Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson  



     That’s what he called it.  He said, “Now we will see the transforming.”  He was the first one to put a word with the act.  I didn’t know what he meant…but I knew what he meant.  Something was coming, and whatever it was…was important.  My heart was in my throat.  And then it came.  The behavior – the thing I witnessed – moved my center, altered my life, and all these years later still causes me to feel a deep wonder.
     Since a young age, I’ve been fascinated with a question.  The question can be asked in many ways, and for years I thought there was no answer.  Now I know the question can be asked in many ways and can have many answers.  The question is, “What is it that causes us to rise?  What is it that helps us apply whatever meager abilities we have to do better and become more?”
     For the life of me, I can’t understand why everyone is not equally fascinated with the question.  If we could just find the answer, then surely we would have a rare and valuable thing…lightning in a bottle.  Then we could help our child, our horse, or our dog do better – and who doesn’t want those we love to do better?  We could elicit high cooperation from those around us!  In my travels over the last twenty years, I’ve found certain people who have developed that ability – the ability to help us do better – to an extraordinary level.  One is a man named Orin Barnes. 
     In 1975, Orin and his wife, three kids, and two border collies moved to Canyon, Texas.  He began a training facility there focused on developing performance horses and herding dogs that would later take him to New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Germany, England, Panama, Mexico and all over the United States.  He’s been an AQHA and APHA judge since the mid-seventies, and he’s the fellow who said, “Now we will see the transforming.”  And when he said it, he was talking about my dog - our Australian Shepherd named Rowdy.
     I had taken Rowdy to an Orin Barnes clinic held in Amarillo.  Rowdy was young and aggressive at the time, and suffered from a severe handicap that limited his ability to develop into a good cow dog – his owner, me. 
     Before the clinic began Orin walked by and said, “How are you doing?” I was so nervous I couldn’t spit, but I said, “Fine.”
     He said, “No, I mean really.”
     Since he asked, I blurted out all my anxiety and nervousness about being in a clinic with eleven other people who had dogs so smart they could all do algebra, and me and Rowdy were so dumb that surely all 300 people in the stands would know it soon enough, and my dog and I would die of shame at day’s end.  (Well, he asked.)
     Orin stared at me calmly for a moment and said, “Relax, Michael.  We never embarrass the dog or the owner.  You’ll both do fine.”  Then he walked away.
     That moment taught me volumes about reaching students – doesn’t matter if they are human, horse, or dog.  And it is this…
     If we would teach any living thing, we must consider their internal state before we begin.
      On that day, Orin had been working with Rowdy on the sheep for some time, and at first, Rowdy was having the time of his life.  As the session progressed however, he became quite annoyed and frustrated that Orin kept insisting the sheep were his and not Rowdy’s.  That’s when Rowdy decided to kill Orin Barnes.  I simply could not believe it, but it was true.  In an instant, the Rowdy Cow Dog turned psychopath and came at Orin like a dragon on a bad drug.  Naturally, the attack required Orin to protect himself.  Trust me when I say the defensive move he used was effective.  Then in the softest of voices Orin said, “No, Rowdy.”  Rowdy came around after a moment or two, and after shaking the stars from his eyes, looked soulfully at Orin for a time.  And Orin said what he said – and Rowdy transformed.
     A moment ago, the dog had reverted to a savage state and tried to take the human’s life.  A minute or two later, Rowdy not only seemed to understand English, I think had Orin told him to, he could write it.  The remarkable thing was Orin Barnes knew it was going to happen.  Later, I asked him how on earth he could have possibly known the events that were about to transpire, and he answered, “Years.”  (If you want to see more about Orin Barnes Training, visit orinbarnesbordercollies.com - Phone – 806-655-4021.)
     The master gave us something else that day - a pearl of great price.  For years, I had been looking for something.  The magic I called it - that mystical thing that causes us to become more than we were.  What is it that causes the transforming?  I had searched in universities, in libraries, in college classes in lecture halls, and in books written by famous authors.  I read Freud, Jung, Ferenzci, Hume, Barclay, Kant, Sartre, Camus, and Joseph Campbell, and so many others…and I never found it.  But in a dusty rodeo arena in Amarillo, Texas, I found it.  At the end of his clinic, the master, Orin Barnes, turned to the audience with these final words…
     “The great teacher is always doing the same thing.  The great teacher – whether they be working with humans, or a horse, or a dog, is always convincing us that we can.”

                                                            --Orin Barnes, Amarillo, Texas
         Herding Dog Clinic – 2005

     That’s what I was looking for.

          Michael Johnson

Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

Michael & Blue

Healing Shine

The Rowdy Cow Dog

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