what I was doing a competition. I gained confidence, self-esteem, how to read a horse, and when it was becoming unsafe and all of this and more. I still may not realize all of it yet. Maybe most importantly I have come to understand the humility it took to stay on the fence and not bring recognition to myself by doing it for me or depriving me the opportunity to experience and learn.
When I was 14 years old I started participating in some rodeos, riding bulls and bareback horses. One of the horse traders I rode sale horses for was also a rodeo contractor. For several years I rode his try-out bulls. This was quite an experience. He referred to me as his bull trainer. At the time, I didn’t take this next statement as a compliment when he said if so and so had my try or I had their talent we would be world champs. Some 50 years later I see try is more important than talent as I was that try, seen by my coaches, my wife, Ray, and most all other relationships that has opened so many doors that allowed me to develop my talent. I see so much talent without any try and it is most often wasted. I don’t tell you this so you understand me but to encourage you not to give up on your try regardless of what you think your opportunities or talents are.
I started to develop some skills in the saddle bronc riding and steer wrestling, and filled my PRCA permit and bought my card in 1974.
In 1967 I got married to my wife Debbie. She has helped and supported me ever since.
In 1968 we went to California where I attended Horseshoeing School. I had a very good instructor “Hank McEwen”. He had his work cut out for him as I came in having never seen a horse shod. I didn’t know colors, markings, breeds, characteristics, conformational faults and unsoundness. He recognized my experience and try and worked hard to catch me up on things I lacked. Hank instilled in me that shoeing was an evil, but necessary evil that we needed to learn and take responsibility to minus the evil and maximize the benefits.
After a short apprenticeship with an older horseshoer in California, we returned to Nebraska to help Mick Clark with his private horseshoeing business while he devoted time to starting the Nebraska Farrier School.
Mick continued to help me understand more about lameness and conformational issues and shoeing techniques that benefited these issues giving me ability to communicate with veterinarians and to help return horses to soundness. Mick and I have continued this relationship and still exchange ideas and experiences.
Early in my career as a horseshoer, I was able to shoe horses for Howard Pitzer, one of the most prominent Quarter Horse breeders in the industry. Howard bred and raised outstanding horses. He knew the value of good feet and legs and that way was possible only by good breeding practices and proper maintenance of the feet. He did not expect any magic bullets.
Howard provided me with experienced help catching and holding the young horses. His help was humble and patient and respectful of me and what my needs were to get my work done. I learned much about being a better team player from their example.
The large number of young horses there to work on with no expectations, made me realize there needed to be more preparation, which most of this was done by the experienced help Howard provided. Yet I needed to build on what they started as I trimmed their feet. I got a lot opportunity to practice my part with this system. I generally trimmed over 40 horses per day. Once I trimmed 88 head in one day. Often this would be a 2-week process to get all of the Pitzer Ranch’s young horses done.
Howard did not expect major corrective procedures. He did want to shorten the hoof as much as possible and to keep them on a rigid schedule. This allowed the hoof to grow and develop into the best foot possible. I learned what a benefit this freedom was, and I became known as a corrective horseshoer. I was solicited by other breeders that had been using their biased opinions to educate their shoers on how to straighten their horse’s legs. Because of my reputation, I was allowed to do what I thought was right, trim short and balance the hoof. They could not understand why they could not get their shoers’ to correct their horses. They did not understand that it was not about correction but just being correct.
There have been many other benefits to this relationship with this legend of the industry. Often he would hang out where I was shoeing or would go out to eat with me and share much insight with me about conformation characteristics as they relate to performance, judging criteria, customer relations, show preparation, grooming, conditioning, transporting and many other things concerning the horse. He also directly or indirectly introduced me to many other horsemen that led to many other opportunities.
Along about this time, we rented a stable in Omaha, Nebraska. We became family to the landlord and his family. We lived on the same property in separate houses. Their 3 children were all interested in showing horses. I was mainly riding saddle horses and starting to steer wrestle at rodeos. I had not trained any show horses. I got involved in helping to haul these children to their horse shows. They showed in most all classes including timed events. In effort to help them, I sought insight as to training techniques and show criteria from many of the nations top trainers from the contacts I had made as a horseshoer. Over the next 4 years these children won many AQHA, State, and 4-H titles. I was elected and honored to serve as a state youth director. I saw that much policy and regulations were set with personal agendas and bias. I became somewhat of a buffer to minus those prejudices.
