Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson    


     I’ve been on a quest for most of my life – actually, two quests.  One was to discover how it is we help people; the other how do we help our horse.  For many years, I thought they were two distinctly different quests.  I was wrong about that.
    When I was quite young, a question rose up in me - and that was… “How is it that we help another?”  Even though I wasted my early years with poor grades (and deeply regret that till this day) - even when I failed, there was a deep curiosity in me concerning how it is we might help others do better.  After floundering for a time - like so many of us do - caring adults in education and agriculture showed me a better way.  My grades improved and my focus as well.  I knew what I wanted to do with my days.  To find the answer!  I had my crosshairs sharply focused on the target…and I began.
     In the early days, there was a certainty in me the “discovery” of how we help others would be revealed in a relatively short time.  After all, the university had steep stairs leading up to long hallways where so many classrooms and auditoriums were chock full of teachers, professors, and PhDs, all just waiting to tell me the “answers.”  And I listened.  I read books, asked questions, made notes, and took tests.  Filled with admiration for all those learned people – and good people they were – as I approached graduation day, the certainty the answer was coming soon increased.  The answer was near - closer than ever before.  And when the day came – when my formal education was done – I realized I knew no more than when I began.  The mystery of what causes us to rise, to improve, and to succeed, still eluded me.  I knew no more than when I began.
     I loved to rope and be with horses all my life.  In addition, herding dogs fascinated me. Had you asked me in those days, “What does helping people and working with horses and dogs have to do with what causes us to rise?” I’m sure I wouldn’t have had a clue.  I now believe they are closely connected.  Very connected indeed.
     As the years passed, I continued to search for the answer to my quest of helping others in libraries, classrooms, lectures, and books, books, books.  I read the works of Freud, Jung, Sandor Ferenzci, Rollo May, Martin Heidegger, Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Albert Ellis, and Arnold Lazarus.  And still I could not find the answer.  For thirty years, I looked.  At the end of that time, the mystery remained.  And now after all that searching, I have found an answer – at least for me.  After so long a time, I have found an answer.  The answer I had searched for all these years was not in books by Freud or Jung, but in humans, and in horses…and in dogs.
     Recently, a young woman wrote me a letter about her horse.  His name is Super.  “Callie” has been an accomplished horsewoman since she was young.  She roped and ran barrels on her trusted companion, Happy, for years.  Because of Happy’s ability and willingness, Callie experienced a great deal of success.  “Because of my success with Happy,” Callie explained, “I could not help but conclude I was quite the little horseman.”
Then Super came into her life.
     Super was a chestnut sorrel with a blaze face – and movie star good looks.  Callie said, “I could see us cashing checks before I wrote one for Super.”  Super could run – a critical requirement for a barrel horse…but Super didn’t enjoy circling the barrels.  As a matter of fact, he refused.  No matter how much Callie worked, Super was impossible.  Others told her “make him mind,” or “use a stronger bit,” or the least helpful advice of all, “maybe he doesn’t want to be a barrel horse.”  But Callie could not let him go.  She desperately wanted to save Super.  So Callie sought a master.  Callie was trying to answer the same question that has whispered to me all my life…how is it that we help?  Callie found an answer.
     Professional rodeo cowboy and steer wrestler, Lee Graves, purchased a horse a few years back.  Several of his friends counseled against such a move telling Lee, “that horse just doesn’t have it.”  Lee thought differently.  Lee’s horse would later win “Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year.”  Lee Graves found an answer.
     Our Australian Shepherd, Rowdy, had potential as a herding dog - but Rowdy was aggressive and tough-minded, and trust me when I say my wife and I lacked control over Rowdy.  But because I believed in him so much, Rowdy and I drove five hundred miles to work with a master – actually two masters.  Two men - one named Orin Barnes; the other named Bob Hooker.
     Even though Orin Barnes and Bob Hooker live several hundred miles apart, they have been close friends for many years.  Both are accomplished horsemen and both are considered masters with herding dogs.  Perhaps more than any of my other professors, Orin Barnes and Bob Hooker were my best teachers.  They helped me find the answer I had searched for so long.  Those two individuals knew the secret. 
     So what’s all this about helping horses and dogs, and what does that have to do with helping people?
     During the clinic at Amarillo, Texas conducted by Mr. Barnes and Mr. Hooker, Rowdy and I – and all the participants – experienced the joy of learning.  When you are learning about something you love with someone you love – in this case, the Rowdy Cow Dog - work is more fun than fun.  We spent an intense day, with both instructors pushing us and our dogs.  Then, as the session came to a close, Orin Barnes addressed the crowd…
     “The true teacher,” he said, “is always doing the same thingWhether he or she is working with humans, horses, or dogs, the true teacher is always instilling confidence in the student The true teacher is always convincing us that we can.
     Callie is working on helping Super find his confidence.  Lee Graves said, “I knew all I had to do with this dogging horse was to build his confidence.”  Mr. Barnes and Mr. Hooker helped Rowdy believe in himself, and they did precisely the same thing for me.  Every true teacher I ever had in my life has done exactly the same thing.  They helped me believe I could. 
     When Orin Barnes said that statement that day in the coliseum, I smiled.  As the power of his words sank deeper in me, I wanted to fall to my knees and weep with joy – but I just smiled.  Finally, after all those years, I found the answer to my quest.  The way we help others – all living creatures – is to help them believe in themselves.  To help them believe they can.
     Ain’t it a shame my graduate professors didn’t mention that?

                                                                                      -- Michael Johnson

Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

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Healing Shine

The Rowdy Cow Dog

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