About A Legacy of Legends
A Legacy of Legends is a continuation of what Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance taught and understood about horses.
While Ray is widely considered the greatest and most influential horseman of all time, he was always quick to give the credit to Tom.
“Tom told the horse’s side of the story,” Ray said in an interview not long after Tom’s passing. “He knew what the horse was going to do before the horse knew it. I’d never seen anything like it and I’ve never met anyone since who understands the horse the way Tom did. He had something truly special.”
Together Tom and Ray changed the horse world, but with the loss of Ray in 2009 there were concerns about how to preserve their legacy and assure that the extraordinary gift they had given us was passed on.
The Legacy of Legends annual gathering brings together some of today’s best examples of what Tom and Ray started, and through our scholarship program we are certain the learning will continue and the lessons these two legends taught will never be forgotten.
Like Tom and Ray, who were always thinking about how they might make it easier or better for the horse, A Legacy of Legends offers others the encouragement and understanding to keep searching too.
For More information on our USA event see our USA Web site
The Horse’s Lawyer
Although he is the man most credited with bringing kindness and understanding to the horse world, Tom Dorrance never sought fame or fortune.
Born in 1910 and raised on his family's Crow Creek ranch outside of Enterprise, Oregon, he grew up in a time and place where horses were a necessity. “Ever since I could remember I tried to get along with horses,” said Tom who stood 5'6" and never weighed more than 150 pounds. “I wasn't big enough to manhandle them.” So he learned to approach the horse as an equal and to look at things from the horse's point of view. To do that he said,“You have to get yourself right inside the horse and feel exactly what is going within that animal.”
It was a radical notion, this touchy-feely stuff, and there were plenty of skeptics at first. But it worked so well for Tom that word began to spread. At first it was just friends and neighbors who sought his advice. He had a local radio show and was a 4-H leader, as well as president of the Wallowa County Stockgrowers in the mid-1950s. By the time he sold the ranch in 1960 and started out in a travel trailer to see the country, he was already being referred to as the “horse's lawyer.”
Tom continued using his techniques, advocating for the horse on ranches throughout Oregon, Nevada and California. “I helped horses with their people problems,” he said. One such horse was Hondo and his problem was a cowboy named Ray Hunt.
Throughout his life Tom shared his understanding of horses with many others who sought his wisdom. He charged little or nothing, believing he gained as much from each experience as those who came seeking his help. He had an exceptional memory and though he may have preferred the company of horses to people, he never forgot a person’s name. No matter how brief or how mundane the circumstances might have been, Tom could cross paths with a person forty years after first meeting them and still recall their name and every detail of the initial encounter. He was fond of riddles and strings tricks. Children and dogs gravitated to him.
Tom married wife Margaret in 1966. They lived simply and frugally, never capitalizing on the “natural horsemanship” movement. Others may have made money at it, but to Tom the time spent with horses was reward enough. Still, his contribution did not go unnoticed. His book, True Unity: Willing Communication Between Horse and Rider, edited by Milly Hunt Porter, has been in continuous print for nearly 30 years. Recently a new book was published as well; Tom Dorrance, More Than A Horseman, by Margaret Dorrance and John Saint Ryan.
In 1994, the National Reined Cow Horse Association honored Tom with “The Vaquero Award.” The following year, the Cowboy Hall of Fame, with its Chester A. Reynolds Memorial Award, recognized Tom as a person whose lifestyle exemplified the ideals of the American West. In 1999, Tom received the Lavin Cup from the American Association of Equine Practitioners for his extraordinary compassion for horses and his dedication to their welfare.
Tom spent the last years of his life with Margaret on his brother Bill's ranch near Salinas California. Bill himself was a noted horseman, whose expertise with a rawhide reata is legendary. Bill Dorrance's knowledge of horses, cattle, ranch roping and rawhide braiding is put forth in the book True Horsemanship Through Feel, coauthored with Leslie Desmond, and in the video Four Strands of Rawhide: The Making of a Reata, with Randy Rieman. If praised for his abilities with horse or rope, Bill would shrug it off and say his younger brother Tom was better. But Tom was just as quick to say the same about Bill. Both men lived into their 90s and remained actively involved in ranching and horses. Through their patience, keen observations and quiet humility, these two Wallowa County brothers helped redefine how we relate to horses. And as anyone who had the privilege to ride with either man will tell you; their lessons were not simply about horses, but about life itself.
(Written by Patti Hudson)
For more about the Dorrance brothers or to order their books and videos visit:
Born in 1929 and raised on a farm in Mountain Home, Idaho, Ray hunt grew up with hard work and horses. “We put crops in the ground with horses, and we took them out with horses. We worked until the ground froze. When the ground thawed we plowed again.” Stuck behind a plow, Ray longed to be a cowboy. Finally, at the age of 20 he left the family farm to fulfill his lifetime ambition.
After more than a decade buckarooing in Oregon and Nevada, Ray sought Tom Dorrance’s help with a troubled horse named Hondo. “I was a wreck going somewhere to happen, like a Charlie Russell painting. Then I met Tom and he saved my life.”
Armed with Tom’s principals and a determination to make “breaking” horses a thing of the past, Ray hit the road. He staked his life and his livelihood on the notion that horse training didn’t have to be a battle for dominance.
Years before anyone called it “natural horsemanship.” Long before “horse whispering” became big business, Ray Hunt was out there in an old pickup with a two-horse trailer, hoping to make enough gas money to get him to the next fairgrounds. “I didn’t see any commercial value it. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”
The horse world didn’t exactly welcome him with open arms. “I was working with the mind and a lot of people didn’t want to believe the horse had a mind. Get a bigger bit. Get a bigger stick. That was their approach.”
At Ray’s clinics, spectators watched as untouched colts were saddled and ridden for the first time with hardly a buck. In a matter of days the young horses were ready to go to on the “payroll,” meaning they had enough faith in their riders and had learned enough of the rudiments to be a useful mount. In this atmosphere of trust and understanding, with no hobbles or snubbing posts, no external devices, except for the now widely imitated orange flag; it was hard to see what Ray was doing to get such extraordinary results. Accused of using ringers, drugging horses, even hypnotizing them, Ray laughed it off and kept going. “I was there for the horse. People were way down the list.”
From the beginning he was direct, intimidating and unapologetic about it. A lot of people found him too abrasive. But horses everywhere are better off for the approach Ray Hunt popularized and the clinic industry he spawned.
Ray and Tom’s message spread and the clinics grew, as Ray traveled the world helping horses and people and changing lives wherever he went. Eventually Ray was recognized for his achievements. He won the Top Hand Award, and was inducted in to the California Reined Cow Horse Hall of Fame in 2004 and was the first Western Horseman of the Year in 2005
Despite the well earned respect and all the adulations that finally came his way, Ray always remained dedicated to the horse and unimpressed by his fame. “I couldn’t care less about all that. I’m in this for the horse.”
(Written by Patti Hudson)
For more about Ray Hunt or to order his books and videos visit: