The 11-year-old girl and her mother climb out of their car at the Arizona Horse Lover's Club in Phoenix, not knowing what to expect. On the basis of a magazine article, the mother has taken her daughter to trainer John Hoyt for help with lead changes, driving from their Colorado home during a spring vacation. They know the trainer is good, but they've also heard he's "scary"—whatever that means. And now he's eyeing them intently.
"Are those new spurs?" he asks, referring to the clip-ons the girl is wearing on her black, high-top boots. "Why, yes, Mr. Hoyt, they are," says the girl, pleased that he's noticed. Clip-ons are all the rage in 1969, and hers are a recent Christmas gift. "Lemme see ‘em," he says. Off they come with a "ping" and the girl hands them to the trainer. He holds them in both hands, as if they were wishbones, and with on quick, sure motion, snaps them in two.
"Now, go get yourself some spurs," he says, watching silently as they slip back into their car, stunned, and drive away.
Holly Hover's introduction to the trainer is a typical "John Hoyt story." It describes a man who's unapologetically honest and blunt to the point of rudeness. Still, Hover went on to develop a long-term association with the horseman, and is now a Quarter Horse trainer herself. Today, she speaks with great fondness of "that bad-boy John Hoyt." Like all who know him well, she realizes that his crusty surface hides a soft core. The growling grizzly, it seems, has the heart of a teddy bear.
"I've been called everything from a cupcake to a demon," acknowledges the 68-year-old horseman, who now resides in Lone Oak, Texas. " ‘Bout anything you write would be the truth."
Well, not exactly. Still, his is a long and colorful past, one that's shaped his character and forged the larger-than-life persona that all but obscures the real person.
We're going to take you behind the stories to find the real John Hoyt—the lifelong horseman, legendary competitor, and ongoing inspiration to countless others. We'll give you a close look at the trainer who's qualified for more than 20 American Quarter Horse Association World Shows in a row, produced scores of world and all-around champions, and consistently gotten more out of ordinary horses than many could get out of superstars.
We'll also examine the inner resources that make him the kind of legend that can ride right out of the history books and beat you, even today.
Along the way, of course, we'll share a few more tales, because you can't tell the story of John Hoyt without telling a few John Hoyt stories.