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Rediscovering An Important Natural Horsemanship Predecessor

Posted: 2012-09-13 17:36:15


Having read of Dr. Linfoot's influence on Marvin Roberts Sr.*, Richard Shrake, Pat Parelli, sport horse breeder andequine artist-jeweler Jane Smith and actor/horseman Tommy Lee Jones, as well as innumerable polo players, it seemed apparent to me that Dr. Linfoot has had a far-reaching influence on the contemporary horse industry
worldwide and that much is owed to him. Yet, it is verydifficult to find documentation about his work as a horsetrainer in print, film or on the web.

Because Dr. Linfoot was a champion polo player, it is easy enough to find his name in association with the sport of polo. But, information about his methods of horse training are harder to find.

 I first learned of Dr. Linfoot's influence while reading a book by Debra Ristau and Joyce Renebome, "Horse Whispers & Lies"3. Ristau and Renebome wrote, "In the 1960s, Dr. William "Billy" Linfoot, a veterinarian from Pleasanton, California, offered demonstration clinics on a method of working with horses that would allow him to mount a "wild, unridden" horse in a matter of minutes. He used the terms "Advance and Retreat" and "Approach at a forty-five degree angle." A review of Dr. Linfoot’s early films offers a glimpse of the natural horsemanship wave to hit the horse industry. Marvin Roberts was a fan of Dr. Linfoot and often spoke highly of the equine veterinarian."

In an email, Joyce Renebome wrote to me, "Marvin Roberts Sr. was a big Linfoot fan, I remember him taking us to a demo at Dr. Linfoot's in the late 40's or early 50's."

My friend C.L. Collins, a rancher from Arkansas, told me that he remembered reading articles about Dr. Linfoot in livestock journals of the late 1960's: "Linfoot would put on demonstrations where he would ride an unbroke horse in 30 minutes as I recall."

I emailed equine-themed jewelry artist Jane Smith about Dr. Linfoot, and she graciously provided me with the following recollection:

"He had a lasting influence on my outlook toward horses from my brief experience with him.

This experience occurred in....I think it was around 1972. There was a horse racing symposium being held in Ogden, Utah. At the time I had a farm in Wisconsin and was breeding and racing a few racehorses. The line up for this symposium was outstanding and this is why I flew from Wisconsin to attend it.

I had never heard of Dr. Billy Linfoot. At that time he was giving a demonstration with a wild horse where he would ride that horse within a half hour of so from the time he was introduced to the horse.

I can remember that demonstration just like it was yesterday. We all were sitting in bleachers inside an arena and they had a chute made out of pipe gates that led into a smaller area in front of the bleachers. A big old stock truck backed up to that chute and down the ramp came a big stout ragged footed wild horse with its eyes rolling and rollers in its nose. It came charging into that arena like all the demons in hell were after it.

Dr. Billy had a mike on and a rope in this hands and he kept talking to us and casually swinging that rope. The wild horse was a wild horse. No one in the audience doubted that for one minute. I think they said it was about a five year old, and it must have been part draft because it was big.

 I wish I could remember exactly what Dr. Billy said, but I know that he never stopped talking and it was kind of a monotone.

Pretty soon the horse quieted down and focused on him. At this moment Dr. Billy took a step toward the horse, but as soon as the horse tensed up, he retreated. He kept this up.

I had never seen anyone read a horse as well as that and actually could hardly believe what I was seeing. Using approach and retreat, and all the time talking in that monotone he eventually got the horse used to him being closer to him, and also used to the swinging of that rope.

Then he roped the horse and all hell broke loose. That horse bawled like the bronc he was, and reared, and swirled the dust around pretty good and ol' Dr. Billy just went with him and just kept on talking. Pretty soon the horse calmed down and stood there softly blowing through his nose and assessing the situation.

Dr. Billy just kept up the approach and retreat and pretty soon he was standing right next to that horse. You could see the horse relax. Dr. Billy started to rub him and when the horse tried to break away he just kept rubbing and when the horse relaxed he stopped. Then when the horse would tolerate the rubbing all over, he leaned over him and then just got up on him. The horse just stood there all happy as can be. It was truly amazing and I have never forgotten it.

