After surviving several Indian attacks while living on the Humbolt River in northwestern Nevada, Matt Joyce, my great-great-grandfather on my Mom’s side, moved his family and livestock to what would become Owyhee County in southwestern Idaho where silver was discovered in the early 1860s. In 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act and by 1865 the Joyces proved up, and were granted a homestead on Sinker Creek.
Starting out, the Joyces provided meat, dairy, poultry and vegetables to the booming mining town of Silver City. Later, after the mining slowed down they depended on the land and livestock they had built up — several thousand head of horses and cattle, and over 11,000 deeded acres along with the outside range to run the livestock on.
Meanwhile my great-great-grandfather on my Dad’s side, James Black, moved his family to Bruneau, Idaho, where other family members had already settled. Like the Joyces, the Blacks supplied goods to the gold mining town of Tuscarora, Nevada. They trailed their cattle from Nevada in the summer to Bruneau for the winter. As the mines of Tuscarora played out, the Blacks summered their cattle closer to the Owyhee Mountains.
In 1869 the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, giving ranchers a way to market their stock to more than just the local markets. During this time the large herds of cattle started coming out of California to graze the grasses of the Great Basin. My great-grandfather, Joe Black, was a young boy growing up on Battle Creek back then. The California Vaqueros who trailed the California herds were a strong influence on him. His father and older brothers owned mostly horses and some cattle, and they shared range and camp grounds with six different vaquero wagons — each with around 20 men.
As the Joyces and the Blacks increased their horse numbers, they supplied the growing West with horses and shipped several carloads at a time to the eastern markets. In 1908 when the Cavalry Remount program went into effect, both families participated by crossing army-supplied Thoroughbred stallions with their range mares to provide horses for the US army. After the army took their pick, the families marketed the top horses to local markets and the rest to European militaries. During the Remount era my grandfather, Albert, and his brother, Paul, grew up starting horses for their father, Joe. Later they had their own business starting and selling horses to the army and other markets.
The Joyces always ran about equal numbers of horses and cattle, while the Blacks had as many as 5,000 horses to only a few hundred cattle. When the Remount program ended in the early 1940s, the Joyces were forced to cut back on horse numbers, which left them with mostly a cattle operation. Along with what horses they did have left, they ran a herd of pure bred Herefords.
In 1934 the Taylor Grazing Act was passed. It stated that grazers of open range must have base property to support their herd for a period of time. This gave the homesteaders more right to the range than the cattle barons and led to the decrease of California cattle in the Great Basin.
In the early 1940s, the Blacks delivered a group of green-broke horses to the new owner of the TS Ranch in Nevada, Mr. Hill, who asked Paul, my uncle, to be his cattle foreman. Paul recruited young boys from the Bruneau area to work for him while in Nevada. Many of these boys went on to become top bridle-men, influencing generations of horsemen to come, including myself.
In the late 1940s and early 1950, Albert was in joint-venture ownership of the Gamble Ranch in northern Nevada, and Paul was the cow foreman. After a few years they returned to Idaho. With the sale of the Gamble Ranch, Albert was able to help his children and Paul begin their own ranching operations.
My father, Asa, was a young buckaroo for Paul on the Gamble Ranch and later owned a 1500-head cattle ranch in Owyhee County. Growing up on the family ranch there wasn’t really much of a “first time “of anything. I don’t remember my first ride, first horse, or the first time I roped something. In the environment I grew up there wasn’t a big production when we did something. It was just expected of us.
Both my parents and all my siblings rode and worked the cattle. Some of us spent more time with the livestock, and some spent more time with the equipment and haying, but we all did everything. From when I was about eight years old I spent most of the time with my oldest brother in cow camps with the cattle. My dad mounted us on horses we raised and ones that he traded for.
We had a neighbor who ran a slaughter house, and when horses came through that he thought may have potential, we would see how they worked on the ranch, Some wouldn’t stay sound, some were soured, some were okay until they got bothered and bucked or ran off, and a few were alright. Most of them, we would learn, had history. Some just needed another chance. We were the test pilots; we evaluated them, and learned to survive crash-landings and not to let them hurt us. After riding those horses, starting colts and riding them was like a cake walk. Before I got into my teens, I started and rode colts, and we always had a job for them to do.
During high school, when the evenings were long in the fall and the cattle were still in the mountains, there was a month or two when I would start colts — some that we had, and some for the neighbors. This was my first taste of “training for hire”. It was in the early part of this period that Charley and Bill Van Norman were wintering cattle in the Bruneau area. With Charley being an old friend of my granddad’s the door was opened for me to get around these two, good, old-time bridle horsemen. That led to meeting Bill’s father-in-law, Ray Hunt. In 1974 my mother organized one of the first clinics Ray did in the Great Basin area.
From then on I committed to look for opportunities to learn from the horsemen in the Bruneau area and to get around the ones in Nevada when I could. By the time I was out of high school I had spent a lot of time with Bill, Charley and Ray, and some time with Gene Lewis, Melvin Jones, Tom Dorrance and Tom Marvel. After high school I worked on different ranches in Nevada to spend more time with some of these horsemen. After the cattle were gathered in the fall, I’d go to California to work with Gene and Ray for the winter.
In 1984 I took a job that started out as cow boss and ended up as superintendent of a million-acre ranch, with over ten-thousand cattle and four-hundred horses. There was a lot of freedom to improve the horse program, and I wasted no time breeding better-quality horses and having Tom Dorrance come to the ranch in the summer to help guide us in the colt starting, preparing our older horses for the horse shows, and whatever other odd problems there may have been.
