“The Farm Boy Method” Begins to Change

Part 3 of “My Dreams Come True”

Will James illusrtion for his book "Smoky the Cow Horse"

At a horse sale my friend overheard an old Amish farmer complaining, “I think we’re doing it all wrong.  We used to hitch our colts right up to the thrasher and let them deal with it.  Nowadays we start them out slow with light, quieter equipment and gradually introduce them to louder and heavier and finally the thrasher. They still have to deal with it.  It takes a lot longer and I’m not sure if it does any good. Maybe it is not as good.”

The horse breaking method I described in “My Dreams Come True” part 1 and 2 was direct and fast. The horses at the first stages of training nearly always responded violently.  I never got hurt (or not too much) and neither did any of my trainees, but certainly there were risks.  I didn’t know any better in those days.  Will James’ method of horse training, so far as I know, was never systematically laid out by him, but I understood the logic of those methods.  Before I was born my dad used these methods with his farm horses.  Horse training and care was just another job of work that needed to be accomplished on the farm.  There was no other way to get the work done.  Whether you liked it or not did not have much to do with it. While training a colt there were still bills to be paid and a living to be made.  The colts were trained in the quickest, most efficient, cost effective way.  I’m sure it was the same for the ranch horses Will James broke and wrote about.  It was the same for the rancher I worked for in Montana.

With the limited expertise I had accumulated in those days, I do not think I could have gotten a job training horses now days, not without having to be an apprentice or given some kind of specific guidance.  The only thing I had going for me was that I could sit a horse pretty well and more importantly, I was not afraid. Finally, I was fortunate that the first horse given to me trained to my method very quickly. He became the boss’s favorite and he thanked me and told other people what a great job I did. He did this to such an extent that I began to believe it myself. But in truth it was the horse that was good not me.

In this machine age in which horses are rarely used for gainful employment, a revolution has happened in horse care and training.  The horse is used almost exclusively for pleasure. Now instead of training a horse to help us make money, we spend lots of money to learn how to train our horses. Training has become a big money pleasure activity for its own sake.  Instead of livestock used to help us make a living, the horse has been elevated to pet status and a luxurious one at that.  This revolution has caused a profound alteration in the way we think about horses. From my vantage point these changes are both good and bad.

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