Solvang, January 9, 2017
From Monty Roberts:
Recently, because I am working on my second autobiography, Pat and I have been revisiting memories from my years of professional competition in the event called working cow horse. This competition originated in Spain and Portugal and tested the ability of finely trained horses to control cattle on ranches and open ranges. The Spaniards brought their horses and their horsemanship to the Western United States where they conducted popular competitions calling their four-legged partners, Working Cow Horses.
I began my competitive life at the age of four and was working cattle on horseback as far back as 1940. The working cow horse was celebrated at the largest horse shows in the Western United States. Salinas, California where Pat and I were born, hosted the largest of these competitions throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s.
In 1948 I clearly recall the first time I watched John Brazil Jr. competing on the competition grounds where I was born and raised. John won all three of the categories competed for in that particular year. John, a small man of Portuguese decent, was immediately a hero for me. He rode as if he was part of the horse. Few riders could match his skills at high speed or with the precise maneuvers required.
John had been working for Cutter Laboratories, a West coast company experimenting with animal vaccines. John’s job was handling cattle for them. Simultaneously, W.D. Dana, owner of the Empire State Building in New York City contacted John. He indicated that John had been recommended to him, as he had purchased a cattle ranch near Healdsburg, California. Mr. Dana agreed with John that he could continue to compete on horses purchased by Mr. Dana for the purpose of working cattle. John remained the trainer for Mr. Dana until his death in 1964. At that time a dispersal sale of the Dana horses allowed me to purchase one of John’s young prospects, a mare named Night Mist. I was able to win two world championships on Night Mist and amassed a record of 31 straight victories. Night Mist was one of my most successful working cow horses and is buried here on Flag Is Up Farms.
One segment of the working cow horse competition is called reining, which included flying lead changes and, while running at top speed, sliding stops and spins to illustrate the horse’s sensitive mouth and athletic ability. A second segment of the competition is called (herd work) cutting and requires the horse to control a single bovine animal by keeping it from returning to the herd. The third and final segment is to control a single bovine animal as if it was on the open ranges. The reined cow horse today still competes with one of the widest range of skills of any of the horse competitions.
After the Second World War and entering the 1950s, I began to compete with horsemen at the apex of the working cow horse division. Pat and I became close friends of John Brazil and his wife, Laurie beginning in the mid-1950s. I was in competition with John 20-30 times per year throughout my 20-year career as a professional schooling and showing the working cow horse.
While I competed in a wide range of disciplines, John Brazil specialized in the working cow horse and competed solely in that discipline.
Throughout my professional life in competition I met individuals who had dozens of different personalities and acted with a variety when it came to integrity. John Brazil was and is the epitome of a gentleman. The world of horse competitions is rife with people who would criticize another’s work to judges or anyone who might be inclined to listen. I never knew John Brazil to criticize anyone. This man inspired me to take on the promise to myself that I would never openly criticize another horseman by name in public. I believe this attitude has served me well.
My books, tours travels and executing the decisions I made for my career post-competition retirement, have consumed my life for the past 28 years. About a year ago, while conversing with Al Dunning, a mutual friend and speaking of great horsemen, Al told me that John Brazil at 95 was still alive, healthy and working with his horses. I asked Pat to discover contacts for John and said I wanted to go wherever he now lived and have a good visit. She made arrangements to drive the eight hours to Geyserville, California, a small village in the heart of the northern California wine country.
I must say I have to thank Pat for driving every mile of the 16-hour round trip, but she agrees that it was well worth the effort. Not only did we find John Brazil alive and well, but also his wife, Laurie was right there with him. John was born in 1922 and served with the US armed forces in WW II. John and Laurie were married in 1946 and recently celebrated their 70th anniversary. John is still working with about 10 head of horses and caring for the 20 or so head of cattle he uses for his working cow horses. The four of us visited for five to six hours, finishing with dinner at their favorite restaurant in Geyserville.
In going through John’s stable, it was clear that it might be difficult to place a large Western saddle on the back of these horses. He agreed that in the last several years he used a pulley device he designed and made himself suspended from the rafters. With his invention he could attach his saddle at the level of his waist and then elevate the saddle so he could place it on the back of the horse without having to lift the weight. John then explained to Pat and I that after watching our videos, he has trained his horses to the mounting block, which he now admits to using even though he used it for about five years before admitting that!
My goal is to give John Brazil as much credit as I can for influencing me to act in a gentlemanly fashion to those I deal with, whether in the horse business or simply in life itself. Today’s forms of communication are often filled with slanderous remarks toward one another, criticisms of the opinions of our fellow man or just plain being rude for the sake of it. If I were in charge of finding a person who was best suited to molding the character of the next generation, John Brazil Jr. would be my choice.
I have spoken of and written about my eight world championships in the working cow horse discipline. John Brazil won 20 world championships in the working cow horse division. He is humble to the extent that very few people know of him, which is a shame really, but it is truly the story of John Brazil. John has chosen not to be a public figure. At 82, I only hope that I can use John’s influence to encourage the next generation to appreciate the value of integrity, honesty and a respect for our fellow man.