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
“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
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
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
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
Unfortunately, no one tells the horse how smart you
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
Now comes the burning question… “What on earth do I
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…
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.
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.
thought you were the one sent to teach the horse. Had that
backwards, didn’t you?
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
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