A Meeting of the Minds
The mentors who helped Kansas horsemanship clinician Kerry Kuhn successfully blend old-time cowboy ways with natural horsemanship.
by Fran Devereux Smith
Life on the road as an equine clinician, competitor and judge is seldom easy, especially with three young sons who take precedence over even the best of horses. After family, however, riding goals always have been a strong focus for horseman Kerry Kuhn, headquarted on the JJ Ranch near Coats, Kansas.
âMy grandfather was my whole world when I was a kid. Everything he did was from the back of a horse, and he was known as a good horseman. A good horseman back then and one today look a little different,â Kuhn explains, âbut I always admired my granddad for what he could do with a horse.â
Kuhn started his first colt at 12, then had a life-changing experience in high school. The home-ec teacher, Charlene Larson, a horsewoman for whom Kuhn had worked, told him to watch a videotape and issued a pass for him to leave class and watch the tape. It was a colt-starting demonstration by clinician Sam Powell.
âWhat I saw him do with a 2-year-old in the tape blew me away,â Kuhn says. âThe approach was geared so much more to building a willing frame of mind in that horse versus teaching one to submit and making him do it, which was all Granddad knew to do at the time.
âFrom then on, I constantly watched his horses to see if he was getting into his horsesâ minds the way Sam had with that 2-year-old. I started to see that although Granddadâs horses did what he wanted, the one thing those horses never could do was relax. I wanted what my granddad had, but I wanted to add this other approach because what his horses lacked was the one thing I thought I might need most.â
Kuhn realized that improving his horsemanship was just a matter of learning. He got to know Sam Powell and never missed an opportunity to see Ray Hunt and watch his tapes. Whenever a clinician ventured within several hundred miles, Kuhn attended clinics and studied their methods.
He also shared everything he learned with his grandfather. âEven though he didnât do things that way, he never told me not to,â Kuhn says. âI think Granddad was excited to see my desire to learn about horses was so strong.â
It was only a matter of time before Kuhn began conducting clinics and joined Purina Millsâ Equine Influentials program although he initially struggled with the short amount of time such presentations impose on starting colts. âMy wife, Misti, helped me with that,â he says. âShe helped me see this: Whatever I could do with a horse in that short time helped people learn they could come at the horse in a way he could understand and accomplish an enormous amountâwithout forcing the horse.â
As a result, Kuhnâs attitude changed. Finding another approach was key for him, as well as the horses. âThose guys I learned from were masters at that. When a horse got a little bothered, before it became a big deal, those guys changed their approach. They just flowed in another direction. None of us have much time. If we find ourselves stuck with a horse, we have to change something and find another approach.â
Later, after Kuhnâs grandmother passed away, his grandfatherâs health deteriorated. Nonetheless, the older man watched his grandson work horses daily. At the time, Kuhn was playing around with, but hadnât yet saddled the last 2-year-old Paint Horse colt his grandfather had raised.
âAll I want to do,â his grandfather said, âis ride this horse.â
All Kuhn could think was, âHow am I going to get that done without my mom finding out?
âBut I told my granddad, âWeâre going to do this, but letâs try it in a way youâve never done it before and get this colt ready for you to ride.ââ
Kuhn wanted the colt to be his grandfatherâs willing partner, rather than be forced into submission. So the clinician prepared the colt for his first ride and an old horsemanâs last. Kuhn also planned the first ride on the day his mother was least likely to come to the barn.
A week later, his grandfather, near tears, rode the bridleless 2-year-old around the penâjust as his daughter drove up to the barn. âMom never said a word,â Kuhn commented. âShe realized how important riding that colt was to my granddad.
âNot too long after that he passed away. I had wanted to give my granddad one opportunity to step on a willing colt like that before he died. Iâm glad it worked out.â
Read Kerry Kuhnâs tips for making smooth transitions in the September issue of Western Horseman magazine. Contact KerryKuhn.com; 620-213-0939.