Copeland Ranch– Photo taken by my husband, Eric Leslie
On a beautiful ranch in a tiny town in California, way up north, lives one of the greatest horse trainers I’ve ever known. You’ve probably never heard of him. But I am out to change that, because he’s too valuable to keep to myself.
So who is this mystery horse trainer? He is a quiet man who lives a somewhat secluded life. A man so passionately dedicated to respectful relationships with horses that he rarely goes to horse events because he can’t bear to witness the rude, mechanical ways in which many people relate to their horses. A man who’s understanding of horses is so deep that he struggles to find words adequate to explain it. He would just as soon grab you by the arm and show you what he means rather than try to explain it. Many times I have been the “horse” in his demonstrations. I’ve gotten bits and pieces of time with him over the years, but I always leave feeling like there is so much more to learn from him. Next week I will be spending five days working with him on many different projects and I am so excited! I’ve never been able to spend so much time at once. Oh, and did I mention that this guy happens to be my uncle? That’s right, Uncle Bill. Bill Copeland.
Bill Copeland was born a cowboy. His father, my grandfather, was a true cowboy in the sense of the old west. Grandpa was a hard man with high expectations for his sons with no exceptions or excuses. But there was a softness in him that was apparent through the respect he showed his horses. A respect that was demanded of his sons, and me as well, from the time we were small children and didn’t really even understand it. I think ultimately it was Grandpa’s influence that led us all to gravitate toward natural horsemanship. But Uncle Bill was the first to make the conversion.
Bill started training ponies at age eight, then graduated to starting two year olds at ten. He jokes, “I would just get a horse going good, then Dad would sell him and hand me a new one.” He competed in horse shows as a kid and excelled in showmanship. When he was in his twenties he worked on a cattle ranch, daily cowboying for his living. He moved into competing in team roping, calf branding and team penning where he won his share of trophies, ribbons and money. And then — he attended a Ray Hunt clinic, and like so many others, it changed his life.
Inspired by the methods of men like Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance, Bill began to do everything in his power to gain a greater understanding of horse behavior, and a horseman’s impact upon this behavior. He learned the power of precise timing, feel, and balance and began to shun mechanical methods. He worked with many well-known clinicians, and countless “problem” horses along his journey beyond mechanics. Bill says that over the past twenty years he has never worked a horse that he was not able to find the good in. Even the horses that were written off were able to become relaxed and willing partners through Bill’s kind and relational approach to horses. But if you ask him, Bill will tell you that it was the horses that were teaching him.
Another extremely important aspect of Bill’s horsemanship evolution is his vast experience with BLM Mustangs. His job with the Forest Service led him to eventually work with the Red Rock Lakes Herd Management Area. Over the past 15 years he has worked with over 350 Mustangs. He has taken them through every level of handling, from observing them on the range, to trapping them in the wild, to gentling and training them into finished riding partners. This awesome opportunity to work with the purest of horses was an invaluable piece of Bill’s education.
Bill has given many lessons, clinics and demonstrations and is available on a limited basis for further events.