Tom Curtin grew up in Montana and has had a long career working with some of the most famous ranches in the US (King Ranch, The Four Sixes, Johnson Ranch and 7D Ranch). He counts such horsemanship legends as Buster Welch and Ray and Carolyn Hunt as his mentors.
He has helped the LOPE horses tremendously over the past few years. I’ve learned a great deal from riding in his clinics and attending his winter camp in Florida. Tom also is the star of LOPE’s DVD on Retraining Racehorses and we appreciate his affinity for ex-racehorses very much.
Tom will be coming to the Austin area on Nov 4-6 for Colt Starting and Horsemanship classes at Hy Court Farm. If you are in the area, please don’t miss the opportunity to ride in or audit the clinic — Tom is a terrific teacher!
You worked closely with Ray Hunt and knew him well. Can you tell us one or two of your favorite stories about Ray and why he was so important to you as a horseman?
Ray gave so much of himself to my family and I. I had the opportunity to show Ray how to make rope halters. It took some days for Ray to master these halter knots. At one point, he called and asked me for my help with some specific knots. I made him a simple diagram with a small piece of string stapled to a piece of cardboard. Years later, I found this same cardboard and string example that had traveled with him for ages, still in his halter gear bag. Being able to give back a small piece of what he gave us was an opportunity few have had — to give something to Ray, as he’s given to so many.
Ray also really enjoyed driving a team of horses. One time, he asked if I would come to Texas and start a couple of teams of his horses driving. It was really special to see him so excited to see these teams come together. And we then rebuilt a wagon to suit his needs. That two-week period in my life was so special to me — because I was able to give something to Ray, who gave so much to me.
As a teacher, you see so many horses and riders every year in your clinics and winter camp. Can you describe one or two of your favorite teaching moments (when a horse and rider achieved a special breakthrough or when you felt best as a teacher)?
This is a really difficult question. As a clinician, I have been blessed with the opportunity and the ability to teach what I have learned from many great stockmen. Each day of my life that I work with horses and people, I have great moments.
Recently I had the opportunity to conduct a horsemanship class of about 20 participants. Most of them had ridden with me previously. It was a pleasure to watch the harmony these people have achieved with their horses, to observe the changes that have taken place. I had the pleasure of watching the feel, timing and balance these riders had with their horses for the full three hours of the class.
As a human, it is hard to take credit for these changes — yet I am constantly reminded of how I have helped these horses and their riders achieve a higher level of respect, trust and understanding.
On your website, you are described as a stockman as well as a horseman. What does that term mean to you and why do so few people earn the right to be called that?
To me the term stockman defines a person who has a very good understanding of all livestock. A stockman has the ability to take one form of livestock and use it to teach another form of livestock.
To be able to move a cow with a horse, allowing the cow to teach the horse what he needs to learn and the horse needs to teach the cow what the cow needs to learn. When livestock learns the relationship between each another and the human, the job of the stockman is working harmoniously with all animals. This becomes fluid when done in a quality manner.
Seldom do people have the opportunity to work with the variety of livestock that I have had. My life has been filled with excellent horsemen and cattlemen. It is rare to find one person who could balance all talent — to set the stage, for each animal to be productive. I’ve been fortunate to work with good horses, cattle, dogs, mules and various other livestock. Being able to incorporate the human with various livestock in a harmonious manner makes a stockman — as has been defined by my peers and respected clients.
You will be hosting a two-week colt starting clinic this winter at your winter camp in Florida. How will the two-week format help people and their colts get a better foundation? What type of mistakes do people sometimes make in starting their colts on their own?
The two-week format will give a person the idea of where to take their horse beyond a three-day clinic creating a more in depth foundation. It will allow the human to understand how to keep things interesting for the horse.
A three-day colt starting class gives you a foundation to start out with your horse. In two weeks both the human and the horse have the opportunity to make the foundation stronger — and to develop respect and trust in each other.
But I can’t say that anybody makes any specific mistakes with their horse. They just lack the understanding of how to support the horse (in order to carry him further building respect and trust).
While you were filming the DVD on Retraining Racehorses, we really noticed how much you seemed to enjoy working with the LOPE ex-racehorses (and how much they liked you back). Not all clinicians seem to have the same positive attitude towards ex-racehorses as you do. Why do you like ex-racehorses so much?
Early in life I had the opportunity to ride some racehorses on the track. More often than not, these horses weren’t comfortable with themselves or the people that handled them. They lacked a foundation — which would have allowed them to have a second chance (which I always felt they deserved). This is why I feel obligated and honored to be able to help the racehorse, an athlete, which I highly regard.
When the racehorse doesn’t make the cut or when his racing career is finished, often he has realistically no place to go in life. He has no respect, trust or foundation. I feel that every horse should have the opportunity to have this foundation.
If the young, not-yet-started racehorse or the older ex-racehorse can be helped to develop respect, trust and a foundation, this will allow them the opportunity to have a second chance in life.