While at a recent Martin Black clinic we chatted about Tom Dorrance and his sense of feel, timing, and balance. Balancing Tom Dorrance himself, is a bit of a challenge for his fans, to the majority who never had an opportunity to get around him in person, Dorrance remains something of an enigma.
There are no known videos of Tom riding a horse (that I am aware of) and precious few of him coaching others. In order to understand and interpret Tom’s fans and followers are left to rely on his writings, coupled with the insights and understanding of those who were fortunate enough to get around him.
The broad impression of Tom is of a very kindly man obsessed with horses, ensuring that they were always treated with kindness, affection, and understanding. However, from my conversation with Martin, I was left with a slightly different impression, including that Tom was not averse to firming up with a horse when he felt the circumstances required.
Perhaps the most interesting observation that Martin shared was that Tom was considerably more obsessed with his engineering projects than he was with training horses. These projects mostly involved stock-gates, some of which would be so perfectly balanced that, heavy as they were, they may be lifted with one finger, others had automatic, mechanical, closing capabilities.
In hindsight that made a great deal of sense, rather than viewing Tom as some kind of mystic, or, as some people have suggested autistic, he might better be seen as a man deeply concerned with balance, which in turn relates to timing and feel. While there is no doubt Tom Dorrance was a kind man, balance appears, at least from this view, to be the main key to his success with horses.
Stories abound about Tom’s accomplishments with horses, yet they all seem to come back to finding the balance point, balanced to give just the right amount of pressure and relief, in the right measure and at the right time. Now, if only we could all seek to find that balance point with our horses, we may all achieve a higher level of horsemanship.