It’s the start of a beautiful friendship. Horseman Jud Carter and 2-year-old stallion Doc meet for their first training session where, inside a circular arena on his 20 acres of land in DeWitt, Carter carefully swings a piece of rope like a lasso and lets it touch the horse ever so slightly.

“I’m just trying to communicate with (him) a little bit,” Carter said.

Carter, 30, doesn’t want to “capture” the horse right away; instead, he wants to get the creature ready to be caught.

The rope helps Carter get Doc to relax and gain some confidence. It is an extension of Carter’s arm and gets Doc used to having something — and eventually somebody — on him.

Carter has worked with horses in some degree for about half of his life and recently had what he called the amazing experience of training for two months in Texas with one of the nation’s top clinicians, Ray Hunt, of “The Horse Whisperer” fame.

He’s ever mindful of Hunt’s philosophy of caring for the horse first and foremost, and teaching rather than forcing, as he works with the animals at his farm.

“Jud works the horse in such a way that as soon as you give that lead rope to Jud, the horse knows this guy is a good guy,” said client Linda Perry of Springfield.

Carter, though, is quick to pass credit back to Hunt when he talks about methods of working with horses.

“I’ve got Ray Hunt on my shoulder now,” Carter said.

“It’s so simple that it’s difficult. That’s what Ray says.”

The main character in the 1990s book and movie “The Horse Whisperer” is modeled after Ray Hunt and two other horsemen, Tom Dorrance and Buck Brannaman.

Hunt, 77, has trained more than 10,000 colts and has shared his techniques and philosophies through clinics in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe for more than three decades.

This past winter, Carter was among six people from across the country who went to Hunt’s Texas ranch to train horses.

“We were hoping to get people a little further along than when we just do a two- or three-day clinic. …” said Ray Hunt’s wife, Carolyn. “(Carter’s) pretty much just getting started.”

Carter had attended Hunt’s two-day clinics before, but the words began to sink in more as he spent more time with the man.

“Just being there and riding in front of him, you really start to realize the little things you hear him talk about,” Carter said.

Training time

Carter demonstrated some of those little things as he worked with his sister-in-law’s young horse.

As he works with Doc and swings the rope at him, he sees Doc has slowed down. The horse shakes his head, licks his lips and moves toward the center of the corral toward Carter.

Those small changes signal what action to take next, Carter said. The biggest thing he learned from Hunt is do less to get more from a horse.

For example, Carter puts a halter and lead rope on the horse and places a little pressure on the reign as he holds it to the side of the horse. He does not tug. He does not pull. He does not force the horse to move.

He waits.

And waits.

Patience is the key.

Carter notices a change — Doc has picked up his right hoof.

He places a slight pressure on the rope again. Pretty soon Doc will move, he said.

Sure enough, Doc takes a couple steps and turns to the right, just as Carter wanted him to do.

“See how I didn’t do anything?” Carter asks.

Teaching a horse to want to do a task instead of forcing it to do something is a key to successfully working with the animals, Carter said. His relationship with a horse is like a kinship or friendship.

“You have to give respect to gain respect,” Carter said. “That’s where they start trusting you.”

Mission accomplished

Carter works part time for Lahoil Inc. Oil Producers in Wapella and spends the rest of his day riding horses for people like Perry.

Perry had a problem with a pony that jumped high and bucked constantly. Within an hour, Carter had the horse walking calmly, and now Perry’s 8-year-old daughter rides it, she said.

Another horse didn’t want to go into its trailer, and Carter showed her what she was doing wrong — she was trying to pull the horse in instead of applying a little pressure, releasing pressure and applying the pressure again to slowly teach the horse to enter the trailer.

“It’s just amazing. He’s like a miracle guy,” Perry said.

Horses just immediately connect with Carter, she said.

Special connection

Despite the impression the name gives, whispering is not a part of the horse whisperer training method. Carter rarely talks to the horse, though he’ll make slight noises as he rides a horse.

Instead the term refers to the quiet exchange between a rider and the animal.

Carter can make such a small action to achieve a small change in the horse that it’s hard for anyone else to notice what’s happened — just like someone who’s a distance away cannot hear two people quietly talking.

“Time, feeling and balance is what it is,” Carter said. “You throw that all together.”

Experience helps with confidence and not being afraid of a horse.

Carter’s had his share of minor bruises and sores here and there from a bucking horse, but only one major injury about three years ago.

While a horse was drinking out of a water trough, Carter walked behind the horse and touched the unsuspecting animal.

The spooked horse kicked Carter in the chest and caused him to flip over backward and fall to the ground. He ended up with a lot of cuts and bruises, a couple fractured ribs and a pulled ligament.

He said his carelessness was the cause for the accident. He should have let the horse finish drinking and make sure it knew he was around it.

“It’s never the horse’s fault,” Carter said.

It was about a year and a half before Carter completely healed from the injury. He couldn’t ride for a couple of months and then it was still difficult to ride and clean stalls for a while.

In the meantime, he was let go from his full-time job in the construction industry.

But the injury was a blessing in disguise as it led Carter to work full time with horses. Now, Carter wants to work with as many horses as he can and spread the word about what he’s learned.

“It’s my life. It’s all I do, all I think about,” Carter said. “Besides my family, it’s all I care about.”