Listening to horses

Hoppy and Horses

Four years old with a face lit up like Christmas, fancy two gun rig slung low over chaps with conchos and rawhide ties, tooled leather cowboy boots and of course a cowboy hat all with eyes glued to a black and white television built into oak cabinetry with a 12 inch screen completely filled with the face of William Boyd as “Hopalong Cassidy”. I could have been that young man but this image is not a memory; it is frozen and framed on my wall. This advertisement for Motorola televisions was a gift from my sister who remembers that the adventures of Hoppy were the beginning of “must see tv” in my life and my introduction to the life of a cowboy.

Hoppy wasn't just a character in a weekly drama; he was a hero! He had standards that were unshakable. Guns and fighting only happened in the cause of justice in a society of laws. Like the image on the television, issues were black and white. Hoppy never had to face qualms of conscience or angst protecting his vested interests. You could join Hoppy's fan club, but you had to agree to follow the rules and live the virtuous, cowboy life, he even sent a check list that you had to get you parents to sign testifying to your living the Hoppy code. Wow! Standards that would make a Saint jealous (is there a feast of Saint Hopalong?).

I would remember my first cowboy hat and chaps even if there were not pictures of me decked out ready to patrol the backyard for desperadoes. In truth, the only pictures of me from those years that do not include some sort of Hoppy gear are the ones that show me with my hair slicked and a bow tie and a face that very clearly says, “Real cowboys would never dress this way!” More than the outfit though I remember the lessons of Hoppy that there was a code that everyone was obligated to live by, more than ethical or moral behavior, you had to have a code and you had to stick to that code with only two choices, yes or no.

How many of us developed a cynical streak when we found out that life was not like Hoppy's scripted world? How many of us screamed to Hoppy for help when they found out that their friend around the corner was ridiculed because her family had a menorah in the dinning room? Where was the code when older boys bullied the younger ones and no one did anything about it? Did Hoppy know anything about blacklists, communists, atom bombs, organized crime or Viet Nam? Of course not, he was not real, he was made up for entertainment.

The first casualty of Hoppy's world was the idea that life had simple answers. As vivid as my memories of this time are, I would not trade them because they are the root of understanding that what things mean is not binary process that is full of precision. I can still refer back to Hoppy as a starting point for a forty year search for a nonlinear code that offered a way to grow and keep learning without having the foundation threatened. A quest of the length portrayed in another classic western, John Wayne's “The Searchers”, has to have an anchor and that was also a part of the Hoppy code. In order to stay true to your code, you had to state your point of view and agree to disagree with those who lived by a different code. Seems that cowboys were big on free speech or else they just lacked manners.

It was many years later, after reading about chaos theory, Harold Innis, differential equations, Harold Morowitz, information theory, John Fowles and developing a statistical measure of creativity that I moved to Texas. The black and white, cowboy code meets dynamic systems and deterministic chaos. I might have had an easier task carrying a copy of the Koran into a Baptist prayer meeting. Fortunately, there is a common thread to tie these element together and that thread is spun from horse hair.

What I found was that my geek nature with my statistical approaches to understanding human communication was offset by a natural affinity with horses. When my family heard that I had begun working with wild horses, no eyebrows were lifted. Seems they all thought it natural that someone who spent five years dressed as Hoppy would find a way to take up getting wild horses under saddle. So, while friends, neighbors and family called me a natural horse man, I knew that a lifetime spent trying to return the simplicity of Hoppy's code in a complicated world and producing an understanding of human communication that was based on chaos theory coalesced into communicating with horses. All of this sounds obscure and removed from practical experience, but I believe that by listening to my horses and helping them to develop meaning out of our shared experience, I was applying a lifetime of study to a very practical situation.

There are numerous books by excellent horse trainers about many of things that I started doing with my mustangs. Their explanations are all focused on helping people train their horses, while mine are focused on using the simple communications with a horse to help people train themselves to talk with other people. The stories on this page will bounce back and forth between my four legged friends and two legged ones. Each should stand up as a slice of life in West Texas and I hope that taken together they will produce a larger understanding of living a life in chaps and conchos where things are not black and white, but full of color and opportunity to develop new meaning and understanding from our shared experiences.

Add your story to this page!

Comment on this Story

Add a New Comment

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License