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Horsemen’s Re-Union Review, Part I

Published: 4/11/2012
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By Maddy Butcher

It’s been said horses learn best when they can dwell on what they’ve experienced.
So, too, with this reporter.
After a whirlwind week, I’m just now absorbing and appreciating the extraordinary opportunity provided by the Horsemen’s Re-Union. And based on interviews with scores of spectators, the same held true for most of the thousands visiting the Mid-State Fairgrounds in Paso Robles, California.
  • We sat and scrutinized as 20 talented horsemen worked with two young horses apiece.
  • We approached and queried as the famous and not-so-famous relaxed in folding chairs to chat, sign autographs, and answer questions. [Left to right: Ed Roberton, Ty Van Norman, Jim, Luke, and Bryan Neubert.]
  • We marveled and lingered as the emcees (themselves accomplished horsemen) reminded us just how lucky we were to see so much at one time, in one venue.
Less than four months ago, Martin Black, Chris Cox and Kathie and Rowly Twisselman got together to mastermind this event. They had a good idea on paper:
  • Assemble an international bunch of accomplished colt starters and let an audience watch them work.
  • No rushing.
  • No competition.
  • No microphones.
  • No rules that couldn’t be tweaked or broken.
As Martin Black said at one point last week, “We’re making it up as we go along.”
[Photo includes Black, Ed Robertson, Tom Saunders, Antoine Cloux]

The trainers ranged in age from 20-something to 60-something. Three came from Australia, another three from Canada, one from Switzerland, and the rest from western U.S. (Yes, all men and all riding Western. Those exclusivities did not go unnoticed. We’ll talk more about it in upcoming article.)

The first day saw some missteps and initial jitters. But by Day Two, “the guys were more relaxed and falling into the rhythm of whatever they do at home,” said Chris Cox.

Russell Dilday, himself a celebrity horseman, spent the week horseback, trotting from one round pen to another. He did a good deal of ribbing, calling Craig Cameron “our AARP representative,” and labeling the short, stout Ty Van Norman “the Michael Jordan of Equine Riding.”
But Dilday was insightful and gracious as well. He noted what an honor it was to have Margaret Dorrance at the Re-Union. She’s the wife of the late Tom Dorrance who with his brother, Bill, along with Ray Hunt, are credited with mentoring nearly all the performers.
“It’s a great honor to have Margaret here with us. This whole thing wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the Dorrances.”
[Photo of Craig Cameron]

By Day Three, many had advanced by leaps and bounds.
I watched Bryan Neubert working with his young filly in a small round pen with three other trainers and their horses. The men had been working as a group, but had just split off to work on specific issues. Bryan took off the saddle and bridle, gave the horse a rub, and walked away. The loose horse, despite all the distractions, followed him across the round pen, head lowered, licking its lips.

Joined up, you think?

Ron Wall, one of the top Australian trainers, was in the saddle, moving his three-year old through walk, trot, and canter.  In a rope halter.  In an open arena. On Day Three. When he wanted to control her head more, he simply flipped the halter line softly over her head, from one side to the other.

Amazing. [More on Ron Wall coming soon.]

Dilday, a three-time World’s Greatest Horseman, weighed in: “You know, an event like Road to the Horse isn’t always what’s best for the horse…Although I’m amazed at what they do there...All these people here are starting horses with the long-range view in mind. That’s what I like.”

[Photo of Australian Rob Leach]

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Coming soon:

Click for Horsemen's Re-Union introduction
Click for Horsemen's Re-Union review
Click for additional Horsemen's Re-Union report
Click for Horsemen's Re-Union Vendor report
Click for horsemen of the Horsemen's Re-Union
Click for EBH debut at the Horsemen's Re-Union

View Reader Comments:

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4/13/2012 Shari Click
This was a fantastic event. It was great to be able to watch the different styles and the results that each one got. So much to learn. Still lickin' and chewin'. I hope this was the first of many.
4/13/2012 Julie Baldocchi
So glad you are writing about this event. It was hands down the best demonstration and format of Horsemanship skills I have ever seen by such an insightful,talented group of Horsemen. Long live The Horseman's Reunion.

"No one can teach riding so well as a horse" - CS Lewis