As he gallops over the horizon in the glorious, rugged Gyp Hills of Kansas, Kerry Kuhn looks every bit like the iconic Westerner:
Hat. Boots. Chaps. Palomino horse named “Hollywood.”
Some might call him a horse whisperer.
He prefers “horse communicator.”
And, he’s on a mission:
With a new television show, “Ridin’ Horses with Kerry Kuhn,” soon to be shown on HRTV Channel 404 on Dish Network, the 37-year-old wants to show the world the Old West legacy that began in Kansas and teach better communication skills between people and their horses.
His philosophy is simple:
“I’ve often found that as we try to improve our horsemanship, it can radiate out into our everyday lives and beyond,” he says on his website, kerrykuhn.com. “Horsemanship is all about good leadership, patience and learning to be positive no matter what the situation. It is a skill we should live every day.”
He talks about horse language. And, it isn’t unusual for him to recommend riders go bridle-less in order to build trust and communication with their horses.
He’s tired of everybody giving Kansas the boot.
Sure, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado have their mountains.
Texas has its big cities and big-name ranches.
But Kansas gave the Old West everything iconic that Westerners hold dear.
The JJ Ranch and Kuhn’s headquarters are nestled in open-range country. Drive over cattle guards. Brake for livestock standing in the dusty road. Pulling up to his house, one sees a buck with a rack of antlers saunter lazily across the farmyard.
“The idea is to draw more people here, versus me traveling all over the country,” Kuhn said. “We’ve got 3,000 acres that has everything. The entrance to the Gyp Hills is on the south end of the ranch.
“I’m sick of Californians and Texans telling me how beautiful their land is. People need to understand how beautiful Kansas is, especially in this area,” he said. “I want people to quit thinking of Kansas as flat as a floor. We have a rich history as far as cattle, horses and ranching goes. When my California clients come out, they are blown away.”
Although he has lived at the ranch since 1999, he has made his career traveling the nation with his clinics. This time, he is bringing the clinics to Kansas.
In the past year, Kuhn has built an outdoor arena the size of a football field, a three-bedroom bunkhouse lodge with numerous RV hookups, and working pens and other features to house multiday clinics for riders and their horses to work on training and horsemanship.
Growing up with horses
Make no mistake; the Old West is in Kuhn’s DNA.
Growing up in the Medicine Lodge area, he was 2 when he started riding horses on his own. He was even younger than that when his parents and grandparents took him along for rides.
For years, his mother, Kaye, has been the secretary of the Indian Peace Treaty Pageant and heavily involved with the Kansas Tourism Council.
His father, Earl, is a renowned Western artist.
His grandfather was Dale Lukens, a noted Kansas horseman in his own right. Lukens trained horses the old-fashioned way – making them do what he wanted. Those were the days when cowboys used force. They would tie up a horse’s hind leg in order to get one saddled – and once the saddle was on, the colt would be turned loose.
“My granddad’s philosophy was that your horse was your tool,” Kuhn said. “And, I want the horse to do what I want them to do – but to do that you have to see deeper into the horse to get him not just to do it but to want to do it. The old philosophy was very violent. With this, there is no force. I can’t be out here to be the horse’s buddy. I have to be the leader. But trouble is most folks these days treat horses as pets. The thing is, the dog can hurt you but the horse outweighs the dog. The horse, as big as he is, can hurt a human real fast.”
One of his clients, Terah Murphy from Sun City, said Kuhn’s approach combines common sense with a touch of the metaphysical. In the short time she’s worked with him, she said she’s regained the confidence and physical ability she had growing up with horses.
“With Kerry’s mentoring, I’m so much more tuned into my horse,” she said. “It’s a ‘body, mind and spirit’ thing. It’s a wonderful journey. I’m 56 years old and I want to keep riding into my 70s. I know I will.”
On a sun-kissed fall day, she and Kuhn rode across the prairie as they worked their way down a steep ridge. Her 7-year-old horse, Pardner, has issues, Murphy said. He spooks easily and still carried scratches from a recent ride when he pulled a branch off a tree, flipped over on his back and ran through a gate.
At first, she wasn’t sure about riding him off a ridge.
Kuhn went first, letting Hollywood find his own footing and take his time down the rugged land.
Pardner and Murphy followed soon after.
“That trip off the edge of that cliff was a game-changer for me,” she said.
Building trust between the rider and horse is what it is all about, Kuhn said.
“The more you ride, the more you teach a horse to follow your feel,” he said. “What we do is prepare people and build their confidence.”