margaret dorrance In this section, Margaret Dorrance will be contributing memories and sharing stories about Tom.

On Tom Directing the Colt Starting - A Message from Margaret Dorrance

I can hear Tom say, "IT ALL DEPENDS." The person, the horse, terrain, and many other factors can all make a difference. There are a lot of different ways to start colts and many have been successfully started in different ways.  

This DVD is from film taken at a  3-day Texas clinic in the 90s. Most of the colts started were reasonably gentle and halter broke. This DVD features two 3-year-old roan colts off of a ranch. Only one was halter broke, and we see that how they were started would help them in the future. To get things started the trailer was backed up to the indoor arena and the colts were unloaded. At the clinic there were several accomplished and  experienced horsemen that Tom directed successfully to start the colts in three days.

This DVD shows the beginning of FEEL, TIMING & BALANCE.  The previously released DVD "FEEL, TIMING & BALANCE" is a continuation of the 2 roan colts crossing the tarp with the rest of the colts. As with that DVD there are moments of sound and video that are less than perfect. For true students of horsemanship
those moments can hardly distract from the great learning taking place with the horses and students. Please enjoy these teachable moments with Tom.


In the 37 years that Tom and I were married he never owned a horse. Neither did he own one for some time before we were married, he said he didn't need a horse as there were horses everywhere he went.

I owned some horses myself but never needed to send them out as I had Tom to help me. And there were friends that are in the book MTAH who came by to see if they could help Tom in anyway, and in turn they might ride my horse to maybe get some education from Tom, which helped me and my horse. I felt very privileged.

Once I was given a 3 year old run-a-way filly. We took her to a clinic that Tom was giving. Tom and Jana Elordi worked with the filly in the round pen, later Jana rode her out each day to bring the cattle in. The mare thought for a long time that when you first got on her that she needed to leave but she ended up being a very nice mare. i did some cutting on her and later I sent the mare back to the person that gave her to me.

Remembering Tom's ways…
What Happens Before it Happens

I have been thinking about what I had learned from Tom about seeing what is going to "Happen Before it Happens." It can be used in different ways for recognizing something before it happens, and, naturally, there is a "Feel, Timing, & Balance" that enters into this.

I remember I rode a colt out to gather the brood mares to be checked for breeding. In order for the colt I was riding to not get excited and want to go with them, I watched the mares very carefully. They were watching me and eating grass very fast, this is the way it looked to me and about the moment it looked like they were going to take off in a dead run to the barn and before they did (Before it Happened)… I turned my colt and rode off the other direction until the colt I was riding settled and then I rode on in after them to the barn when the colt was quiet.  If the colt had not settled I would have ridden around out there until the colt was disconnected from the bunch of horses that ran to the barn, and was with me.

Depending on the terrain a person might do something like that on a trail ride when a horse gets anxious when another rider rides off and leaves you and your horse. Maybe go another direction or in a circle until that horse gets disconnected from the others, or wanting to hurry, a very important thing to do is keep a forward motion. It takes some staying power to get the horse with you and there are a lot of things a person might do. When helping the colt or horse you can ride away from the another horse and then back again and go another direction and back again until the colt, or horse doesn't care and is with you.

Also remember to,"ObserveRemember and  Compare,"  Tom talks about all these in phrases in detail in his book True Unity. In the book More Than A Horseman, there are some articles in which horsemen who had spent time with tom talk about how to apply knowing what "Happen Before it Happens", and many other things they learned from Tom. 


I was over to Randy Leighton's and I will say Randy has a great way of helping people ride their cutting horses, also other types of horses. He goes through the horse to the person and in turn the horse becomes better very soon. A friend was cutting on my horse, the horse kept coming into the cow to much on one end. I asked Randy to ride him and Randy had no problem, the horse stayed straight and correct on both ends. I asked Randy how he did that. he said , he used his feet and legs to keep him straight. The next question was how do you use your feet and legs? Randy said he didn't try to tell a person, as it could mess them up, and that it is FEEL AND TIMING and that it has to come from the person

Randy has written an entry in the book "More Than a Horseman'  which is very educational and gives you some insight of the book. Randy has also written in Tom's 'True Unity' Book  in the Tom's student chapter, altho it does not identify the writers, again it is very educational.

Tom, Jack and Pete at Rana Creek Ranch 1967

Tom Put Cotton in Pup's Ears

Tom took 'Pete and Jack' the pups with him out on the ranch each day when it was fit for the pups to go with him and with the grass and all they would get stickers in their ears. Then it was off to the veterinarian to get the stickers out.

So Tom put cotton in their ears, then taped around the ear to keep the cotton in place. At night when day was done (he had put a small piece of tape at the bottom of the ear, he carefully pulled that off) and took the cotton out till next morning.

Then again he would put the cotton back in the ear and just put a small piece of tape to the bottom to keep the cotton in the ears. When it was time to take all the tape off the ears I saw Tom very carefully hold down on the bottom of the hair and pull the tape off and i never ever heard the pups whimper or cry at all.

Tom riding Steve Dorrance's 3-year-old filly "Rita." This photo was taken in the mid 1980s.


Some thoughts on this idea...

