Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson


     It all began without the slightest hint of anything important.  My friend, Darrell, called saying, “Want to ride down with me to pick up a broodmare?”

     “Sure,” I said.  No thunder, no lightning, not even a big wind.  Just a pretty day.  How could I have known that day would take hold of my life and change everything?  Change me and so much inside – a day that would change everything.  The day I first saw Shine.

     That day began three years of frustrating, humiliating, bubble-bustin’, ego-deflating, scream at the sky, pull-my-nose-through-my-soul pure hell.  Only to be replaced by the highest soaring joy I’ve ever known, and a joy that would make me fall to my knees and weep.  On the day, I knew my Shine Man was well.  No longer sick…but well.  On that day, I fell to my knees and cried…and I still don’t know why.  Why would such an event fill one with joy never known?  I don’t know, but it did.  In the beginning, how could I have known what to do?  I had never heard of the condition.  Indeed, didn’t even know I was sick.  But I was.  I was suffering from The Shine Syndrome!
 Seven years have come and gone now.  My life is much different than it was.  So much has happened during that time.  Learned I was a fool.  Learned so much.  The horse taught me.  And while it hurt – really hurt ‘cause sometimes, often in fact, growth is painful – still I’m so grateful.  While it almost killed me…I’ve never been so grateful.
     I thought I was the only one.  I thought what happened to me was a singular and unique experience.  Turns out that was wrong.  So many have had the exact same experience.  I found that out ‘cause I wrote a book about what happened to me.  A strange book or so I thought.  Turns out that was wrong too.  To the people – so many now – who had the exact same experience, the book didn’t seem strange at all.  The same thing had happened to them.  They didn’t know it, but they were suffering from the Shine Syndrome.  Here are the symptoms…
     Person has some knowledge about horses.  Perhaps a good deal of knowledge.  Specialization doesn’t matter.  Doesn’t matter if you are a reiner, roper, dogger, hunter-jumper, barrel-racer, dressage master, or even a circus performer (no kidding).  All these people, in their respective areas of expertise, had a “system.”  A system that produced highly cooperative partners.  Then a particular horse comes along…
     The horse is almost always very beautiful – and always troubled in some way.
     No problem.  The “expert” has dealt with this type of horse on many occasions.  Their methods always produce results.  Besides, the person sees something in this particular horse.  There is something special about this horse!
     Unfortunately, no one tells the horse how smart you are.
     No problem.  The expert knows it takes time.  And they begin to try and reach the horse.  And they try.  And they try.  And they try.
     At some point, the expert thinks, “Wait a minute.  What’s going on here?”
So they try again.  And again.  And again.  Nothing.  Horse gets worse.  Expert looks up and realizes two years have passed! 
     At this point, all those not infected agree.  Then the advice comes not just from one, but many – even those closest to us.  Particularly those.  “Time to rid yourself of this horse!” they say.  Any fool can see that…all except one fool.  The one suffering from the Shine Syndrome.  You cannot.  You cannot let him go.   Then, it gets worse.  Here comes Stage Two…
     The former expert is now wandering around lost in a fog.  For someone who once knew everything and now sees he or she knows nothing, this is a most difficult time.  Foundations are shattered; everything you knew, believed, and practiced suddenly has no value.  Self-esteem plummets, friends, family, and other horses are forgotten and ignored.  (Think Lost Sheep parable.)  Somehow your self-worth becomes all tangled up in this quest to save an alien creature who is worth nothing to anyone - except you – because everyone else knows exactly what he is worth.  Nothing.  And still you can’t let go.  Welcome to the Psych Ward.
     Now comes the burning question… “What on earth do I do now?”
     Ans: Take heart, brothers and sisters, take heart.  All is not lost.  Hope is alive. Get your head up, stop fretting, you have a horse to save.  Chances are excellent if you still feel there is something in him worth saving, then there is!  Problem is we just have to get that something to come out.  That’s where you come in.  Anyone else would give up on him.  You can’t. That’s why he was sent to you.  The horse is sent to help Man.  For him to do that, you have to help him.  Let’s look at the positives…

1.      You have learned your “old way” doesn’t work.  Every great horseman who has helped me has learned that very lesson.  Now you don’t know what to do.  That is a better place than thinking you know all about it.  Now you will always be welcome in the presence of great horsemen.

2.      The horse finally has you in a place where you are ready to listen.  Man, it took him a long time, didn’t it?  And you thought he was the one who was thick-headed.

You thought you were the one sent to teach the horse.  Had that backwards, didn’t you?

3.      Now you will stop what you have been doing – which didn’t work – and start looking for what will work.  Will Rogers said, “When you find yourself digging a hole, first thing to do is stop digging.”

      All that sounds like a student who is ready to learn, to apply himself, and to listen.  That’s what we all want our students to do, and now you have become a seeker.  Now you are ready to begin…ready to learn.  Horses won’t do anything for overbearing idiots.  At least, you are no longer one of those.  Such good news.
     Find masters!  Not the local “expert” who will always answer any question you have immediately - and you can bet his answer to any problem horse will always involve more force.   He can’t help you.
     Don’t confuse “master” with some famous clinician on television.  They will tell you if you just get “certified” in their system, all your problems will be solved.  Your horse doesn’t care who certified you or how many letters you have behind your name.  Find someone who cares more about your horse being well than getting your money because you paid for some so-called “level.”  Find those people out there who have had the same experience you are living, and remember Ray Hunt was one of them.  All great teachers in the horse world have lived through the same experience.  Their real message, I believe, is the only person who can help this troubled soul is you.  You do it!  You think you can’t, but you can.  Great lesson with horses – great lesson in life.
     I wish you well.  If I can help, let me know.
                           “It is the very difficult horses that have the most to give you.”

      Olympic Rider Lendon Gray

 Ed. Note – Michael Johnson’s Healing Shine – the story of Michael’s seven-year journey with the great horse called Shine - is the 2007 recipient of the Western Writers of America Spur Award, one of the oldest and most prestigious awards in American literature.


Michael's latest release, Reflections Of A Cowboy, is currently available in audio book form. The two volume set consists of articles, essays and excerpts from radio performances about good people and good horses in the life of an Oklahoma cowboy. Approximately 8 hours in length. Reflections Of A Cowboy in printed form is scheduled for release in the summer of 2005. Order from Michael's website.

Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

Michael & Blue

Healing Shine


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