In 1976, Mick Clark, the man that had helped me to start my shoeing business and owned and operated the Nebraska Farrier School suffered a knee injury. He asked me to come and teach his school. This was another great opportunity for me. Mick was very organized and the Nebraska Farrier School was well developed with a strong curriculum, loyal shoeing client base, and a waiting list of students. All I had to do was follow Mick’s outline for lectures and his curriculum for his lab, share my ideas on shoeing techniques, horse handling experience, and safety knowledge. The teaching and sharing of these ideas deepened and broadened my understanding for what I was teaching. I had many good students that went on to have successful careers.
I was trying to maintain some of my personal shoeing business including the Pitzer Ranch. In the spring of 1978, I was getting somewhat covered up with my shoeing business. Mick agreed that we could cancel a shoeing class so I could get caught back up. Howard Pitzer needed someone to train and show his horses, suggested that we cancel the shoeing school for a couple of years and offered me a job of training and showing his horses. Mick agreed that it would be a good for me to have this experience and for the school if we waited to re-open it. I agreed to go to work for Howard Pitzer in 1978.
I trained, showed and continued to shoe Howard’s horses from 1978 to 1982. It was a very busy schedule of starting new horses, roping, and preparing for all other performance classes to achieve AQHA championship. Howard was on a mission to have his famous stallion Two Eyed Jack earn the unprecedented number of 100 AQHA champions. This included 15 AQHA points in halter, 15 AQHA points in performance 10 in one category and a minimum of 5 in a second category. I am honored that Howard recognized I could help him achieve this goal. Many horses need roping points to finish their AQHA championships. We went to approximately 60 AQHA horse shows per year. We generally hauled 16 head of horses showing most of them in halter, roping and some other performance class. I still maintained the footwork on some 700 head of horses when I was home. I enjoyed every minute of this period of my life. There are many stories and experiences to share at another time. I think Howard indicated the main criteria for my getting this job is that I dealt well with the chaos, being quite successful finishing many AQHA champions, winning many major shows, and qualifying several horses for the world show each year. I enjoyed this time and I never thought I would change or leave, however, I guess I thought of the heavy schedule made me try to compete less than fully prepared and felt I could be better prepared on my own schedule. Boy I was wrong, now I didn’t have the quality of horses, the facilities, the supporting staff or the time. I was soon to find out that it was not any these things that I lacked, but even with all the things I did have to fulfill, what was in my heart was for the horse. I really lacked the experience that got the horse to work better from within.
By 1982, when I met Ray Hunt, I was well prepared to meet the man that was all about effort, taking responsibility, putting your personal agenda and bias aside, and putting the horse and his understanding first. I still had and have much to learn about this, but the ideals Ray talked about were easy for me to embrace as I had a lot of experience but was limited with prejudices and personal agenda that many with a lot of experience had. This study of Ray’s explanation of how the horse relates to us and our responsibilities to the horse has changed my life and continued to provide much opportunity for growth as each experience brings ownership for many of these ideals that Ray has taught. I hope I can share these thoughts with each of you as we build our relationship in personal clinics, DVD’s, the Internet or any other means in today’s world.
Through the rest of the 80’s we lived and operated a training and breeding operation in Nebraska. Our kids were of high school age and active in High School Rodeo and other sports. I served as director for their High School Rodeo Association.
The horse market was depressed and a perfect time for me to move away from showing and shoeing and into starting more colts, as their value was limited unless they were started. Many breeders and individuals, knowing that I was studying Ray Hunt sought me out to share what I was learning from Ray by word of mouth. This spread through Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Wyoming and Texas. I had the opportunity to help start 300 to 500 horses a year.
Things were going good for me, I was learning a lot, had a growing business with some wanting me to do videos or articles in magazines. I did not feel ready and as I put it “ I did not want to document my ignorance” (What I did not know). Actually I had a hunger and mainly wanted to take the understanding I was learning from Ray to a higher level of competition.
