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Joe Wolter Interview

Published: 2/23/2015
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Editor's Note: Clinician and horseman Joe Wolter, 60, is one of just a handful of protégés of the late Ray Hunt and Tom and Bill Dorrance. To his students, he passes on a wide range of horsemanship skills – from roping and cow handling to ground work and fine-tuning. He spoke with us at a recent Utah clinic. Read about the Dorrance legacy here.
Over the past few years, Wolter has had two major injuries. Now healthy, he’s taken the silver lining approach to the injuries, saying they've helped him improve his horses. (Friend and fellow Dorrance protege Bryan Neubert recently broke his arm. Read about that here.)

NN: You look like you’re moving really well.

JW: I am.

NN: You’ve had your share of injuries these past few years.

JW: Yeah, I hurt my back then about four months later, I broke my hip.

NN: Horse related?

JW: More like ground related.

NN: It’s funny how that ground comes up to meet us. Was getting back to wellness a matter of really taking care, being patient, not pushing it?

JW: As far as my back goes, I wasn’t in good shape when I started riding again. I hurried it. That’s hindsight. But I got myself in a little predicament and I broke my hip.

NN: Did the fact that you weren’t back 100 percent lead to your hip injury?

[Photo: Joe and Jimmie Wolter]

JW: Oh, yeah. No doubt. I tried to go faster than I should have. This summer is the first time I feel ok at a lope. I feel ok to go fast, where I don’t think about it. I’m blessed. I tell you. It could have been…

NN: Career ending?

JW: That’s right. But it taught me a lot. My horses are better because I know when I was recuperating, working some of them on the ground. I think it got them more sure. When you’re crippled, you need the horse to fill in even more. I needed to get my horses sure. Way more sure.

NN: Does that offer some insight to a women’s perspective. That perhaps men can get away with muscling a horse, but women (if they’re good) can have more success with less force?

JW: I agree. I think it’s easy to intimidate a horse to get the horse to do something. Versus getting him to do something because he’s sure. He wants to. There is a little difference there.

NN: When you were working with your students this morning, you said sometimes a slow cow could help out the horse a whole bunch. You mentioned learning that from Tom Dorrance.

JW: I didn’t think a horse needed [a slow cow]. Typical Tom Dorrance: total opposite of what everybody else thought.

NN: You give the horse a job that might seem easy, but it’ll boost the horse’s confidence?

JW: Yeah. It might not have seemed easy to the horse. But I showed them with a slow cow, a horse can get comfortable along side something. It just felt good being there.
If I remember right, I had a couple horses that I was getting ready to show. These horses were doing the deal, but they were kind of worried about it. He had me just push this old cow.
It barely got out of my way. I’d push her on one side and the horses would have raise their heads to get over the cow’s back to get on the other side. That’s how close we were. And it helped them immensely. Just to breathe.
I was just like everyone else, ‘How is this going to help?’ But it did. And I never forgot that.

NN: So, high energy isn’t the right energy?

JW: Oh, no. no. You need them to be able to think. To be relaxed. It’s like in the clinic deal. You see people that are kind of tight, worried or trying to second-guess. There’s tension there. A lot of times, they don’t really know what I’m talking about until they get home. Then they let down.

NN: Bryan Neubert told me people don’t learn anything in clinics. It’s when you go home and start chewing on it.

JW: That’s right. That is, if they’ll chew on it. If they don’t chew on it, they probably don’t learn anything.

NN: Randy Rieman said 20 percent of his students are invested, really engaged. 30 percent are just sort of there. Half are there for the social aspect. Is that about right?

JW: Yeah. I’d say that’s about right. I don’t know if I’d give it 20 percent. And that’s none of my business. My business is to do the best I can. To try to give them their money’s worth. Let the chips fall where they may.
By far, the largest group is there for socializing. The next group is there to show what they know. The smallest group is the group that’s come to learn.

NN: I get really stressed at clinics because of the whole performance angle. I get nervous. My horses get nervous. Is the clinic a flawed means of learning?

JW: If I knew that about you, I’d say you should come to a clinic. You’ve got to face it. You’ve got to learn to relax. When I was growing up, I was really, really shy.
Sometimes I think God gave me this. He said, ‘you need to work on your shyness. Go do this.’
To grow, we can’t be comfortable all the time. Discomfort isn’t that bad. It shows you how to be comfortable. That’s how you grow.

Check out the Events page for Joe Wolter.

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3/9/2015 Julie
Wonderful interview with Joe. It is so true that God pushes you out of your comfort zone so you can be the best you can be.

"The ears never lie" - Don Burt