HENNING – Horse trainer Craig Cameron knows all about the nature of horses, but he knows a lot about human nature, too.
As the 56-year-old Texan stepped into the horse ring Tuesday morning with a 5-year-old, untrained quarter horse, he told the approximately 400 people in the audience that he knew what many of them really hoped to see – a rodeo.
"I know what you want to see," he joked, as the horse, "Just a Dream Machine," bucked and kicked his way around the ring. "Let's see if we can get Craig killed today."
The former rodeo cowboy's hourlong demonstrations were - a popular attraction during the first day of the 2003 Farm Progress Show, as crowds of 400 to 500 people gathered around the ring to watch Cameron's distinct, gentle style of horsemanship during two shows, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
The morning crowd patiently waited an extra 25 minutes to see Cameron, who got delayed in traffic among the tens of thousands of people who poured into the show site. Once he got there, Cameron wasted no time, stepping right into the ring with his new subject, a horse he had never seen before.
After a few minutes sizing up "Just a Dream," Cameron concluded the horse was a tough one that had previously been broken unsuccessfully.
"I really don't know what to expect," said Cameron, who travels the United States, Canada and even Europe, starting up to 500 colts a year. "Every horse is different and unique."
Although not the horse trainer who inspired the Robert Redford movie, "The Horse Whisperer," Cameron's nonviolent techniques of training horses originate from the same philosophy.
Cameron's unorthodox style is all about being gentle. Rather than riding and spurring a horse until he breaks physically, Cameron concentrates on the mind of a horse.
He breaks colts of bad habits, taking away the fear that naturally encourages them to run, kick and buck, by working them continually with ropes, reins and a reel-less fishing pole, throwing out bits of wisdom along the way.
"What's a habit?" he asked. "It's the easiest thing to make and the hardest thing to break."
In about 45 minutes the big brown quarter horse, which had bucked around the ring numerous times, had a bit in his mouth and a saddle on his back when Cameron used another of his techniques and got the horse to lie down.
Cameron then sat on the saddle as he patted the colt.
That move was most amazing to Nikke Elrod, a friend of the horse's owner, who knows how lively "Just a Dream" can get.
"That's not normal to get a horse to lie down," she said. "I was impressed."
After an hour of continually working the colt, Cameron was ready for the big test, and so was the audience.
"The best thing to do would be to just keep working him," he told the audience, which was waiting for him to take a ride. "But when you're Craig Cameron, you don't get to do that."
After a few cautious tests, stepping up on the horse's stirrups, Cameron threw a leg over the saddle, sat still for a few moments and suddenly hopped down.
"The first thing you do when you get on him, is get off," said Cameron, who then got back on, and cautiously rode the colt around the ring.
Mary Jane Wann of Tangier, Ind., used to own horses, so she and her husband, Sheldon, made a point of seeing Cameron's demonstration Tuesday morning.
Mary Jane said she could see the "wild" in the horse's eyes at the beginning.
"It was fascinating to watch how he worked that horse," she said. "I was really impressed. I thought it would take him longer."
"Just a Dream's" owner, Margy Morgan of Williamsport, Ind., was impressed, too.
Morgan volunteered her horse for Cameron's demonstration, because he had been broken unsuccessfully, as Cameron had correctly discerned, and she has turned him out the last 18 months with no training.
As an animal lover and livestock owner, Morgan said she favors the gentle approach promoted by Cameron and picked up a few techniques that she plans to use with "Just a Dream Machine." She hopes to continue what Cameron started, so that one day she can use him as a ranch horse.
You can reach Tracy Moss at (217) 443-8946 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.