Legendary horseman Ray Hunt is gone
The horse and livestock world lost an icon of the industry when Ray Hunt passed away on March 12, 2009. Hunt, of Mountain Home, ID, had devoted his life to the horse and teaching people a better way to work with the horse.
Born in 1929 in Paul, ID, his family soon moved to Mountain Home where Ray grew up, attended school, and worked on the family farm which had a diverse blend of livestock and horses, both teams and saddle horses.
In 1948, Ray married Millie Randall, and in 1950 moved to the Battle Mountain, NV area to work for the T Lazy S Ranch. Roland Moore of the TS raised good Morgan horses and employed some very good bridle horsemen, according to stories Ray shared with long-time friend, Buster McLaury. He said he asked Ray how they started those horses and Ray said, “We just roped them, tied their foot up, saddled and rode them. We didn’t know any other way.”
Ray and Millie later moved to California where he continued riding and working with horses. He had a horse called Hondo that was a very good horse in many ways, but unpredictable and not very trustworthy. Folks told Ray that he needed to talk to Tom Dorrance about the horse and he could help him, so Ray went to Tom’s to see what he could learn.
At first, Ray didn’t have much success and the horse actually got worse. It took some time, but finally Ray realized that he was doing what Tom said, not what he meant. He had to learn to develop the “feel” that was so necessary in the communication with the horse. The change in Hondo for the better changed all that Ray did with horses and set him on the course that changed his life, as well as untold others.
In 1980, Ray married Carolyn Lord, and the clinics he started grew to be extremely popular. He and Carolyn traveled all over the U.S., plus some foreign countries, including Australia.
Buster, of Paducah, TX, and his wife Sheryl and daughters Tiffany and Misty, counted Ray as a dear friend and knew him well. They met Ray when he came to the 6666 Ranch at Guthrie, TX in the early ’80’s to help them start some colts. Buster was a young cowboy there and said, “I thought I knew quite a bit about a horse, but found out that Ray knew so much more. He could get so much done with a horse and it didn’t look like he did anything. It made me want to learn what he knew.”
Those early clinics were a revelation for horse people, Buster said. “At first, what Ray did was so contrary to what people knew and did that there was a lot of controversy. People brought him some real bad horses trying to prove that Ray couldn’t ‘fix’ them. He always got through to the horses and just kept at it. It’s a wonder, but Ray never got bitter or hard, he just kept helping the horses.
“Ray told me that the best part of a horse came from inside the person,” adds Buster. “If the person gave just five percent, the horse would give 95 percent to get along. They just had to learn to ‘feel’ the horse. I met Ray when he was in the prime of his life and he was a stout man. But, he just had the softest feel of anyone I ever knew. No words can describe that feel, Ray just had it.”
Buster continued, “About 20 years ago, Sheryl was riding a colt and Ray was helping her. He told her to ‘hang in there, it’ll get better.’ Just over a year ago, he told her the same thing when she had her Rooster horse so light that she was riding him with a string around his neck. He always encouraged her and the girls and complimented them on what they were doing right.
“Ray was always amazed that an old crippled man with one lung could do this stuff, but some young person just couldn’t figure it out. He could never understand that he was different than other people,” Buster said.
Buster explained that Ray had a club foot and didn’t get around well because of it, plus, he added, “The last 10 years have been awfully hard for Ray. He was on oxygen off and on, always at night, and didn’t feel good. But he never let that stop him. He just wanted to help more horses.”
Buster added that Ray had told him that he just wanted to die on the road, going to a clinic to help more horses. “That’s just what happened too,” said Buster. “He never quit.
“Without Ray’s influence, none of the clinic business would have happened. His mission was helping the horse, always. Lots of folks benefited from him, but may not give him credit. Others will claim they worked with Ray when they didn’t.”
Buster credits Ray with changing his life and purpose with a horse as well.
“He did the clinics because he wanted to help the horse by helping the people,” says Buster. “Tom Dorrance couldn’t have done it because he wouldn’t have gone on the road like Ray. Ray could have just stayed home and trained horses and made a good living, but he wanted to share what he could to help the horses.”
Dozens of clinicians make their living traveling down the road and doing clinics, and most credit Hunt with starting them on that career path. He didn’t “invent” the methods, but he refined them and made them available to thousands of people over the years. He believed that a horse would always respond if one made the right things easy and the wrong things difficult.
Cattle handling was even changed by applying the method used on the horse to the cow, and some folks claim they treat their families differently because of how Ray Hunt handled the horse.
A memorial service and celebration of Ray’s life was held in Era, TX on March 21 and other memorials were held March 28 in Mountain Home, ID and in Australia at a later date.
Ray is survived by his wife Carolyn, four daughters, two sons, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Ray Hunt may be gone, but he will never be forgotten for the contribution he made to the betterment of the horses and horsemen whose lives he changed. He was often honored for his achievements, including induction into the California Reined Cow Horse Hall of Fame in 2004 and being named the first Western Horseman of the Year in 2005. But, his true satisfaction was in helping one more horse and person communicate better with each other, thus improving both lives. It was all for the horse, always. His legacy will live on.
editor’s note: thank you to robert dawson for the use of these pictures. please visit his website at http://www.dawsonphotography.com.