The Gallop Report

Rock Stars of the Horse World

February 1, 2012

Who would you rather meet: a famous name or an incredible horseman?

Bill Van Norman

Here, Bill Van Norman takes his horse down a hill, something he said helped a horse learn to naturally get his hindquarters up underneath himself. Journal photo.

I’ve been asked a few times: Who’s the coolest person you’ve ever interviewed?

And I’m sure the people expected me to rattle off some celebrity’s name, because I’ve interviewed a few famous names (all very gracious people).

But reflecting on it, the person I usually name is Bill Van Norman. He wasn’t a household name but probably should have been. He came from a long line of horsemen, and he married into another one, becoming Ray Hunt’s son-in-law. I only got to visit with him a couple of times, but what impressed me most was the way his horses acted around him. As he trained them in the vaquero tradition, they relaxed in his hands and seemed to draw confidence from him, as if they knew they were in the presence of someone who spoke their language. (That, my friends, is way, way more impressive than someone who can memorize lines for a camera!)

I wish I’d gotten to know him better, but he died much too young in 2006. It saddens me to see the list of esteemed horsemen shrinking. Ray died in 2009, and I had always meant to get to one of his clinics. I missed my chance.

But as with anything in life, you can’t go back and ask for a re-do; you only learn your lessons and keep moving forward. In this case, I’m trying not to miss any more chances. One such chance comes this weekend, with A Legacy of Legends clinic, which is a tribute to Ray and his mentor, Tom Dorrance. Ray’s wife, Carolyn, together with Buck Brannaman and Martin Black, wanted to honor the men and keep their training methods alive.

Both Buck and Martin will be doing presentations, as well as Peter Campbell, dressage rider Betty Staley, show jumper Melanie Smith-Taylor and the Hunts’ grandson Jaton Lord — all horsemen and women who studied with Ray and/or Tom and who continue the tradition of finding a better deal for the horse. Proceeds from the event go toward scholarships for serious students to spend time with some of Ray and Tom’s proteges.

To me, people like these presenters — down to earth, real-deal horsemen and women — are better than rock stars. Hands down, I’ll take a seat at a Buck Brannaman clinic over any concert you could name!

Watch America’s Horse Daily for an online report from the clinic, and stay tuned to America’s Horse for stories with some of the clinicians. The chances — for all of us horse people — are limited, constrained by time, finances and the competing demands we all have to juggle. But I hope to share my opportunities with you, so that all of our horses can benefit. And I’d love it if you did the same. Use the comments below to let us know about the best clinic you’ve ever been to and how it helped you in your horsemanship journey.

Happy riding!

Holly Clanahan

Holly Clanahan
Editor, America's Horse magazine