Throwing My Loop…
By: Michael Johnson
HOW TO HELP YOUR HORSE!
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
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 thing. Whether 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
-- Michael Johnson
Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould
The Rowdy Cow Dog