But as I would try to share some of the things I was learning with my horse friends and picking up on some of the things they were doing. They were not ready to take a step back and stop using some of the training aids like martingales, draw reins, etc. that they were using to achieve the higher level of competitiveness they were enjoying.
By the late 80’s I had been going from Nebraska to Texas to conduct clinics for several years. When I got a chance to help start some colts for Hall of Fame cutting horse trainer Kenny Patterson, he introduced me to his client, Floyd Moore.
Floyd was a cowman that had a tremendous passion for the cutting horse and that whole industry. He provided cattle for many trainers and major events and for the horses and families of the horses of the trainers that dominated the industry.
Floyd invested heavily in some of the best prospects, brood mares and stallions available, having them trained and campaigned. When their show career was over they went into his breeding program at his beautiful Huntsville, Texas ranch 6-J Paint horses.
When I met Floyd he owned some 30-quarter horse mares that were own daughters of the industry’s top performance studs. He also owned 3 APHA stallions. Two were by Doc O Lena and one by Little Peppy. All three were out of the APHA mare Delta, the 1973 World Champion Cutting Mare; Delta Flyer was one of the stallions 1986 NCHA Super Stakes Champion.
Floyd also has a 100 plus young produce from this program. These young horses were from 2 to 5 years old. They had not been halter broke, registered or had handling like most young horses coming from other top breeding programs.
After meeting Floyd and going to his ranch in Huntsville, Texas to halter break a few of theses horses I could see their talent and the need to help develop them so they would be ready to fit in the programs of those that had the expertise to prepare them for show. I realized that this was the opportunity I was looking for, talented horses raised in a fashion that did not dull their minds, and other trainers already in place to take them to competitions. Plus a beautiful ranch environment with a low overhead for me to build on a breeding program of my own, and the place to study my lesson as how to retrain the softness, willingness, and responsiveness I imagined was possible as they progressed to a higher level. In 1990 after negotiating with Floyd, I decided to step back from my clinic and colt starting business to take on this project and study my lesson without the eyes of the public on me.
In starting of these young horses we sold most of the solid colored geldings to Floyd’s contacts with the rancher he had been doing cattle business with for a long time. Most of the fillies went to the broodmare band. Some of the horses I started I chose to give more extensive training. In 1993 I showed Delta Blue, daughter of Delta Flyer, and out of an own daughter of Gay Bar King at the APHA World Show, placed in the team roping and was reserve World Champion Junior Cutting Horse. Along with my other ranch duties I prepared 3 other colts for the NCHA 2 year old select sale. I devoted 6 to 8 months in the preparation and none of them passed the screening. To me this shows the value of the freedom I was given to study my lesson. As it is often said, “There is more to learn in failures than in success”. Some of those lessons were apparent and some took more chewing.
Our program continued to grow in size, reputation, and value. The paint market was hot. 6-J Paint Horses had earned 2 World Champions. One of the world champions at this time was John Rothwell showing Brigalena’s Delta in calf roping; the other was Scott MCCutcheon on Gay Bar Olena in the reining.
In 1996 we had grown to about 120 brood mares and approximately 400 total horses. 6-J Paint Horses held their first production sale that we were well prepared for. It was well promoted and advertised was we offered 150 head. This sale was met with much enthusiasm with the top selling horse bringing in over $60,000 and the average of over $5600 on the 150 head. We then began to enjoy better private sales. I began to expand my personal breeding program. One of my perks to my job was to select a horse each year from 6-J paint horses to partner with Floyd.
By 1999 my personal program had grown and my duties at the ranch were too big to do justice to both so I resigned my position with 6-J Paint horses.
I went back to horseshoeing for the public as I continued to develop my horses and those I owned in partnership with Floyd. I successfully showed a stallion that Floyd and I owned together “Wynnin Getsya There” to his APHA superior reining award of 50 points. He was a son of “Delta Getsya There” and out of an own daughter of Little Peppy and on the bottom side a daughter of Doc Bar.
