Why Tom Dorrance is a Must Read
Tom Dorrance is legendary; many people believe he is one of the greatest horsemen who ever lived; certainly the greatest horseman to come out of the American West in the early 20th century, along with his brother Bill and their friend Ray Hunt.
His books have a reputation for being hard to understand; esoteric, even mystical. Tom himself says “When I am trying to put it into words and am right there where the horse can respond, and the person still doesn’t get it, it’s pretty hard to think of words that will take care of it in a book.”
This could very well be in part because “True Unity” isn’t a book about how to train horses, it’s about how to BE around horses, which for someone like Tom was a state of being almost too intuitive to describe, both in person and on the written page.
Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt, and Tom Dorrance.
What shines through everything Tom had to say was his deep compassion for horses; he wants to help them. He looks for ways to help people too, so the two species can work and live together without conflict. He’s gentle with those of us who don’t know as much about horses as we should know:
“Maybe some of these points we are trying to bring out in this book can bring something to the surface the reader had very little understanding of; or hadn’t even thought about before – things they may have been bypassing. If some of these ideas will bring them to the surface, then maybe there will be a way of digesting it.” ~ Tom Dorrance
“Digesting.” What a good way of putting it, helping us to realize that these are ideas that need time and contemplation, not bare facts that we memorize. This is not book learning – this is life learning, about horses and people both.
“True Unity” was written by Tom Dorrance and edited by Milly Hunt Porter, a long time friend, who also edited Ray Hunt’s book “Think Harmony with Horses.” The introduction is by Bill Dorrance, and the prologue by Milly Hunt Porter. There are several chapters written by Tom, chapters of editorial notes by Ms. Porter, and a feedback chapter featuring essays about Tom by some of his students.
Tom Dorrance (May 11, 1910 - June 11, 2003) was born on a cattle ranch in northeastern Oregon, a spectacular part of the Northwest, the territory of the Nez Perce tribes. He had three brothers and four sisters. He describes his childhood growing up on the ranch as a life with a loving family, a strong community of friends and neighbors, and of course hard work.
In those days, children growing up on farms and ranches weren’t so much taught how to ride horses, but rather were steeped in a life spent on horseback; they learned to ride almost by osmosis.
But Tom was different than the average young horse wrangler and cowhand; as Milly Hunt Porter puts it in her prologue: “History has been sprinkled with individuals who, because of something unique in their personalities, take the very ordinary in the their environments and see in it, or do with it, a little more than others seem to have gotten from the same opportunities.” This describes Tom Dorrance to a T.
Tom’s Students Visit about Tom: the Feedback Section
If Tom is the pebble dropped into the middle of a still pond, the feedback section of the book is all the ripples spreading out. Two dozen of Tom’s students write about what they learned from him and how it affected their lives. The students’ names are listed, although not which student wrote which essay. Martin Black and Bill Dorrance are among the names.
I found these individual essays to be almost as interesting as the parts written by Tom, because as someone currently trying to learn more about horses, I could identify with the role of student. And it illustrates another of Tom’s points: “There is so much variation in the human individual that the approach has to be a little different in order to fit each person.”
Here are some quotes from the Feedback Section:
“Tom is like my conscience. I had Tom on my shoulder. So, when I have Tom on my shoulder I can get along with the horse – that sums it up, really.”
“At least for me, it’s the consistency. I THINK too much lots of times. If I think too much I can’t get in there at the right time and do what intuitively I know to do, because I am being too intellectual about it.”
“I have seen many an over-enthusiastic student cooled off fast when they find it’s not a bunch of secret training tips but ways you can work on yourself.”
“My time with Tom helped me a lot with the horses, but also with cattle, with dogs, with my children and life in general. He got me to thinking about looking at a problem through the eyes of the animal or person you are having it with.”
Few things in this life are more satisfying than a Tom Dorrance quote and there is a chapter listing some of his best and most famous. Tom was more an observer and thinker than he was a writer; much of the book was taped, then put together by Milly Hunt Porter, whose well written editorial chapters reflect the many hours she spent watching Tom work with horses and people.
“A lifetime of learning from horses cannot be compressed into one small book. Many horses’ lifetimes could be enriched, however, if the rider could put to use one small sentence from the first chapter of this book: The rider needs to recognize the horse’s need for self-preservation in mind, body and spirit.” Milly Hunt Porter.
If you love horses, I can’t recommend this book enough. It's the Holy Grail, the source, a book of equine psalms. It's a collection of moments of awareness, trapped in time with a man of special gifts and genius. "True Unity" is an invitation to meditate, learn, and reflect upon our relationships with our horses.
“True Unity: Willing Communication between Horse and Human”
By Tom Dorrance
Edited by Milly Hunt Porter
Copyright © 2010 by Margaret A. Dorrance and Steven C. Dorrance
First printing November 1987 by Milly Hunt Porter
Twenty-First printing January 2013
Available at: TomDorrance.com
Your email address will be kept private.
Email me directly at
The Mindful Horsewoman is on