By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Pick up a copy of America’s Horse magazine. As you leaf through the pages, you may come to an article about an internationally renowned horse expert. Read on – you’ll find that this expert on equines comes from rural Kansas. It’s today’s Kansas Profile.
Meet Harry Whitney, an internationally acclaimed horse clinician. Harry has deep roots in rural Kansas. His great-grandfather homesteaded the family home place. It is located on Gumbo Hill Road, just north of Manhattan. His grandmother Erma was a long-time columnist, writing as the “Girl of the Gumbo.”
Harry’s mother grew up there, and his father grew up nearby at Keats. They married and had a career in the military before moving back home to the farm.
Harry’s full name is Harry Everett Whitney III. That sounds like a name that belongs in some east coast school, but Harry got a rural-sounding nickname to compensate for it: Spud. Harry said, “My dad was in the military and was stationed in Maine when I was born. So I was born in Aroostock County where all they raise is potatoes. My grandfather wrote my folks and asked how that new little spud was doing. I’ve been Spud ever since.”
Spud Whitney grew up around horses. Harry said, “I was on a horse before I could talk.” He went through Riley County schools and graduated from K-State in animal science.
As a self-taught trick roper, Spud Whitney gained fame during his college days. Then he worked on the rodeo circuit from South Dakota to Alabama, doing trick roping, Roman riding, clowning, pickup man and announcing. He also worked on ranches, spending lots of time horseback.
In 1983, a Manhattan-area horseman named Bernard Wells asked Spud if he would start (meaning train) a young horse for him. Spud took it on and did so well that other people wanted their horses trained, and the business snowballed. Spud got married and moved to Ottawa, Kansas where he trained horses full-time.
Other people wanted to learn about the principles Spud was using to train horses. In 1991, Harry and friends put on a clinic to demonstrate these training principles. It went so well that he put on another clinic two weeks later.
The business continued to grow. Harry’s wife passed away in 1995, and he went full-time doing equine clinics around the country. Because of the weather, he started doing his winter clinics in Arizona and eventually moved there. He returns to Kansas during the holidays and often does a clinic around year-end in Spring Hill, Kansas.
Harry’s specialty is a week-long clinic where owners come to Harry with their horses to solve problems or improve their horsemanship. Harry said, “It’s more about training the people than training the horses. People want to anthropomorphize. They want to impose their own point of view on why a horse behaves as he does. Instead, they need to see things from the horse’s point of view.”
When people understand the horse’s natural self-preservation instinct, for example, then they can begin to understand what causes the action which seems to them like misbehavior and work to correct it. This fundamental understanding has led to Harry becoming an internationally-acclaimed horse clinician.
Harry handles it all with humor and humility. He said with a smile, “I just wanted to get through school. I didn’t care if I ever got a job – and fortunately, I never did.”
Harry’s horse clinics have taken him from Maine to San Diego and from Canada to Florida – even Hawaii. In January 2010, he will present his clinic in Australia – for the third time. Wow. Not bad for someone who grew up on a farm north of Manhattan and east of the rural community of Riley, population 848 people. Now, that’s rural.
For more information, go to www.harrywhitney.com.
It’s time to put away your copy of America’s Horse magazine, one of several publications that have featured the work of this rural equine clinician. We commend Harry “Spud” Whitney for making a difference by helping riders understand their horse’s point of view, thus improving the situation for both the horse and the human.
The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves. The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Unit. A photo of Ron Wilson is available at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/news/sty/RonWilson.htm. Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.huckboydinstitute.org.