Since we were all staying at the same hotel and since we were all going to the same lectures the 'boys' invited me to eat breakfast with them. The 'boys' were Dr. Billy Linfoot, Professor Otts who did the original research for horse feed for Purina and Carl Hanford, Kelso's trainer. If there is a heaven I have been in it for awhile."


Actor/Rancher/Horseman/Polo Player Tommy Lee Jones5 credits Dr. Linfoot with teaching him the finer points of polo. Jones recounted contacting Linfoot with questions about the sport:


"I said on the telephone that I had taken an interest in polo and I'd been able to conclude that he was a good person to talk to," Jones recalls. "I was about to ask him some questions when he said, 'If you are truly interested in polo, you'll be at Menlo Park at 7 o'clock in the morning,' and he hung up."

Menlo Park is about 360 miles north of Los Angeles, not far from San Jose. Jones made the drive overnight.

"When he pulled up the next morning at 7 o'clock, I was there waiting on him," Jones says. "I'd been there 30 minutes."


Lifelong horse trainer, horse show judge, clinician and author Richard Shrake7 said of Dr. Linfoot:

"Horses communicate to each other through body language and movement at least 97% of the time. By my working and watching great horsemen such as Dr. Bill Linfoot, Charlie Araujo and Dan Opie, this fact has only been reinforced."

"Dr. Linfoot was a master of mental control. When watching his demonstrations, he repeatedly took a problem horse and within a matter of minutes was in complete control."

"Dr. Linfoot, Charlie or Dan never looked a horse directly in the eye when trying to calm it. Review this concept the next time you are trying to catch a less than receptive horse."

Clinician, author and horse trainer Pat Parelli was very impressed by Dr. Linfoot, according to an article by Tom Burriss6, "Dr. Billy Linfoot was a vet and polo player, whom Pat watched many times get a wild horse ridable within 30 minutes. Dr. Linfoot set the heart racing for Parelli." Linfoot was one of the people whom Parelli included in his acknowlegements in his original 1993 'Natural Horse-Man-Ship' book published by Western Horseman.

Dr. Linfoot was inducted to the Polo Hall of Fame in 1994. On the National Museum of Polo website it is said of him:

"One word best describes Dr. William "Billy" Linfoot - inspirational. Rated nine-goals, he was one of the world's best offensive players, whose form and skill at speed are legendary. No less esteemed was Doc's talent with horses. He knew how to spot them, and they would do absolutely anything for him."

"His energy was boundless, his sportsmanship exemplary, and his motivational ability envied by his opponents. He was a passionate teacher and a friend to all."


I contacted the Kansas State Veterinary College Library for assistance with finding more information about Dr. Linfoot. Librarian Carol Elmore took on the task and much to our surprise and happiness, she discovered an article in an old AAEP Convention Proceedings book that he had authored with the assistance of the editor, Dr. Frank J. Milne1.

I photocopied the article and then after I got home, ran it through an OCR program for reprinting here. The only copyright notice in the book was a note from Dr. Milne that reprint requests should be addressed to the editor (himself). Dr. Milne is now deceased, and although the book is technically still under copyright2, I believe that the Professor would be pleased if he knew that the article is of such interest at this time. I also believe that reprinting the article here because of its educational and historical importance falls under the "Fair Use" doctrine4.

In June 2007, I received an email from Dr. Linfoot's sister! She wrote (edited for length):

I am William (Billy) Linfoot's 1/2 sister.

I would be more than thrilled if you could direct me to articles about Billy... I only know of one article written in the AQHA Journal in the 90s by Don Burt. It was titled the Original Horse Whisperer (or similar).

My father spent all of our time together teaching me about horses before he died. As I watched the video of Billy taming a young horse it is incredible how much I still do the same things. To answer questions about "Join-up" I witnessed my Father practicing this, as I still do today.

My mother recalls a time when my father Pat, went into a stall with an unruly stud, when they came out the horse was passive. Any time he started to become nervous, Pat would flick a shiny silver dollar, and in seeing the glitter the horse became calm. I do not know more than this. I never witnessed this training.

I was privileged to meet Billy 4 times, I never knew until years later, that he was my brother. One time I recall was during a show he judged in Munroe Washington, where he also offered a horse taming demonstration. And yes, he managed to have that colt saddled and ridden in less than 1 hour.

