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Laramie River Ranch and Dr. Robert Miller

By Bill Burleigh of Laramie River Ranch

Some places have a powerful influence on our lives. Laramie River Ranch is one of these places. On occasion, extraordinary people pass through and leave an indelible mark of their own. One of these people is Dr. Robert Miller.

As a young man, I read Western Horseman magazine. I’d turn first to the comics and enjoyed the humor of Dr. Robert Miller. Doc Miller’s comics were delightful, but his “Vet’s Corner” feature was a must read. He illuminated for me the mysteries of horse health. This year Western Horseman named Dr. Robert Miller recipient of their 2012 Western Horseman Award.

My beautiful wife Krista Kaplan and I came to the UT Bar Ranch in ’95, restored the abandoned ranch, and re-opened as the Laramie River Dude Ranch. We connected with the former owner Rick Leake and his delightful daughter Maury who gracefully shared their stories of the ranch. Among their gifts – numerous old black and white photos. With this post you’ll see one photo labeled “The Two Bob Millers.” Maury mentioned in passing that one of the Bobs was a wonderful cartoonist but I did not make the connection.Bob Miller grew up in Arizona and returned to the West following service in Germany after WWII. He found work on ranches and quickly became interested in horse training. Bob completed his undergraduate degree and headed for Colorado State University where he was accepted into their Vet program. This is where Bob’s life first intersected with our UT Bar ranch. He took a job starting colts, leading trail rides, and doing whatever “needed done” that day. Bob was given the independence to start his colts in complete privacy. Instead of the traditional ‘bucking them out’, Bob applied his ideas to start each colt with the least amount of fear and stress possible. His patience and insight into horse psychology was immediately successful.Within a few years, the newly minted Dr. Robert Miller set up practice in Thousand Oaks, California. He was put to the test by numerous Wild Animal Farms run for the benefit of Hollywood movie companies. Bob believes that he is the only vet to treat a humming bird and a whale in the same day. As his practice and the horse community in Thousand Oaks grew, Bob again focused on his favorite animal, the horse.

In his practice, Dr. Miller observed big differences between horses he handled at birth and those without much human contact. The handled horses were “less fearful, gentler and easier to handle; in fact, they seemed to recognize him days, weeks or months later.” At the time, horsemen felt it was best to leave the colt to itself if at all possible. Bob turned this idea on its head, handling the horse for up to two hours at its birth while the mare bonded with its foal. The results were immediate and striking – the foals were confident, unafraid, and easily desensitized to human interaction.

At 60, Miller retired from his practice and took up full time study and promotion of his methods. He crossed paths and exchanged ideas with the greats of the horse world including Billy Linfoot, Ray Hunt, and Pat Parelli. His book “Imprint Training for the Newborn Foal” was groundbreaking. His video “Early Learning” was an incredible influence on our practices at LRR. We’ve used Bob’s imprinting methods on every foal born on the ranch. Ironically, we were using Bob’s techniques before we realized he was one of “The Two Bob Millers.”

In 2006, we had the pleasure of meeting Bob and his charming wife Debby on the ranch. They returned with family to one of the places that had influenced Bob’s career. We were sure to thank Dr. Miller for the many ways in which he had touched our lives and the lives of our beloved horses. This year we congratulate Bob as he adds Western Horseman’s Award to the many accolades which he truly deserves.

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