Thursday, April 5, 2018

For One I Barely Knew, But Changed My Life

There are people we barely know, yet, they have a huge impact on our lives. Or, maybe we knew them better than we think, but not in the traditional way. I’m talking to myself here, because a man died two years ago who had a huge impact on my life with horses—Harold Johnson.

My mom texted me this yesterday—




Man, it brought back memories! My first horse was a weanling from he and his wife’s horse, Quincy. I was a little teenage girl, I gave him $500 (a huge amount to me in 1985--in fact, it's what I paid for my first truck that same year!) and he handed me Tanner, who I led to their rental stables, where stall #4 awaited with fresh woodchips.

I asked him, "What should I do with him until he's ready to ride?"  He said, "Spend lots of time with him. Go on walks, tie him up and groom him, just spend lots of time."  I took his advice, and Tanner pretty much trained himself when he was three.  We had so much connection, unity, there wasn't anything he wouldn't try for me.  I will always remember that advice, and I've shared it here on this blog over and over and over.

His family treated me like family. When I’d knock on their door to pay rent, his wife, Sharon, would invite me in to talk. When I’d go out to spend time with Tanner, their son, Michael, would jump on his 4-wheeler and drive to the barn to keep me company. I ran into Harold at any and every horse function—auctions, county fairs, team roping and barrel racing competitions—and he always had a smile and made me feel at home.  There was never any judgement from him--only a big welcome to the horse life!  You're gonna LOVE it!  So, yeah, it was like I found my people--the life my heart  yearned for--a life surrounded by horses and horse lovers.

I googled his obituary and found this:




When I think of Harold and his family, it brings back the best memories of my life.  A young woman, graduating high school and starting college, jumping into the horse world with no one but herself and her horses to guide her. I'm proud of that time in my life! I worked hard for it!!

I remember the community of horse people who were scraping everything together, like I was, to make it happen.  The round pen was a perfect example, Harold used recycled electricity poles from his job, to build it.  And it was a sturdy thing that's still standing!  He worked a full-time job and still had time to build that, an indoor arena, about fifty boarding stalls, and a successful breeding operation centered around the beautiful stallion, Lucky T Devil.  Later in life, he built another arena--a huge professional size like you'd see at the NFR in Vegas or something.  I loved riding in it, but he wasn't able to get the zoning for the amount of parking it required.

There was one other thing I learned from Harold--the art of confidence and distraction when working horses.  Instead of focusing on the THING you want from the horse, look for a distraction, and while the horse is thinking of THAT THING, do the thing you're wanting to do.

Here's the example.  I needed a horse loaded and brought to Lucky Acres, but she was a three year old who had never been loaded in a trailer.  Harold backed up the trailer to the pasture, and walked her right in.  I asked him later how he did that and made it look so effortless.  He said he backed it up as close as he could to an overgrown tree and, as he was walking her in, he looked straight ahead and kept going (confidence), but walked her close enough that the tree rubbed her body (distraction). 

So, to sum it all up, he was a man who kept things super simple.  Spend time with your horse, don't make a big deal of the "scary" things, be the leader and always look where you're going, and surround yourself with horses and horse people to your LAST DAYS!

RIP Harold Johnson.  I hope you're enjoying that heavenly reunion with your horse partners.  Thanks for the help and the memories.

12 comments:

  1. What an interesting man. And what a great mentor he was to you. Kind of sad that you didn't get the opportunity to have a last visit with him or attend his service.
    That advice on distraction is a good one!
    When you said the name of his stallion, I immediately thought of Printer's Devil who was well known in Montana and sure enough it is his sire. My mentor, Walt Vermadahl also of Montana had some Printer's Devil horses and admired them for their toughness.

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    1. What a small world! Yes, I would have loved to have attended his funeral. I moved out of the town about eleven years ago and lost track of a lot of people. I’m reuniting with some of them on Facebook now. Harold touched A LOT of lives! I am one of many. But when you met him—it felt like horses were just whooshing in all around him, if you know what I mean. Some people exude the horse. He certainly did.

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  2. What a special mentor and wise man. It's interesting how some paths we cross leave such a lasting impression. Do you have any photos of Tanner?