During this weekend, Billy asked my step-father Dick Mero (and family) to join him in England where he was to play for the Queen. He wanted Dick to manage his Polo String. The offer was turned down because we had just built a new training stable in West Linn Oregon.

Leslie (Linfoot) Maynard

Here is a link to Leslie's website: LRM Barrel Horses. Leslie said also in regard to Monty Roberts, "My mother...says many of his exploits [things Monty claimed to have done, in his book] were those of other early California horsemen including Patrick Linfoot.



How To HandleHorses -- All Kinds*

by William R. Linfoot DVM as transcribed by Frank J.Milne DVM1

Introduction by Frank J. Milne DVM:

A year or two ago, it was my privilege in Las Vegas, Nevada, at 7:00 day to witness an exhibition which I just did notbelieve possible, and that was breaking a wild horse fromstart to finish in something like 25 minutes. Actually, it took 30 minutes, but I still consider that an excellent performance.

I decided then, since I had learned from that demonstration, that perhaps our members might learn something, too. It was with this in mind that I expended a considerable portion of thebudget for this convention in asking Dr. Billy Linfoot to line up two professional cameramen and to let them start the camera when he went into the corral and keep it going until he was finished, because I did not want any editing. I suppose, in a way, I was putting Billy on the spot because if I decided to make a motion picture of Bobby Hull playing for the Chicago Blackhawks or Joe Namath playing football, the chances are they would have an off day, break a leg, or something of that sort. I am sorry to say, for Billy's sake,this horse was one of the worst "sons-of-a-gun". It gave Billy a terrific fight, as you will see on the film. I am sure this will spur some controversy, but I ask you to view it in the spirit in which it was made and because of what we can learn from it.

I had a psychologist view this film. He is the husband of the young lady who does my secretarial work. He said, "I would like to show this film to my class at the University because theywould learn a lot from it, especially the value of patience".

The film runs for forty-two minutes. As Billy moved around, he could not use one of the trailing microphones, so, instead, I have asked him to comment on the silent version.

After we spent all the money on the film, wouldn't you know, some group made a film with a commentary and sent it to Billy free of charge! It runs for ten minutes, so you will see it right after the first one.

Billy, I do appreciate the effort you made on behalf of this Association, not only for making the film but for coming to do the commentary.



by William R. Linfoot DVM as transcribed by Frank J.Milne DVM1


Theremarks made here constitute a description of the actual technique as shown in the films

Dr. Wm. R. Linfoot's narration:
In early breaking procedures for all horses I try tofollow a consistent pattern, if possible. My preference isto isolate the animal in a strong small safe corral out ofsight of any other horses, so that I can have the animal'scomplete attention.

My intention is to catch the horse with a clean neck loop on the first throw. While the horse is moving and being set up for the catch the handler can study the attitude and reflexes of the animal. Square corners in the corral aid in stopping the horse after he is caught, and there is less chance that he will choke himself or pull away. Thus the entire breaking process is speeded up. Every move, from the time the horse is roped is designed to move the handler to the horse as quickly and safely as possible and to establish confidence between man and horse. This requires good judgment, a sense of timing and anticipation. and quick reflexes. Usually, I block the horse in a corral and gradually approach the neck area by keeping a snug hold on the rope and advancing up it slowly at about a 45 degree angle to the head and shoulder of the animal. The rope restraint is adjusted to control thehorse only, never purposely to shut off his air. Every movement is aimed at relaxing the horse and giving him confidence.


Rare footage of veterinarian and championpolo player Billy Linfoot taming and backing a 'wild' horse,circa 1970. (There is no audio with the video.) 


I advance along the rope until the horse is uneasy; then I stop or even retreat slightly to put him at ease. This advance and retreat is continued until my hand is on the rope around his neck.

To avoid startling the horse, firm confident hand pressure where the loop of the rope already puts some pressure on the neck is best. Nothing should be done that will cause the horse to pull away, as this wrong action leaves as firm an imprint on its untrained mind as aright one. It is absolutely essential that the handler establish a confident relatioliship with the horse as soon as possible and develop this in a positive manner with every move.

Since the horse is obviously much bigger and stronger than the man. the position of the handler and method of approach are very important. Flat,firm confident rubbing with the whole hand is the most acceptable contact I have used when first touching a horse. Never pat, never use the fingertips and never rub the hair the wrong way.

