Horseman and clinician Jaton Lord talks about the influence of his grandfather, Ray Hunt.
Horseman Jaton Lord is in an interesting position in our little horse world. As the grandson of Ray Hunt, Jaton had the opportunity to travel with him as a teenager and watch his grandfather work with people and their horses at Hunt’s many clinics around the United States.
I asked him how that legacy weighs on him as he finds his own place in the evolving world of horsemanship.
“My grandpa actually helped me out early with that question,” Jaton said. “And like most things my grandpa said, they could take you by surprise at just how simple the answer was. He told me just be myself and nobody else. Not to try and be him; just be me. He couldn’t ride for me, but he would be riding with me.
“[He also said] to always put the horse first. That was elegantly simple and it meant a lot to me. It still does, and I really tried to do that. I probably went down some wrong roads along the way trying to find just who I was at that point. But you know, the older I get, his lessons and his influence have become more understandable and meaningful in my life.”
Jaton took that advice to heart and struck out after high school to work on some legendary buckaroo outfits like the Van Norman and YP ranches in Nevada. He said his grandfather’s advice has helped him work with both horses and people.
“There was a while in my 20s—and I imagine everybody goes through this, at least I did—where I was forcing things, trying to be something I wasn’t, wanting something that’s not really the right fit in my life. And now, Grandpa’s message to me has much more meaning—especially about putting the horse first.”
He stopped for a minute and then added, “I’m not happy to say this, but sometimes I haven’t done that. And the older I get, I just don’t want to let anything get in the way of me helping the horse.”
Jaton has dedicated himself to the horse and the people he works with—especially those in the reined cow horse world. He and his wife, Francesca (Frankie, as she goes by) travel most of the year now working customer horses around the West. I asked if he considered himself “on the clinician trail.”
“Well, it’s funny how that comes in and out,” he said. “For a while there, I showed more horses than I did clinics. Last year, we probably did more ranching with my dad than anything. And then the clinics and horse showing kind of came back. Right now, I would probably say I’ll do 10 or 12 clinics a year. I really enjoy doing them.”
Jaton adds that through the years he has conducted multiple clinics in Australia. However, his recent clinics in Australia had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I love the people down there, and my wife is Australian,” he said. “I’ve heard a bunch of people that came to those clinics are [now] kicking butt and really doing well with their horses. I don’t know if it has anything to do with coming to work with me, but I think they were hungry for information and are really working with their horses.
“We were planning to go for probably two months, spending our winter/their summer down there. But everything has changed over the last 18 months. I’m just glad we have places to go and get to work with nice people and their horses. But when we can get back on that ‘clinic trail,’ I really look forward to seeing new horses and riders to work with.”
Thinking about clinics and working with both horses and people, Jaton recalls how his grandfather handled two very different beings.
“You know, Ray was so good at seeing and feeling what each new horse he worked with needed at the time,” Jaton said. “I see that with other activities—with business or working with people—but I haven’t seen that level of relationship. I mean, he did it so well with a horse, finding what that horse needed, and that horse seeming to never want to disappoint him. It was such an amazing talent.
“But where I saw him get frustrated—and I’ve felt this frustration as well—is [other riders] not seeing or understanding a horse’s need early enough to head off situations and go a better way. It is difficult. How do you teach that?
“Ray would have a saying at the clinics when someone would ask him, ‘How do you have such good judgment with a horse?’ He would say, ‘Through bad judgment.’ It’s so true, and I had the good fortune as a kid to watch and listen as Ray Hunt would talk and then do something that really helped the horse he was working.
“I have experienced a bunch of bad judgment along the way, trying to figure out exactly how he did what he did to help the horse get to a place of, you know, that peacefulness. The more I work toward the horse’s needs, the farther we go for the better, together.”
Overall, Jaton considers it a privilege to be Ray Hunt’s grandson, as well as continue his grandfather’s legacy.
“I would never try to compare myself to him because for a lot of people he’s up on a pedestal,” Jaton said. “But he was just my grandpa, and I loved everything he did. He taught me so much. I am just trying to do the best I can and trying not to let him down. I am a long ways finding that spiritual connection that he had with horse. But you know I am on my way, which is exactly where I need to be. More and more I find myself asking myself, ‘Alright, what would he think?’ I know how fortunate I am.”