In a poignant excerpt from the book, John Lopez explains how he came from his ranching background, to be a sculptor:
"Frisky was a half-Belgian, half-Quarter Horse, and he was just jittery. If a grouse flew up suddenly, he would spook - and I was kind of a nervous kid. Frisky had my number.
My dad had my number, too. He knew I wasn't like the other kids in the family, or like any of the cousins. Not the Lopezes or Hunts or Meyers. Sure, I could do everything everybody else did - there was no choice but to learn the family business of working cows and breeding horses.
But I went about it differently. Everybody else was doing things the same way my grandpa did in the 1920s, '30s and '40s; you just hopped onto a two-year-old that had never been broken or ridden, and you held on.
Because of the wrecks I'd had, I just learned to watch everything - every twitch of the ear, every roll of the eye. Eventually I became grudgingly competent at breaking mature horses to ride, but I also noticed if a horse was balking at what I was asking it to do.
I watched for unpredictability, that wild spark when a domesticated animal is resisting, when it doesn't want to lose the freedom to do whatever it wants. I noticed how a horse picks up his feet, how the muscles tighten in his flank, how his nostrils flare, how his neck bows. I recognized stress, peace, fear, and friskiness. Eventually I could predict a step to the left, a swing of the head, a nip, a kick.
I also found my niche. I started to focus on halter-breaking the foals. They were blank slates of nature, perfect examples of the lifeblood that ran through our family. If I could take the time to just be with them. It was the first time they'd ever been touched by a person, and I was gentle with them. I enjoyed naming them and registering them.
The foals became my specialty, and I studied their bloodlines, noting how each horse's features exhibited different traits. Time and exposure led to something that's harder to explain - maybe an awareness, an appreciation for the line, and a connection to the animal's emotions.
I also noticed when an artist captured these subtleties. Whenever I got a chance, I scoured everything from Norman Rockwell paintings to the cowboy art of Charles Russell. I messed around with painting and drawing, trying to find out how to transfer what I could see and feel onto a page. I finally found my medium when I realized that clay could replicate in three dimensions what I had observed.
Clay would show distrust in an animal's eye, or energy in its step. With the urging of my mother and my Aunt Effie Hunt, I took up art as my main interest. I still helped with everything else - still crossed the river to collect the cows, still fixed fence, still put out hay and grain, still roped and vaccinated and castrated and branded. But I also rolled up my sleeves to study sculpture and bronze casting at Northern State University in Aberdeen."