I start rubbing the neck over the part where the rope touches, and gradually enlarge the rubbing area to cover more territory.

After the animal begins to relax and alittle mutual confidence is established between horse and handler, I change the neck loop to a pressure hitch to avoid the horse's being choked in any manner and to establish ameans of discipline and reward while teaching the animal.This quick-release hitch is called an "Indian" or "war"bridle. Considerable patience and some skill is required to make the change here because the ears and muzzle of thehorse are very sensitive areas.
Since head control means horse control, and pressure for discipline with release for reward will be the pattern for any horse's correct training throughout his career, the hitch I use, best suits my purpose.

From here on, I soothe and gentle thehorse by talking to him, and by rubbing over an ever-greater area of his body, using the same advance and retreat method mentioned before. The head hitch is used here to balance the horse, to control him if necessary, but pressure is released the moment the correct response is received.

Talking to the horse helps gain his confidence and attention, and aids in the teaching process.

When the handler lifts a leg of a horse, he should be sure the horse is properly balanced so that no strong-arm tactics are necessary. When the animal relaxes sufficiently to allow each leg to be lifted in turn while the horse learns to balance himself easily on the other three, the gentling process is taking place, and the horse is beginning to co-operate with the man.

Once this is done, I usually start the mounting process by putting firm hand pressure on the neck and back and leaning against the horse, making bouncing motions as if jumping astride. If the horse moves around he should not be disciplined, as this is a natural reaction. Ashe becomes more submissive, I increase the jumping motion until I am astride the horse, but I am very careful not to touch him suddenly in any new area, nor to startle him withany new motion. All actions are repeated and are progressive.

It is of the utmost importance to keep in mind that the pressure hitch on the head is just that; a pressure device to be released the moment the desired action is obtained. Relaxation of the hitch along with rubbing are rewards. The rope should never be used as a jerking device. Pressure is applied by definite pulls after the slack is taken out ofthe rope. A gentle tug on the rope is a reminder. a sharp tug is for discipline. Instant relief by releasing the rope pressure the moment the horse responds is mandatory for proper results. Never tie a horse to anything with this type of hitch as he could injure himself when there is no releasing agent at the end of the rope.

Short frequent training sessions are ideal. Do not exhaust the horse or lose your patience. Always "quit on a win" and leave the training session after a positive response from the animal.

Since horses learn by repeated lessons and only in this way, repeat the early training techniques in a simplified version when you begin the next lesson, then go on to advance the training. The whole idea of this technique is to make friends with the horse as soon as possible and as painlessly as possible, so that he learns to avoid the discipline and respond to the reward. Consistent patient effort toward this goal can be very rewarding, and
it is excellent training for both the horse and the handler.


1Dr. Frank J. Milne, an Ontario Veterinary College faculty member from 1953-1984, was President of the American Association of Equine Practitioners in 1971, an AAEP Life Member and a long-time member of the AAEP Executive Board.

2For pre-1978 works still in their original or renewal term of copyright, copyright is extended to 95 years from the date that copyright was originally secured.

3Horse Whispers & Lies by Joyce Renebome and Debra Ristau, published by Veracity Books; 1 edition (June 30, 1999) / ISBN: 1929055447

4Section 107 of copyright law contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Currently, the Copyright Office is considering special consideration for use of "orphan works" and the Linfoot article might also qualify in this area.

5"Tommy Lee Jones: A horseman of many colors" by Thom Smith, Cox News Service - Apr. 5, 2005 12:00 AM

6"Crowd Wild About Savvy At Parelli Tour In Tunica -- Love-Language-Leadership" by Thom Burriss,  Mid South Horse Review.

7Body Language of Horses by Richard Shrake, Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 12/03/98; 2:00:00PM.

*Reprinted from the 1970 Proceedings ofthe Convention of the American Association of EquinePractitioners, page 359. Edited by Frank J. Milne DVM. Section 107 of copyright law contains a list of thevarious purposes for which the reproduction of a particularwork may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment,news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.Currently, the Copyright Office is considering specialconsideration for use of "orphanworks" and the Linfoot article might also qualify inthis area.

Thanks to Carol Elmoreof the Kansas State University College of VeterinaryMedicine Library for her work in finding this article.
Article scanned and published on the web by Lil Peck.

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