I sold my share of “Wynnin Getsya There” to Floyd and I purchased his share of the other horses we had in partnership. Scott McCutcheon went on to show “Wynnin Getsya There” at the APHA World Show and made him a world Champion in the senior reining.
There are many more lesson learned from my experiences through this error of my life. These lessons will have to be shared at another time. Perhaps at a shoeing appointment, private lesson, clinic, new Internet entry, future DVD, or a book.
From the encouragement of our daughter Tresha Robinson and her husband, Jason, we moved our program to Queen Creek, Arizona. They were there, Tresha as a veterinarian with Arizona Equine and Jason as a horseshoer, both wanting more of the insight they knew I had and also their clients needed.
Our son Shane and his wife Barb lived in Colorado working on a cattle feedlot. Shane, when younger developed much skills as a roper, but realized as a feed lot cowboy he wanted more help with his horsemanship in other areas and also relocated to Arizona.
Debbie and I hoped to develop our breeding program and expand my educational business through clinics and lessons. We moved our 20 head of horses to Queen Creek, Arizona on this new path.
This new path soon became as rough as the Arizona landscape. The horseshoeing was good and a huge demand. The educational area had become so crowded while I was hiding out studying my lessons. Some of this was good, but much was misguided with quick fixes and prescriptions as how to do.
The opportunities to share the insights I had been studying were not met with much enthusiasm. While I was out of the public eye many new faces had emerged with much media coverage, self-promotional DVD’s, Internet sites, etc. Many people were satisfied with what they were doing while the rest were just turned off to any new face as they were dissatisfied with what they had seen.
We moved to Arizona in March of 2001. In July of 2001 my wife, Debbie, suffered a major heart attack killing the front 1/3 of her heart. 5 days later she had a stroke requiring much rehab.
She hired on to be tough and has recovered better than expected. She continues to contribute to our program, keeping me organized doing the scheduling and customer relations. She takes care of our horses and helps with our six grandchildren.
With the high overhead of living in Arizona, the property value and feed cost for our breeding program plus new medical bills, I had to depend on my most reliable source of income, horseshoeing. It was very good over the next several years. I was able to establish a large client base and ran a multi-farrier business. I enjoyed working with the other guys and sharing with my shoeing clients about shoeing techniques, soundness, and behavioral issues. With this one on one environment this business continued to thrive, but at a cost of neglect to the development of our horses. There was not much time for riding.
By the spring of 2004, our son Shane had completed a facility to have our shoeing clients bring their horses for shoeing. There were several of us and we worked in a bit of an assembly line. Someone pulling shoes, someone preparing feet, some fitting shoes, someone nailing on and someone finishing. This was well received as we could do top quality, high-volume, time efficient work and get the client on their way. We also offered a service where they could leave their horses overnight. This was largely implemented so we could devote time to the breeding program developing our horses to be ready to compete on them.
Those working for us in this program were strongly motivated to leave their own businesses for the opportunity to ride with me and help with this development.
In the fall of 2004 I sustained a head injury that required brain surgery. I recovered fairly quickly to a point that I could only return to shoeing, however for 8 months I was on anti-seizure medication that affected my equilibrium and stamina that at the completion of our shoeing I would retire for the day. With these new bills and setbacks in the training program we sold most of the horses that we had for our breeding program.
My crew stayed with me till I was off my medication and back on my feet. With the breeding program and the opportunity for riding with me gone they decided they would be better off to return to their own businesses and just ride together whenever it was possible
At this time it appeared that we could sell our property for a good profit. With the breeding program gone I could get into a lower overhead place and just do the training and clinics. I quit shoeing and started taking some horses in for training and holding a few clinics even reconnecting with some of the people from Nebraska, Iowa, and Texas. I had a short clinic tour in the fall of 2006.
In an effort to get in the public eye, I applied for a spot in the 2007 Road To The Horse Colt Starting competition, as I thought that I could offer something other than dragging them down to the human level.
