Out on the plains outside of Hooper, Washington, you can see wide open spaces of grassland and sage brush, speckled with cattle. This is cowboy country. Here you might think you’ve stepped into a country song, or back in time to the days when cowboys ruled. If you are in the right place at the right time, you might even see a modern-day cowboy astride his horse, his cowboy hat protecting his face from the glare of the sun. He might be wrangling cattle with the help of his border collies that he trained for this work. This cowboy’s name is Dusty Roller.
Just when I thought cowboys were a dying breed, I met Dusty Roller, owner of Running O Horsemanship. Running O Horsemanship is a family business in Hooper, run by Dusty and his wife Terri. Their kids help out along with a few other employees. Here the family breeds and trains American Quarter Horses and Border Collie dogs for cow-driving the Hereford cows they also breed.
Horses are in Dusty’s blood. He grew up on a cattle ranch in Odessa, Washington where he helped his own father with raising cattle and wheat farming. Here he was always riding horses.
Dusty started his career as a farrier after formal training in shoeing horses in Cody, Wyoming. His real passion, however, was in training horses. After attending some of the best horse training clinics, he was able to pursue that passion and went into horse-training full time.
Not only do they raise and train their own string of horses, Dusty and his crew at Running O also take in outside horses for training, using the training method of natural horsemanship. Natural horsemanship is based on the observation of the natural behavior of free-roaming and rejects abusive training methods. The idea is to build a rapport with the horse, as “a kinder and gentler cowboy.” If this makes you think of the movie “The Horse Whisperer,” this image is accurate. In fact, horse-whisperer is a term often used to describe those who practice natural horsemanship. This makes Dusty a bona fide horse-whisperer. According to Dusty, this approach “gives the horse and rider an opportunity to learn with each other, with positive affirmation for desired behavior.”
The theme of learning and teaching arose several times in my interview with Dusty, but when I suggested to him that he was a teacher, he corrected me. “I consider myself a horseman.” Yet teaching horsemanship is exactly what this horseman does. For several years Dusty has been involved with the Spokane County 4-H club, teaching young people riding skills, roping, and good horsemanship. He’s also available to hold clinics for learners of all ages and skill levels.
Considering Dusty rejected my use of the term “teacher”, I’m sure he would also reject “rock star.” However, in my view Dusty is somewhat of a rock star in the horse training world. He was one of only three trainers from Washington selected to compete in the 2008 “Extreme Mustang Makeover” in Fort Worth, Texas. Here he was challenged to train a previously untouched wild mustang in 100 days. Dusty placed 9th out of 200 participants.
When asked what’s challenging about his work, Dusty admits that the hardest part is that it is round the clock, every day of the week, every hour of the day. He comes home every day, but he’s still at work. And problems arise every day. After a long day out on the ranch, returning home after dark, Dusty might be called back to work in the middle of the night; cows don’t respect his sleep patterns or his exhaustion. In addition to the long hours, there is weather to contend with. “Cold. Wind. Heat. Dust.” I had a feeling he could go on and on.
Despite these hardships, Dusty finds profound satisfaction and great reward in this work that he was called to do. He feels responsible for the animals on the ranch, knowing they depend on him and his team. When a calf or colt are in trouble and he’s able to save them, “That’s rewarding,” he says.
He’s also true to the values he holds as a horseman and businessman, especially honesty. If the horse isn’t going to work for the buyer, he always lets the buyer know. Dusty feels responsible for ensuring that the buyer and horse are a good fit. Here Dusty seems to have an innate sense, which can only be expected from a “kinder, gentler cowboy” and horse whisperer like Dusty Roller.
For more information visit the Running O Horsemanship website at www.runningohorsemanship.net where you’ll see mesmerizing photos of horses, colts, and cattle drives.