Willard Crockett was the first man I fell in love with. I think I was 5, and he was certainly in his 40’s, but it didn’t feel like a pre-thaw February to September sort of romance to me. (I am aware that it didn’t feel like a romance to him at all.) He wore jeans and a white pearl snap shirt, top collar snap done. And, of course, a cowboy hat.
My grandfather was a horse dealer and Willard did business with him. Our farm was a state away, but he would drive up our driveway once a year or so, stay for a meal, and be off again. The only other thing I knew about him was that he took ‘bad’ horses no one else wanted and retrained them. Willard Crockett was kind of a legend, and respected if not understood.
I loved him. Willard had a very quiet voice, low and deep. The men on our farm were loud. Willard was slow to speak and thoughtful. Incredibly, he would push his hat back and look me in the eye. He paid attention to my little girl questions and spoke to me respectfully. My love for him continues today.
Looking back, I know that he was what we now call a horse whisperer. He practiced the art of natural horsemanship, using partnership and quiet persuasion instead of the common approach of fear and domination.
This year I met Dale Myler, of the Myler Bit Company. He wore a starched Wrangler shirt and creases in his jeans. When greeting me, he doffed his hat, made eye contact and shook my hand firmly. Through the course of the day, Mr. Myler shared so much knowledge with me, all the time complimenting the work my horse and I had done. My horse was totally taken with him, and I was too.
After meeting Mr. Myler I thought about Willard Crockett for the first time in a while. These men were both cut of the same crisp cloth. Nothing has changed in 50 years, kindness and respect is still the best approach with horses, and children, and truly, every other living thing.
I may ride in an english saddle, but I’m grateful to Willard and cowboys like him who remind me to be my best. They set the bar high.
(Photo: The good dog, Hero.)