A Perpetual Student

Clinician Martin Black says he never stops learning.

From America's Horse

Martin Black grew up in Idaho’s Great Basin around some great horsemen. Not the least of those were his grandfather, Albert Black, and his great-uncle, Paul Black. In that company, he had the opportunity to soak in a lot of time-tested knowledge, which Martin tried to take full advantage of.

His family history with horses actually starts with his great-grandfather, who was born in 1875 and grew up among vaqueros who took great pride in their horsemanship. Joe Black ran thousands of horses through the early 1900s, and he handed those skills and that respect for tradition on to his sons. They, in turn, lived with horses their whole lives.

Paul was the cow boss at the TS Ranch in Nevada, where Ray Hunt had his first buckaroo job.

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Martin was 14 when he first met Ray, who became a great teacher. Tom Dorrance was another mentor. Melvin Jones, a talented Nevada horseman, and Bill Van Norman, a former training columnist for America’s Horse, were other great teachers.

Today, Martin still honors those teachers and their lessons, as he gives horsemanship clinics and travels around the country, as well as Europe and Australia, starting colts.

He says that no matter where he goes, he always remembers his most important teacher: the horse.

“You can’t go to school and learn how to be a wine taster without actually tasting any wine. And you can’t learn to be a horseman without actually riding and seeing a lot of horses,” Martin says.

“Every horse is different, and every step that every horse takes is different. Every breath every horse takes has a different thought behind it,” so it’s an ever-changing process.

“At my clinics, I say that there’s nobody there that learns any more than I do. I watch every horse, trying to figure out what problems that horse is having with that person. It’s rewarding when I can help bring them closer together and see a change in the horse.”

Martin says that as a general observation, he sees a lot of horses having people problems. Or maybe it’s people having ego problems.

“Ego is a big hurdle to get over, and I’m not saying that I don’t have a problem with it myself. But the important thing is to recognize that it is a problem and try to work on it. You have to work on yourself more than on the horse,” Martin says.

If a person takes a my-way-or-the-highway approach to horse training, he is going to have a lot more trouble than if he keeps the horse’s best interests at heart, Martin says.

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That’s what made it so easy for Tom Dorrance to make the progress that he made.

“He had less of an ego than anybody I’ve ever met. It wasn’t about him; it wasn’t about his ego. It was about being there for the horse,” Martin says.

Tom also had a full understanding of the ways in which handlers and riders influence their horses, both positively and negatively.

“It isn’t about conquering a horse; it’s about outwitting him. It’s about setting up a situation so that your desired outcome is the easiest one for the horse,” he says.