After being there eight years the ranch sold and I went into riding horses for the public out of Homedale, Idaho. I had started showing cow horses and rodeoing in high school, and with my contacts from breeding and selling horses all my adult life, I got to know plenty of people in the horse business. This set me up good for starting colts in the summer at home and also in the contract colt-starting business that had me traveling coast to coast starting 500 horses a year for awhile. As more people got exposed to what I was doing with horses, I moved into the people-schooling business more, and the horse schooling less.
I still like to contract around 200 colts a year so I continue to learn from a number of different horses and don’t get stagnant with my program. I try to keep a balance of what works from the beginning phases, to the high performance end also. We now have a ranch in Bruneau, Idaho, where we operate schools from and have students ride with me. I feel blessed to make a living doing what I enjoy and being able to share this with other people that are like minded.
The older I get the more I realize that what we don’t get done today we can do tomorrow, and if tomorrow doesn’t come, what we don’t get done today probably isn’t going to matter anyway. I think about this when I catch myself trying to hurry with a horse.
By nature horses are suspicious of man. God made them this way. They eat grass, we eat meat. If they didn’t instinctually know this they wouldn’t have survived this long. At the same time they like to be comfortable. We can offer them comfort and not abuse their confidence in us, and they can willingly want to work for us because they feel better than they did when they were suspicious and uncomfortable around us.
Horse don’t reason the way we do; we plan for the future, horses look only at the present. Looking to the future is what makes people greedy, storing up more and better. Horses only want comfort at the present time, and respond accordingly.
When something works with a horse, there is a reason why. When something doesn’t work, there is a reason why. If we can learn to understand the why — what prepared or caused the response — then we can learn to identify and influence the horse in a positive and productive way. If we can identify the cause, the problem can go away.
When we look for solutions to our problems, the solution sometimes winds up being something to trick the horse. Too often we end up treating the symptom with only partial success because the cause is still there.
How and when we apply pressure and give relief determines the horse’s attitude and response, and either builds or breaks down his confidence. One of my basic philosophies with horses is to always try to build the horse’s confidence.
I have heard of horses “taking advantage of people” but I have never seen it. What I have seen is people losing the advantage over their horse. Horses don’t have egos, they don’t keep score, they don’t try to get the better of us. They just want better for themselves. If we threaten their well-being and get in their path, they are bigger and stronger and every bit as quick as us and they can hurt us. Not because they want to, they’re just seeking comfort.
Sometime we get the wrong answer because we ask the horse in the wrong way. The key to our success with a horse is presentation. If we can motivate the horse in a way so that they interpret the pressure as self-inflicted, avoiding doing what is causing the pressure makes perfect sense to them. They don’t like putting pressure on themselves, and if they understand the avenue to avoid pressure, the choice is very clear to them. If the horse finds comfort when they take the right avenue, it will be hard to get them to take the wrong avenue.
Horses instinctively yield to pressure where they can, and if they don’t understand how to find relief they go against the pressure. Their first instinct is flight, their next is fight. If we set things up in the right way before we apply the pressure, we can give them the chance to avoid the pressure by yielding, instead of having to resort to fighting. When they can’t find relief then they will fight or go against pressure.
With some horses it takes very little pressure for them to go from the mindset of yielding to seek relief, to the mindset of fighting or just tolerating more and more pressure. We can have trouble if we miss this and continue to increase pressure. The horse may become more tolerant instead of yielding. Or he may fight. The horse doesn’t like the situation but they don’t understand another option, and neither does the person, in too many situations.
I like to help the person understand and rise to the horse’s level so the person can communicate with any horse, instead of dumbing the horse to the person’s level and sentencing both of them to a monogamous relationship. By this I mean the person only understands one tailored horse, and the horse only tolerates the one person — neither is on a path to reach their highest potential.
It takes pressure for relief to be effective, and relief for pressure to be effective. When horses experiences more pressure than relief, they try to fight what they can’t tolerate and tolerate what they can’t avoid — either way they are experiencing increased pressure. On the other hand, pressure is a useful tool if used correctly. It can motivate a horse to look for, find, and experience relief. Once they experience this, they are likely to maintain a better frame of mind. They will look for new, good experiences by exercising their curiosity instead of resorting to “flight or fight” because of concern for their safety.
It comes down to this: when horses panic they react with “flight or fight,” and when a horse is interested in relief they evaluate, exercise their curiosity, and soak up more of their environment. If we keep them in a good environment, they can learn and progress more than by fighting them.
More Details about Martin Black
- Martin grew up working on the family ranch and after High School, left home to work on other Ranches with top Horseman in Idaho, Nevada and California.
- At age 24 he took a management position on a 1.25 million acre ranch running 400 horses and 15,000 head of cattle in Northeast Nevada.
- After more than 30 years of cattle being the primary source of income and horses being the secondary, Martin decided to make his living working with horses. With his reputation on the ranches and in the arena, it wasn’t long before he was traveling coast to coast in the US, Australia, Europe, and Brazil.
- Along with contract colt starting around 400 horses annually, Martin also does some public and private clinics.
- Martin has worked with Hall of Fame and All Time Leading Trainers of cutting, reining and race horses.
- Started Pleasantly Perfect who went on to win in excess of $7 million.
- Started Smart Little Scoot who is the All Time Leading money earning son of Smart Little Lena. As well as numerous other champions in Cutting, Reining and Reined Cow Horse.
- Earned over $75,000 in Stock Horse and NRCHA events, as well as roping, saddle-bronc and camp drafting competitions.
- Competed in the Worlds Greatest Horseman 3 yrs in a row. Scored in the top ten in Roping, Reining and Cow-working go-rounds.
- Multiple finalists at NRCHA World Show.
- RHAA National Champion Cowboy and Open Ranch Horse, Abilene, TX
- World Finals Ranch Rodeo, Open Champion Ranch Horse two years in a row, Amarillo, TX