The Tao of Cowboy

Plus: The Big Jesus Bash

Liner moved back home to North Texas "poor as all get-out" but determined to teach people what he'd learned. Breaking horses, he says, was about changing his own attitude as much as that of the animal. "When I made the breakthrough with True Son," says Liner, who recalls re-reading his journal years later, "I started the chapter that it wasn't the horse. It was me."

Liner took out an ad in The Dallas Morning News that said, "Will break problem horses for free." Working out of stables near White Rock Lake, he had one pair of jeans and a pair of cowboy boots that he'd used duct tape on to keep the soles together, spray-painting it brown to match the leather.

His break finally came eight years ago, when another horse trainer at the state fair couldn't make it for a demonstration. Liner was asked to fill in. In the years that followed, he'd make a name for himself teaching lessons across the Southwest. It was back at the State Fair of Texas, however, that he caught the eye of a 10-year-old girl from Highland Park who took his career in a new direction.

Robert Liner, who's also equestrian director at Lakeland Academy in Rockwall, "starts" troubled horses at a ranch near Corsicana.
Tom Jenkins
Robert Liner, who's also equestrian director at Lakeland Academy in Rockwall, "starts" troubled horses at a ranch near Corsicana.

Taylor Everett's dyslexia made writing even a few sentences difficult. Struggling to finish in a few hours what her peers might finish in one or two didn't give her much confidence. But Liner's horse demonstration sparked something in her, and she knew she wanted to tell him how excited she'd become about riding horses. At her dad Chuck's suggestion, she ended up writing him a three-page letter.

The Everetts received a call from Liner just days after they'd mailed the letter. When he picked up the phone, Chuck Everett could tell that Liner was holding back tears. "I need to meet Taylor," Liner told her father. "Now."

Last spring, the Everetts insisted that Liner move his operation out to their ranch at Rawhide Creek. Chuck Everett says his whole family is "infected" with horse fever, and they're more than happy to host Liner and his camps.

Many of his students, like Taylor, met Liner through the state fair. Starting at 4:30 a.m., the kids ride, rope and sweat until sundown, learning every aspect of what it is to work on a ranch. Back in their circle, though, no one lacks the energy to talk about what they've learned. "Knowing you can control a 1,000-pound animal just gives you so much self-confidence," says Esther Rollier, a formerly shy 16-year-old from Plano.

It was Esther who finally rode Jezebel, the rodeo horse who was so wild that Lone Star Equine Rescue couldn't even get a halter around her. Forcing her through a running chute and into a truck, they dropped Jezebel off at Rawhide Creek, where Liner immediately changed her name. "Every time I'd walk up to her, she'd scoot away," he says, "so I decided to call her Scoots. It's got a little bit better connotation."

One day early in the camp, Liner asked Esther and a group of girls to help him put Scoots in a squeeze chute, a small pen that puts pressure on a horse from every side. The girls rubbed their hands all over the horse to calm her. But Scoots still refused to give in. Esther, who's been taking lessons from Liner for a couple of years, worked alone with Scoots, squatting down in the pen to show the horse that she wasn't a predator. Then she was able to get her arm around the horse's neck and lead her. Taking small steps from there, in a few days, Esther says, she nonchalantly led Scoots out into the corral with a halter on and began grooming her.

"Everyone was like, 'Oh, my God, how did you do that?'" Esther says. "It was the best feeling you'll ever feel."

Liner pitched in for support only when Esther wanted to put a full Western-style saddle on Scoots. By herself, the teenager had managed to do in a matter of days what other trainers had spent months attempting to do. It was possible, she says, because of what she'd learned from Liner. "Robert thinks about why a horse might act crazy," Esther says. "What physical problem or internal problems could be hurting the horse? Other trainers just say it's a bad horse and we don't want it. Robert looks at all of that, and he doesn't give up. " --Andrea Grimes

The Big Jesus Bash
The face of Christianity sure has changed. Or is it simply that this burgeoning movement has escaped the notice of our rigidly prescribed cultural radar? Last Saturday's Celebrate Freedom, the long-running Fourth of July celebration sponsored by contemporary Christian music station KLTY 94.9 FM and Interstate Batteries, is billed as the largest free outdoor concert in America. It begins at 7 a.m. and runs through midnight, capped with what is touted as one of the largest fireworks displays in North Texas. It allegedly pulls in some 200,000 people to Southfork Ranch to hear bands like Newsboys, Casting Crowns, Caedmon's Call, Avalon, Toby Mac, Iconoclast and Selah. The huge stage is flanked by Jumbotrons. The music is tight and well-produced, far different from the saccharine schlock that was the hallmark of contemporary Christian music years ago.

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