Tom worked with me starting the horse's hind foot first. I will say, it is not easy to get the feel and timing that goes with it. Tom and I rode the same horses, and once a horse learns this it is easier to get them to start from behind. I am sure most of my success was Tom riding my horses. I remember working on it every time we got on the horses. Tom said, starting with the hind foot first is the beginning, and it is "Basic".

Tom worked on this with most people that he had spent a lot of time with. Tom never said much, but I am not sure just who was most flustered, Tom or the people he was helping.

Tom often said, "If I could just get inside someone else's hide." It is the feel and timing that is hard to teach. In the book True Unity, Chapters 'Feel the Whole Horse' is about feel and Timing, and the next chapter 'Responsive and Right On', Tom talks about starting the horse from behind and what you might feel for. Tom has said it is all in the book, the person just needs to get it out.

In the book about Tom, More Than a Horseman. Bryan Neubert talks about what goes with this that Tom has talked about in these two chapters. There is more of  Bryan in Tom's  Greetings DVD.

Dog with cotton in ears.

Julie Mattox and Stick

By Julie Mattox
Everyone has heard stories of a horse rescued from the slaughterhouse that goes on to be a champion. This is a true story and this horse named Stick became the champion. It was because Tom Dorrance was able to introduce a different way of breaking through his fears and anxieties; proving that the mental part is just as important as the physical part.

In the late 1980's this horse became one of the best jumpers I have ever ridden entered back into my life. The horse was one that I started for the racetrack. One afternoon I received a call that the horse could not handle the racetrack mentally and was headed to the slaughterhouse. If I wanted him I better get to the track and pick him up.  After racing down to Stockton racetrack to purchase him before the kill buyers bought him, I came home with the horse, now known as Stick for $500.00. After bringing him home I could tell that he was mentally broken and he had sores on his hips and hide missing, from him fighting the starting gates and stall.  He would tear the stall apart trying to get out. I attempted to ride him. He would not go forward, he reared, he flew backwards until he would hit the arena fence; at this point I decided to turn him out to pasture for a break. After being on pasture for 3 months and putting some weight on him I brought him in and started riding him slowly.  After hours and hours of riding, trying to get him to simply walk over a pole on the ground without flying backwards, or rearing, he finally walked over the pole and everything just clicked; he liked it and would jump anything I asked him to. However, there was still a major problem. I started showing him at some 'A' rated shows, but when we arrived at the show I put him in the stall and he would tear the stall completely to pieces, he wouldn't eat or drink. I was unable to keep him in a stall and had to leave the show many times. This is when I called Tom and asked for his assistance. Tom came to the ranch and within a very short time of watching Stick work, Tom said, "I think we should lay him down”. We worked in the arena where there was soft footing so there was no danger of Stick getting injured.

Tom did not force him to lay down, he worked with Stick until he relaxed enough to lay down. This was a very strong and troubled horse.  It was a slow process that took most of the day before he finally lay down.  When he finally laid down Tom rubbed him all over until he relaxed enough to stay on the ground without help. Tom said in order to help Stick to relax I was to lay him down at every show; hopefully in the ring I was to ride in before and after each time I showed him. We worked at this again and again. I continued laying him down as Tom had done. Stick got so he seemed to enjoy it and was becoming more and more relaxed every time. 

I started taking him to shows again, laying him down as Tom had taught me. People would see this happening in the arena and want to call the veterinarian thinking something was wrong. After laying him down now, Stick would go into his stall eat, drink, and later jump phenomenally.

Laying him down, so I was able to take him to shows changed his life. He became one of those horses you only come across once in a lifetime.  Another thing that Tom helped me with re-guarding Stick was to go right. We lead, saddle, bridle from the left, horses race to the left, we start left at the shows; Tom said, “Go right”.

I was at a show where I entered a high jump class, where after each horse jumped clean, the height would be raised. Everyone in the class was taking the jump by making a sharp left turn, that was what they knew best, therefore making it a very difficult jump. Stick and I (with Tom in my head saying go right) would take the jump by making a big right turn, there was more room in the arena to go right rather then left, which in turn made the jump easier. The others were wearing their horses down by asking a difficult turn and approaching the jump very unbalanced. Stick and I, thanks to Tom, continued to jump off of a right turn and it was smooth and effortless for him because he was now as well balanced to the right as he was to the left. We ended up winning the competition, jumping 5 feet 7 inches!

It was during the award ceremony while we were all in line in the arena that I pulled my saddle off and reaching down to touch Stick's leg he laid down on his own to relax. A person can sometimes work too hard at something. This was another simple but very important lesson – “Go right”.

Stick remained with me his entire life.



tom and margaret dorrance
  This is one of the poems that Tom recited----------author unknown.

This is what I remember Tom saying many times in this way!

Tom Dorrance Quote

I think Tom used that on cattle also, while riding with Tom on a cattle drive this particular bunch of cattle seemed to always want to go in the opposite direction that was wanted of them to go.

Tom started moving them in the direction they wanted to go.

Then turned them in the direction Tom wanted them to go.

Then we all went together in the same direction.

Tom Dorrance

This arrived via email to Margaret and she wanted to share it with you:
dalai lama quote

Margaret Dorrance
Margaret riding Dunny. Photo by: Diana Balhorn 9/13/14

One of Toms many talents; being able to teach people how to direct the horses feet and know where the horses feet are.

Video by Tom Johnson
Margaret Dorrance riding