A Horse with Tourette Syndrome? Jim Yost speaks candidly about his experiences, Latigo Ranch

BY Jody Dahl | Sun 13 Feb, 2011

In our research for the Top 50 Ranches worldwide, there was a recurring theme throughout all the nominations that came through for a particular ranch owner, Jim Yost of Latigo Ranch, Colorado - and that was his guests consider him a "horse expert". Therefore, we couldn't resist the opportunity to interview him!

Top50 - What makes you knowledgeable about horses?
Jim Yost - I started riding when I was about 5 years old and got my first paying job working with horses when I was 14 -  as a wrangler/guide leading mule and burro packtrips up Pikes Peak here in Colorado.   Weighing less than 90 pounds at that time, I learned quickly that it was better to figure a horse out than try to confront it.  In graduate school while studying anthropology I immersed myself in "ethology", the study of animal behavior in their natural environment.  As part of that,  I began to focus on proxemic and kinesic communication in various cultures and transferred those observational skills from humans to horses, since proxemics and kinesics are almost all a horse uses to communicate.  Today most of my consulting is in that field - with humans.

Top50 - How old were you when you decided you wanted to devote your life to working horses? 
Jim - As a  14 year-old, I was consumed with one dream:  to have a horse ranch in the Colorado Rockies.  I would sit in my 7th grade class and gaze out the window at Pikes Peak, imagining my property and horses up there.  But that dream faded, and my trail took me to university studies and South America as an anthropologist for many years before I realized the dream.  Actually, it wasn't until we bought Latigo that I recalled that dream and realized it had been realized. 

Top50 - Could you please briefly explain your horseman philosophy.
Jim - It's far more productive to learn the horse and work within its natural instincts and abilities than to try to make it into something it ain't.

Top50 - Who were your greatest mentors?
Jim - Undoubtedly, Raz and Dia, two horses of entirely different character.     Oh, you mean humans?   I have gleaned a lot from numerous clinics with some well-known clinicians, but rubbing shoulders for several years with Don Cone and Dr. Sue Stuska  taught me more than anyone else. 

Top50 - What was your most challenging horse? Why?
Jim - A registered appaloosa, Raz. He had anxieties over just about everything.  Every time I'd get him over one anxiety, he'd discover another.  Life for him was a long series of specific events, not something to be generalized.  

Top50 - What was your most memorable horse? Why?
Jim - Raz again.  He had what I considered the horse equivalent of Tourette's Syndrome.  As he walked, trotted or loped, one leg would suddenly, sporadically and unpredictably fly out to the side,  then another leg, later another.  He would spook at the smallest thing, like his own shadow, but when a grouse flew out between his legs or he stepped into wire he'd freeze, calm as a rock.  As I rode him I could literally think the direction I wanted to go and that's where we went ( I was undoubtedly giving extremely subconscious cues in seat or torso).  He could remember a route like no other  -  off-trail, if I took him around one side of a tree in a dense forest he had never been in before, the next time we went there, he wanted to go around that tree the same way.   Getting lost was never an issue with him.   Amazing horse. 

Top50 - What is your favorite horse discipline(roping, cutting, branding, trail riding)?
Jim - Exploring new mountains.

Top50 - What are your favorite blood lines?
Jim - No favorites.
 

Top50 - When a guest is working with and/or riding your horses, what is most enjoyable for you to see?
Jim - When they begin to apply the principles we work so hard to teach them - especially proper timing in stimulus-reward.

Top50 - As guests ride your horses, what is most burdensome when watching guests interact with your horses, if anything?
Jim - When they expect the horse to respond as a non-sentient, inanimate thing, as if it were a car that has no motivation of its own

Top50 - Worst wreck(if any)?
Jim - This one demands a story.  Surely you didn't expect otherwise?   So tighten your cinch and grab leather.

In the days before 2-way radios or cell phones, the last ride of the fall our farrier Dee, our head wrangler Dawn and I  decided to go someplace "new".  We loaded 3 horses into a trailer and made it as far as the front gate when the 3 horses decided they didn't like each other in such tight quarters.  Surely you know the routine -  "she's on my side"   "he touched me"   "are we there yet?"

The trailer erupted into a cacophany of snorts, squeals, and hooves re-shaping the trailer.   The truck threatened to overturn.  We stopped, unloaded the horses and started leading them back  toward the barn, discussing changing to a destination that didn't need a trailer.  The instant we crossed the creek a bolt of lightning struck a tree on the creek bank 20 yards away.  Horses and people went straight up.  We had scarcely gotten animals and humans back under control when the breeze wafted the smell of the the smoke and ozone from the lightning to us.  My horse, Dia, panicked and tried to bolt for the barn.  Had I been smart, I'd have switched horses. 

But I wasn't.  And didn't. 

As we rode out for a new destination, Dia was in hyper dynamo mode.   I led the way to the top of an aspen ridge, when behind me Dee shouted "wire!"   She reined her horse in, but too late.  An abandoned barbed-wire fence line lay hidden on the ground under the leaves.  Her horse tangled in it, jerking the 3 strands and a rotted post suddenly upright like the fence it was intended to be.  The post and wires sprang up into Dia's chest.   After the trailer battle, the lightning, the ozone and the smoke, it was too much.  She snapped, bucking hard, headed for a tight cluster of trees. 

I thought, "no horse would run straight into a tree."  

Bad thinking.  She slammed my left foot into the tree and gave a huge bolt skyward, as quick as the lightning had bolted down out of the sky.  My left foot left the stirrup and I  left the saddle.  On my way down, nice and horizontal, I noticed not only how small Dia looked so far below me, but also that the barbed wire was ensnared around my left arm and the other end of it was wrapped  across Dia's chest as she charged for home. 

Another thought -  " I am going to lose my arm!"

As happens to most riders in a wreck, I thwacked on my ribs atop the only pile of rocks within thirty feet, waiting to be dragged by a wire-flailed arm back to the ranch.  But nothing.  I just lay there watching Dia bucking her way home.

Then I became aware of a ghastly noise.  It was me.  My lungs and vocal chords were a spasm of wheezing grunts I couldn't control.   

Another thought - "I have to quit making this noise."

It seemed like an hour before Dee and Dawn got their horses under control enough to come see what was making the ridiculous noises.   Dee tried to comfort me and Dawn rode off for the ranch to get help.

You'd think that would be the end of the adventure, but there's more.  Once I got my lungs and vocal chords back into submission, the pain started to take over.  Lying on the rock wasn't working, so I sat up, with much objection from Dee.  We waited. And waited.  How long would it take Dawn to get home?  Wonder what became of Dia.   Waiting was just pain, so I decided to hike out to the nearest road about 2 miles away.  A half mile from the road I met the EMT's hiking in with a body board and oxygen.  They were huffing like an old steam tractor and had stopped for a smoke. 

One look at them and I had my final thought - "No way are you going to try to carry me.  Use the oxygen on yourselves and I'll finish my hike."

Over the next month as I slept in a chair with my broken ribs I often contemplated the tiny scars on my arm from the barbed wire.  Where had the barbed wire gone?

Top50 - Every interaction we've experienced with Jim, we've throughly enjoyed - from his writing style to our nice visit. We know you too will love your time spent with he and the team at Latigo, Colorado's Best Dude Ranch.

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