In December of 2006, I broke my leg still believing that I would be recovered and ready to compete. I sent in my application quite late, but I requested that if I was too late for 2007 to consider me for 2008. I did not get the call; perhaps they never received it in time or it ever got considered, it probably for the best. My leg never healed satisfactorily. In fact it had become a life altering issue. For the first time in my life I became totally dependant on others.
Property values declined, I was unable to work at anything, I had extensive rehabilitation and medical bills. People responded well it really seemed like no burden at all. This made me realize that God is in control and His people are truly His hands and feet. As long as I remember I have had a strong faith and believed in God and His guidance, but now I realize that faith is not to be private but to be expressed openly and generously to others.
In 2008 I applied and received a Mustang for the Extreme Mustang Makeover competition. I felt the competition was made for me as I had the experience and time. I had just started to pick up a few shoeing clients and had a lot of time for this Mustang. We named him Warrior for all the battles he needed to fight. Warrior was a great horse to start and I learned a lot about the Mustang and developed much respect for them. Warrior came with no bias or agenda, very confident and not very flighty. He was very willing and eager to please. As he learned to trust in the areas where trust was still lacking, he was strong and resistant to try. As his trust grew he would do those things with the same pride and confidence. Warrior trained very well. There are many stories to tell as he developed and his trust and courage showed. With the support of many friends, morally, financially, and spiritually we went to Ft. Worth excited and what I thought was well prepared. The week before we left, we did a dress rehearsal at the Gilbert Arizona Rodeo Park, which was videotaped. The dress rehearsal went very well and was well attended by friends and supporters.
We left for Ft. Worth, Texas feeling very prepared and confident. However, as we participated in the Extreme Mustang Makeover we lacked preparation for some of the things where points were awarded and we did not make the finals or get to show the final performance that we had him prepared for.
Disappointed in our finish and the attachment my daughter had developed for Warrior watching his training as he was kept him at their place for his training, she adopted Warrior on my behalf. I believe this is truly a blessing as Warrior is available to continue to fight these battles he was named for.
Returning to Arizona determined to move this battle forward, I scheduled to have my knee replaced as I felt that my leg was going to continue to limit me. This was done in November of 2008 with an extreme physical therapy effort. There was some attempt to start riding and I soon returned to some horseshoeing with the help of a recent graduate of a horseshoeing school, Jesson Nelson, son of a long time horse acquaintance. Jesson was a blessing helping me to keep my horseshoeing caught up. My leg did not respond very well and riding was painful and difficult. I would attempt from time to time without much improvement. I continued to do my physical therapy and shoe horses.
In February 2010 as a student of Ray Hunt, I was honored to be allowed to participate at the Ray Hunt Memorial Clinic in Ft. Worth, Texas. Along with 20 other students of Ray’s, including 3 of his grandsons, all started a colt. This showing the legacy left by his legend. When it was all over those attending were asked to vote for the person that most depicted the ideals Ray had encouraged us all to learn. I was selected as that person and received Ray’s personal Dale Harwood saddle. What an honor and prize. I find it ironic that I went to honor a friend and I get so honored especially at a time when I am struggling to get validation of the things I have learned.
As Ray’s wife Carolyn said, “ This was not a competition, but a way to honor Ray and the horse.” For those of you that knew Ray, you know what an honor this is. For you that didn’t know Ray I hope as I continue to share his insights, you too can somehow feel as though you knew him as well.
As I left Ft. Worth, many of Ray’s friends congratulated me and advised me to “keep it real.” As I heard at a Promise Keepers event, God is preparing you for what he already ha prepared for you.
I have had to “keep it real” as with my bad leg and lack of riding, I have no horses advanced enough to run around the world saying look at me. We have been fortunate to find a facility and a landlady who is willing to work with me as I try to develop some horses and provide an environment to share my insight with you.
So I am “Keeping it real” as I put my pants on every morning to go shoe horses and come home every evening and put my boots on to ride my horses and share some insight with a few of you brave enough to withstand the summer Arizona heat. This has been keeping it real and arguably fun.
We are putting together some fall events that will be real and fun. I truly feel this tale of experiences, opportunities, and the people that have influenced me will allow me to shorten your learning curve if your willing to come along for the ride. Hope to see you soon!
Happy Trails and Glory to God!