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    1. Yes, it is amazing how many lives a person can change and I bet he didnt even know he was doing that. His first wife, Sharon, too. What a sweet lady. She was a teacher and I was in college studying to be a teacher. And their son, Michael. I used to run into him a lot around town. I have some pictures of Tanner that I’ve posted on this blog in the past. Unfortunately, not many. Back in those days we didn’t have cell phones with cameras and I didn’t take many pictures. The ones I did take, I didn’t preserve. I barely found the ones I did. If you type his name in the search it should come up. I searched the internet for pictures of Lucky T Devil and couldn’t find any of those either. He wasn’t my horse’s sire. Quincy was in foal when they bought her to a paint stallion back when there weren’t a lot of APHA horses. Tanner didn’t get enough white, so he wasn’t able to be registered. Today, he would have been.

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  3. He sounds like a lovely man. You were lucky to have known him when you did.

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    1. Yes, I was lucky our paths crossed—his whole family.

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  4. He sounds like an interesting man who made a huge impression on you and I’m sure many others. You were a lucky girl to find someone like him and his family so early in your horse life.

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    1. Yes, it was a good start. I didn’t board there forever. I moved in and out through the years, renting pasture when I could to save money and get the horses out where they could move around. Lucky acres was like most boarding stables with indoor arenas, a lot of people left in summer, returned in winter. But such great memories of the time I had with them.

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  5. Mr Johnson sounds a lot like my Uncle Wally - you were lucky to have such a generous, kind, & smart Horseman* as he to help you starting out.
    *When I say 'Horseman' with a capital 'H', I mean he was the real darn deal.

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    1. Yes, he was a horseman! You'll have to share Uncle Wally's wisdom sometime!

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  6. What beautiful memories! Those people who make such huge impressions on us in our younger years are so precious. We hold them dearly and carry their wisdom in our hearts and in our actions forever. I hope to make such an impact on at least one young person in my life, and there will be my legacy. I've had no children, but have spent quality time with a couple of young girls who are now women and mothers, whom I hope to have made such an impression. They refer to us (my hubs and I) as their "horse parents". I feel honored.

    I need to ponder his practice of distraction some more. I see the point in the trailer loading/tree thing, but maybe you can remember some more examples of that idea in use. It's interesting for sure. I definitely like the keep it simple and spend lots of time with them. Gotta love that!

    The only true mentor I had whose horsemanship I treasure was as a young woman and that was Ray Hunt. How I would have loved the opportunity to spend so much more time with that man! But I'll always be thankful for the times I was able to share with him. He was a genius with horses. Just a God-given gift that man had. I learned more with him in a few clinics than I've learned in the rest of my life. So far...I'm still learning and hope to always continue to learn. I really enjoy Joe Wolter and think he could be my new mentor, but he's rarely here in Oregon and those clinics are expensive. But to have someone close and available? Oh man, I'd be all over that!

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    1. Yay, Ray Hunt! It doesn't get better than that. Harold wasn't in the same league as Ray Hunt. He wasn't a professional horse trainer. I don't even know how, or where, he learned what he did. I took his point about distraction to mean you have to be creative. And you definitely should not focus on THE THING. For example, the gate with Leah. At first, I was concentrating on one thing--the gate. I'm a linear person. Eventually, I tapped into a creative thinking process. Use the cone and barrel first--she doesn't feel as trapped, and she accomplishes something--taking the cone from one barrel to the next. My second step was the mailbox with treats in it. But again, there could be ways to distract--like putting a log down in front of the mailbox that she has to step over first. There are infinite ways to get where you're going. My quotes by Tom Dorrance today really sum it all up. The horse has self-preservation going--we all do. We have to find a way to make them feel safe. In Leah's case, it was breaking things down into small, small, small steps and accomplishments, so she didn't feel scared or like a big failure and we didn't fight. I can feel her heart rate go up when she's scared. That's something I have to try and avoid. It's all part of feel and self-preservation. I have to work on togetherness--that both of us are always confident and tuned into one another. AT least, this is how I'm processing it all right now. And, I have a big test today. I'm taking Beautiful back to the trail head where she bucked my trainer off. Her self-preservation will be running high! It will be my job to give her successes and calm her down there and not move forward until she's confident.

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