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.